Central S.C. Red Cross chapter ends United Way partnership

07/28/2014 9:43 PM

07/28/2014 9:44 PM

The Red Cross Central South Carolina Chapter is formally dissolving its 89-year relationship with United Way of the Midlands.

The two agencies confirmed Monday that the Red Cross had withdrawn its partner agency status, ending the longstanding relationship between two of the Midlands’ major human-service providers.

The decision comes as the United Way continues to fine-tune its funding strategies, which have resulted in significant funding cuts to many partner agencies in recent years.

While the Red Cross Central South Carolina Chapter’s mission is focused on disaster relief, the United Way’s outreach efforts now target more basic needs, among them homelessness and health. The Red Cross chapter serves Richland, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, Calhoun, Fairfield and Saluda counties.

Bill Cronin, executive director of the Red Cross Central South Carolina Chapter, said as the United Way’s funding model has changed, the Red Cross has seen its funding levels sharply reduced. At the same time, he said, his agency has remained bound by fundraising restrictions placed by the United Way on its partner agencies.

“We haven’t changed our mission,” Cronin said. “It really makes no sense for us to continue our certified partner agency agreement if our missions no longer overlap. We are not going to change our mission to fit just one brand that’s out there.”

The Red Cross chapter was getting about $500,000 – or about 60 percent of its budget – from the United Way as recently as 2004, Cronin said, noting the percentage had been even higher in previous years. But that funding level has continued to decline, he said, noting that the $40,000 the agency was to receive this year in a Community Impact Grant, before the termination of the partnership, represented less than 3 percent of its budget.

“As we’ve gotten less and less, we’re still held to the same restriction in the certified partnership agreement so the value of the Community Impact Grant is lessened,” he said.

Cronin said as the length of Community Impact Grants have grown from one year to two years, that increased the time the Red Cross would be restricted by the fundraising guidelines.

“We need to look at that opportunity cost for what we are giving up,” he added.

The United Way has shifted its funding strategy in recent years from agency funding to specific needs-based grant funding. Funding decisions are based on how well projects meet a core set of community needs.

In addition to homelessness and financial stability, the United Way’s current priority areas include kindergarten readiness and third-grade reading as well as dental and eye care.

“Just like anything else, organizational missions evolve over time,” said Mac Bennett, CEO of the United Way of the Midlands. “As we have evolved, our emphasis has really been in the basic needs and financial stability area.”

The United Way has awarded the the Red Cross a $63,750 Community Impact Grant each of the past three years for fire victims. The Red Cross also received donor designations, ranging from about $52,000 to $58,000, through the United Way’s annual campaign during that time.

The United Way said that some campaigns already are under way for the current year and that any donations made to the Red Cross will be honored.

The Red Cross can no longer apply for grants through the United Way’s competitive process for certified partner agencies, but United Way “Tocqueville Society” members, as well as donors in companies with pre-existing agreements with United Way Worldwide, can still target their donations to a pre-approved group of agencies.

In the Midlands, the United Way’s funding shift began in 2004, and by 2008, all grant money was competitive.

“Our focus has continued to develop,” Bennett said, adding that priorities are guided by several factors, including community surveys as well as input from area institutions, volunteers and others.

The final priorities are set by the board.

“They have the first cut at it,” Bennett said. “But there is a lot of heavy lifting that’s taking place before it gets to the board.”

United Way partner agencies are eligible to apply for grants through the United Way’s competitive process and receive designated gifts from donors. They also can participate in United Way events, volunteer Days of Action, professional development programs and other related events.

Cronin said being freed from the United Way’s fundraising guidelines will give the Red Cross more latitude in such efforts as workplace campaigns and the solicitation of designated gifts. He said it also will strengthen the agency’s ability to convey its record of service in the local community.

The United Way of the Midlands currently has 89 partner agencies, and the Red Cross is the fifth to either terminate or have its agency status removed since 2012. During that time, the United Way has added 10 other partner agencies.

Red Cross chapters in other communities also have ended their affiliations with area United Ways in recent years.

The Red Cross in Charleston terminated its agreement with Trident UW in 2012. Local Red Cross organizations also split from United Way of Madison County, Indiana, in 2007, United Way of Southeastern Michigan around 2009, and United Way of Greater Clarksville, Tenn., in 2011.

Bennett said while the Red Cross officially has stepped down as a partner agency, he expects the two agencies to have a relationship in some form.

“I suspect that we may have other things that we will work with the Red Cross on down the road,” Bennett said. “I don’t see that this changes anything dramatically. They are going in a little different direction, so that certainly is the prerogative of their board to make that decision.”

Those who wish to donate directly to the Red Cross can do so online at www.redcross.org.

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