United Way of the Bluegrass cuts outside funding

kward1@herald-leader.comJune 20, 2014 

Runners made their first lap of the runway during the United Way 5K on the Runway at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Ky., on June 15, 2013. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

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United Way of the Bluegrass is decreasing funding to some of the organizations it supports because giving is down this year.

Bill Farmer, president of United Way of the Bluegrass, said donations were down about 15 percent — about $800,000 less than last year. The yearlong giving campaign that just concluded generated about $4 million, he said. United Way finished 2011 with revenue of $5.3 million and 2012 with $4.9 million. Charitable giving has dropped and is competitive, Farmer said.

Farmer attributes the decrease in revenue to a "soft economy" and the fact that people have more options for giving.

While there was no across-the-board reduction in funding to United Way's partner agencies, Farmer said most of the 80 Central Kentucky agencies that receive funding from United Way saw a decrease, some of up to $50,000.

"We tried to be as fair and equitable as possible in trying to minimize the fallout," he said. "Volunteers evaluate all of the programs and try to make the best decisions possible, and most of the time those are very tough decisions to make."

The organizations were notified of their funding levels for the coming fiscal year late last week.

Agencies can appeal their funding levels, and a volunteer committee is scheduled to hear those appeals July 15, Farmer said. No appeals had been received this week, he said.

Even though their United Way support is diminished, Farmer said some agencies might have more funding coming from other sources, such as local government or their own fundraising.

Because United Way relaxed its policies about three years ago, Farmer said partnering agencies now have more opportunities to do fundraising on their own throughout the year, and some agencies are running giving campaigns at the same time United Way does its big push.

Previously, he said, the organizations would have had to ask permission to do fundraising during United Way's biggest fundraising period.

Farmer said United Way will "try to rebuild" its giving levels over the next year.

Ralph Coldiron, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass, declined to comment on the funding cuts. Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass received 18 percent of its funding from United Way last year and is recovering from nearly having to close a few years ago because of financial problems.

The Children's Advocacy Center, located on the outskirts of downtown on North Ashland Avenue, will have its funding reduced by 35 percent. That funding typically supports the center's on-site medical clinic, "which provides no-cost physical and mental health exams to child victims of sexual abuse," said Executive Director Andrew Oliver.

"There's no question we'll feel the impact of these cuts, especially as we receive record requests for exams," he said. "For 20 years, we have relied on the generous support of our friends and neighbors in Central Kentucky."

United Way distributes 76 percent of its total revenue to partnering and community impact work that is done internally to help positively benefit the community, Farmer said. Other funds are allocated to pledge losses — money the organization thinks it will receive, but doesn't. And 18 percent of the revenue goes toward fundraising and operating cost.

At its peak, United Way had a revenue stream of $7.7 million, after acquiring a federal grant. But grants are difficult to get, Farmer said. Much of the donations are supported by payroll deductions, corporate gifts and fundraisers.

"There is a significant expectation from our board of directors and staff that we will rebound in 2014," said Farmer, but "I can't allocate funding we don't have."

Herald-Leader reporter Justin Madden contributed to this story. Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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