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Editorial: United Way needs you

If they weren’t so nice, United Way volunteers in Rowan County would be wearing buttons that say “We’re Not Mecklenburg” as they kick off this year’s campaign today.
The United Way of the Central Carolinas, based in Charlotte, has shocked supporters’ sensibilities by giving former CEO Gloria Pace $1.2 million in salary and benefits on her way out. The resulting brouhaha threatens to dampen enthusiasm for United Way at a time when its member agencies dearly need the public’s support.
For the record, Rowan is not part of the United Way of the Central Carolinas. That group covers Anson, Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties and Mooresville-Lake Norman, a huge area that pledged a record $45.3 million last year. Administrative costs were 14.6 percent.
Rowan’s United Way, which operates independently of any other area United Way, raised about $2 million last fall and reports spending 7.9 percent on fundraising adminstration, an impressively low figure. It has its own board of directors. The money raised here stays here. And, according to its 990 filing with the Internal Revenue Service ó a public document ó Rowan United Way paid its director $71,137 in 2006, a small fraction of the figure that stirred people up down the road.
The controversy around the Charlotte United Way office is unfortunate for United Ways everywhere. People tend to paint scandals with a broad brush, splattering on agencies that had nothing to do with the perceived extravagance. But this episode also illustrates well why nonprofit agencies are required to make their financial information public through 990 filings. They and their boards have to be accountable to donors.
People who give money to United Way in Rowan help support 16 member agencies ó many of whom face increased needs during the current economic downturn. The agencies are Abundant Living Adult Day Care, the Adolescent & Family Enrichment Council, American Red Cross, The ARC/Rowan, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Communities in Schools, Family Crisis Council, Meals on Wheels, Rowan County Literacy Council, Rowan Rescue Squad, Rowan Vocational Opportunities, Rowan Youth Services Bureau, Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, the Salvation Army and the YMCA of Rowan.
The agencies and their clients probably fervently hope area donors recognize the integrity of the Rowan County United Way and of their own organizations.
To show your support for their work and the United Way’s fundraising campaign, you may want to be on hand for the kick-off at 6 this evening in the F&M Bank parking off North Main Street. Expect several forms of entertainment, including a soap box derby race and beach music, all sponsored by Cheerwine.
For many, many years, the United Way has played a vital role here, screening agencies’ needs and raising funds to meet them. Its work touches thousands of lives. Don’t let headlines about other organizations color your perception of the Rowan County United Way.

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