United Way launches annual campaign, census outreach

United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties is kickstarting its annual fundraising campaign in September.

And it is armed with hard data showing where the two counties it serves are falling behind.

Last year, United Way recruited a group of volunteer analysts to identify key data points in hopes of measuring the overall health and safety—or areas of greatest need—in the community, like health, financial stability, basic needs, and childhood and youth success.

The results serve as a community report card and way to allocate dollars and prioritize funding to nonprofits working in those areas.

For example, 44 percent of students meet fourth-grade math standards, which is worse than the statewide average, and 42 percent of total youths arrested per 1,000 youths were ages 10-17.

 “If you look at these indicators, the more red lights we see are in children and youth,” said LoAnn Ayers, president and chief executive officer of the Kennewick-based United Way. “That doesn’t speak well for future employees, future customers and future voters.”

And the need is great. United Way only has $1 to give for every $3 requested.

“We have more need than money,” Ayers said.

She said issues like hunger, homelessness and mental health do not appear in the report card because there are no publicly available data sources measuring those things—but there is still a need.

“Public health and safety systems are reporting these things are a problem, but we don’t have a good way of measuring it,” Ayers said.

Ayers said United Way’s mission is simple—to use people’s donations to fill critical funding gaps in local services.

“We’re like an investment firm for people’s philanthropy,” she said.

United Way operates with 30 board members, a staff of 12, and an annual operating budget of $677,000.

Last year it raised $3.1 million, which was slightly down from 2017, due to corporate changeovers from some of its biggest health care donors. This year, the goal is to meet or beat last year’s numbers.

Ayers is worried that an upcoming presidential election might hinder efforts.

“Hanford contractors may change. Philanthropy really depends on employee confidence, if they are worried about their job, they don’t give,” Ayers said.

Last year’s campaign funded 23 local agencies and 38 programs helping more than 58,000 people in Benton and Franklin counties through two-year community impact grants.

More than 40 percent of the money raised goes to the programs in the areas of greatest need, while 43 percent represents money donors designate to one or more specific nonprofits.

The current funding cycle runs through June 2020. Requests for proposals for the upcoming two-year cycle open in January.

United Way helped fund projects such as Senior Life Resources’ Meals on Wheels for Those Under 60 program, housing assistance for Domestic Violence Services, refugee high school support provided by the Family Learning Center and Benton Franklin Head Start’s school readiness program.

“Many of our high school girls want to become nurses, so we took them to visit Nalina (DeLaMora) at Three Rivers Place to learn about working in an assisted living facility,” said a staff member at the Family Learning Center, who asked not to be named.

“Nalina shared about her journey to her current job as the marketing director for the facility. She worked as a home care aide while working on her bachelor’s degree in college. Nalina was a great example for our girls, helping them better understand the work opportunities in the U.S.”

This year, United Way set aside 10 percent of its total pool of donations to small nonprofits that may not have the means or budget to perform an audit on their finances but are still doing great work. An example of that is Therapeutic Riding for the Tri-Cities, which used money from United Way to buy a horse simulator for clients who aren’t physically able to get on a real horse.

One of United Way’s flagship programs, Attendance Matters, aims to reduce absenteeism at local schools. Through the Lunch Buddy program, it pairs local mentors with students with high rates of absenteeism.

Ayers said there’s a need for more volunteers.  

A push for a complete census

United Way will spearhead efforts to get a complete count for the 2020 census. The agency applied for and recently received a $40,000 grant from the Washington Census Equity Fund to work on outreach, communication and training.

“Federal dollars are driven by census counts. In 2010, we were 25 percent to 27 percent undercounted. We looked a lot smaller to funding sources,” Ayers said.

That percentage is expected to improve with intervention and a public awareness campaign.

United Way will use the grant money to create public service announcements and multimedia campaigns to equip employers, pastors and leaders with the tools they need to educate. It also hopes to plan events to allow census takers to reach the homeless population.
The Tri-Cities Counts committee launches this month.

Fears concerning identity theft, a growing immigrant population, limited access to technology, shorter attention spans and distrust of the government could prevent people from filling out the census.

“The hardest to count are families of young children, those with limited language and education, and people who are refugees and immigrants,” Ayers said.

The state Office of Financial Management estimates that for every person not counted in the 2020 census, the state would lose nearly $2,000 per person per year in federal program funding.

“If you’re an individual, or family, that affects Pell Grants, free and reduced lunch, WIC (a federal nutrition program for women, infants, and children) and SNAP (federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and public housing. For business that could mean less money for public infrastructure and transportation, and business loans,” Ayers said.

“We’re going to continue to grow, but have less access to money. It’s super important that people understand that,” Ayers added.

United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties: 401 N. Young St., Kennewick;  509-783-4102; unitedway-bfco.com; Facebook.

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