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Chester County Press

United Way of Southern Chester County pledges to stand beside partner agencies during coronavirus crisis

06/03/2020 09:06PM ● By Steven Hoffman

On May 18, La Comunidad Hispana reached out to the United Way of Southern Chester County (UWSCC) with a very important request.

With southern Chester County still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, La Comunidad Hispana was seeking funding to help establish a mobile testing unit for workers of the area’s mushroom farms.

UWSCC had already established an emergency COVID-19 Response Fund to provide a rapid response to those in need during the coronavirus outbreak. Within 24 hours of receiving the May 18 request from La Comunidad Hispana, UWSCC officials authorized using $25,000 from the COVID-19 Response Fund for the mobile testing unit. Another $25,000 was secured from UWSCC’s sister organization, the United Way of Chester County. UWSCC also contacted the American Mushroom Institute, which contributed $25,000 to the effort. It took less than one day for the organization to fund a vital community health initiative that cost approximately $75,000.

According to Carrie Freeman, the CEO of UWSCC, the organization was uniquely qualified to provide a rapid response when La Comunidad Hispana or any other local organization comes up with a meaningful way to improve the lives of local residents when a crisis hits.

“We already had deeply established relationships with all the key area nonprofits,” Freeman explained. “We had each other’s cell numbers.  There was no scrambling to catch up.  UWSCC has been coordinating outreach among all our nonprofits to address immediate needs and funding concerns for these unprecedented needs.”

The United Way of Southern Chester County has been delivering fast and effective support to nonprofit organizations in the area for nearly 75 years. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, UWSCC wasted no time in establishing a COVID-19 Response Fund so that the help would be there when it was needed. Approximately $110,000 has been raised from area foundations, corporations, and individuals for this fund, which will provide local agencies with pass-through funds for rental and utility assistance, food distribution costs, and health care costs to local residents who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus.

While the total impact of the coronavirus pandemic remains unknown, what is already painfully obvious is that nonprofit organizations will be receiving more requests for help during a time when fundraising is going to be especially difficult.

Freeman said, “the recovery timeframe for our most needy families will be much longer than our more advantaged residents.  Those who worked low-income jobs will have a slower recovery as they wait for employers in the service and agricultural fields to start hiring again. UWSCC will be there as the weeks and months drag on, funding these emerging and ongoing needs.”

The board of directors of UWSCC recently held its annual meeting to provide an update on the current campaign. Of course, this year the meeting took place the way all such meetings are taking place right now—virtually. At the meeting, UWSCC officials elected new board members and officers, said goodbye to departing board members, announced the results to date of the current campaign, and outlined the allocations to programs for the upcoming year.

During the fiscal year for 2020-2021, the UWSCC will be delivering more than $1 million in total community program funding. 

Rick Bond, the board president of UWSCC, noted that, over the course of the last ten years alone, the UWSCC has delivered nearly $10 million in community impact programs to nonprofit organizations. These organizations provide much-needed help to the most vulnerable families in southern Chester County.

The magic of a donation to UWSCC has always been that the one contribution can benefit so many different organizations that are vital to the community.

One donation can allow children to attend after-school programs and help out families that are struggling to pay for basic needs like food or shelter. One donation supports activities for teens in the community and programs for senior citizens.

For 2020-2021, UWSCC is providing $328,700 in funding to agencies like the Oxford Area 

Neighborhood Services Center, Kennett Area Community Services, the Crime Victims Center of Chester County, and Family Promise of Chester County to offer crisis intervention programs to neighbors in need.

Another $216,940 is being allocated for programs that promote family stability and health. This funding helps organizations like the Kennett Area Senior Center or Oxford Area Senior Center to fund specific offerings to senior citizens in southern Chester County and supports the Tick Tock Early Learning Center in its mission to serve children in the area, just a few examples of programs that promote family stability and health.

Additionally, UWSCC has allocated $204,360 for programs that support individuals and families as they transition to independence through education. The Adult Literacy Program offered at the Kennett Library, the After-the-Bell program offered to children who live in the Kennett Consolidated School District, and the Garage Community and Youth Center are a few of the programs that are receiving support in 2020-2021.

Add in the $110,000 that has been earmarked so far for the COVID-19 rapid response and long-term recovery, as well as $155,496 for in-house programs, and the United Way of Southern Chester County is providing $1,028,341 in total program community funding. All the funding benefits neighbors in need right here in this area.

Even as nearly two dozen different agencies in the area receive more than $1 million in program support, the amount of requests for help far surpasses what UWSCC can provide in any given fiscal year. That was true before the coronavirus outbreak, and it will certainly continue to be true in the aftermath of the devastating health crisis.

Bond said that last year alone, 18,000 people were served by programs that are supported by funding from UWSCC, and the needs continue to grow.

During the annual meeting, Bond noted that just a few short months ago, unemployment was at a record low and the stock market was at a record high.

And then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

When that happened, the United Way of Southern Chester County went to work in anticipation of the needs that were sure to arise in the community.

“With all of the pain it has caused,” Bond said, “the crisis provides a great opportunity to fulfill this mission. We don’t know how long this will last, but you can be assured the United Way of Southern Chester County will stand side-by-side with our partner agencies to see this through.”

Bond talked about how the landscape of charitable giving in the U.S. has changed as a result of shifts in political, economic, and technological advancements. Some larger corporations are accomplishing their work with fewer employees, and as a result the United Way’s corporate campaigns are no longer as robust as they once were. At the peak, corporate campaigns contributed about 67 percent of total donations to UWSCC, Bond noted. Now, the corporate campaigns will account for about 48 percent of contributions.

“As a result,” Bond explained, “we implemented a strategic plan in 2016 to increase our communication with what we call ‘local residents appeal’ and to strengthen our relationship with our leadership-level donors, defined as those giving $1,000 or more. This was accomplished by adding marketing capability to improve our messaging and implement digitally based tools like e-mail, video, social media, mobile messaging and enhancing our website while continuing to use our traditional communication channels. Our board members have played an active role in this as well, not only as advocates within their own social and professional networks and actively working at fund raising and events, but also by manning the phones to personally thank our leadership level donors.”

Bond explained that this new strategy has produced some positive results—revenues from the local resident appeal have grown each year. This segment now totals about 43 percent of the overall revenue for UWSCC.

“Leadership giving is also strong,” Bond added. “The total number of leadership donors remains high and they continue to increase the size of their donations.”

The board president also outlined some areas of concern.

“Contributions from local workplaces and small businesses…continue to decline,” he said. “From its peak of five years ago, contributions are down over 30 percent.  We have very few large employers located in southern Chester County, so it is important for our small and mid-size employers to step up.  To address this, we’ve initiated actions to increase our engagement with these businesses.  

“A second concern is our decline in the number of donors, especially early career employees.  With fewer corporations emphasizing United Way campaigns, younger employees are not being introduced to our organization as they once were.  If you believe, as I do, that philanthropy is a learned habit, this is a big issue.  Engaging with this group will likely require different approaches to get them excited about United Way and supporting the organization.  Over time this will be increasingly important as the baby-boom generation steps aside.”

Bond continued, “As an added challenge to the campaign this year, the COVID-19 crisis has negatively impacted our traditional fundraising campaign.  Some donors and foundations have directed their gifts to be used exclusively for the near-term crisis.  We are careful to segregate these funds and they cannot be used for our 2020-2021 allocations.”

Bond explained that forecasted donations will fall short of the campaign goal. To partially compensate for the shortfall, the UWSCC Executive Committee authorized the use of some of the emergency fund to be used for allocations. Even after dipping into the emergency fund, allocations from the campaign will be reduced from $800,000 to $750,000 next year.

Bond said that with some good news about the campaign, and other trends that aren’t as favorable, it’s a situation where you can look at the glass as being half-full or the glass can be half-empty. UWSCC is accomplishing a lot…but it could still do more.

He explained, “do I focus on what I don’t have, or what I do have?  With these thoughts in mind, I think it is important to recognize what we do have at our United Way.  We have great corporate partners, supporting foundations, local organizations and generous donors.”

He thanked all of them for their support, and also thanked the small staff of UWSCC. Bond concluded his comments at the annual meeting by noting that this coming year marks the 75th anniversary of UWSCC. The organization started as the Community Chest, and has continued to grow and evolve with the community. Bond said that the organization should celebrate the milestone by making it a landmark year.