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Charities feel pinch, but not in Idaho

Thu., Dec. 9, 2004

Spokane’s United Way chapter has announced steep cuts this month to dozens of social service programs in anticipation of more fund-raising woes.

The chapter said it will reduce allocations to health and social services agencies next year by 18 percent, or about $360,000.

Since 2002, the Spokane chapter has cut nearly $750,000 from its allocations, or about 30 percent. The new cuts will go into effect in January.

“The amount of money we’re receiving on the pledges is falling short,” said Garman Lutz, United Way Spokane’s interim director. “We can’t continue to give more money than we’re collecting.”

United Way leaders hoped that slight improvements in Washington’s economy – coupled with a new fund-raising approach – would reverse a downward trend. Instead, giving has slumped even further, forcing Spokane’s chapter to shrink its allocations from $2.4 million in 2002 to just $1.7 million this year.

In an undated letter to community groups, United Way said fund-raising will again fall “well below the projections,” necessitating the cuts.

“Over the past few years we have seen hundreds upon hundreds of area employees downsized, we have seen the amount of resources – both monetary and volunteer – diminish and we have seen several major employers close their doors completely,” the letter read.

At the YWCA, which will lose about $45,000 next year, executive director Monica Walters said she is scrambling to find money to support programs for homeless children and victims of domestic violence.

“I was surprised that it was this much, this soon,” Walters said.

Walters said she anticipates cuts at the city, state and federal levels, as well. The YWCA laid off an attorney this year after losing a $75,000 year-old Department of Justice grant to help domestic violence victims navigate the court system. In 2003, the group received $63,000 less from United Way than the previous year, resulting in other layoffs.

The YWCA hopes to raise more money, rather than shutter programs, Walters said.

“I can’t imagine turning away homeless children or domestic violence victims,” Walters said. “But it’s a tough climate because there’s so many (groups like us) out there in this situation.”

At the Guilds’ School, which provides therapy for disabled infants and children, officials are concerned about social services cuts stretching from Spokane to Washington, D.C. The center will lose about $15,000 a year because of the United Way cuts.

“It doesn’t feel very good, right now,” said Dick Boysen, the center’s executive director. “It’s troubling. These are Spokane’s most disabled children.”

In 2002, United Way of Spokane cut its giving 15 percent, or about $370,000. Among the programs affected were counseling programs for low-income children, a mental health hotline, and emergency shelters.

Across the state line, it is a different story. Kootenai County’s United Way chapter has increased its allocations for next year by 27 percent and is nearing its fund-raising goal for the year, according to Jeff Conroy, the group’s executive director.

“We should reach our goal in the next week,” said Conroy, noting that the fund-raising year extends into the spring. “We’re blowing it out of the water.”

But Conroy, who worked for years in Spokane County, said the number of groups competing for donations makes for a more competitive environment in Washington.

United Way’s Spokane chapter has tried to boost funding by changing its approach.

In fall 2003, the chapter spent $58,000 to hire 10 executives for its fall fund-raising campaign. In the past 20 years, companies have been less willing to loan volunteer executives to help raise money, according to United Way, forcing the agency to pay executives for their help.

Lutz defended the decision, even though fund-raising continues to lag.

“They’ve helped us maintain a level we couldn’t maintain without them,” Lutz said. “Fund raising has become very difficult in this environment.”


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