Funds in limbo as local United Way chapter gets absorbed
It’s an unnerving scenario: Money sits in a bank account, reserved for local nonprofit organizations that need it, but the checks can’t be distributed. Not yet, anyway.
That is the situation facing United Way of Northern California, one of 1,400 United Way offices nationwide that raise funds and allocate them to organizations that promote overall health in their communities. The chapter, which serves eight counties and is headquartered in Redding, recently absorbed United Way of Butte and Glenn Counties, which operated out of Chico for decades.
But until the state of California officially closes the books on United Way of Butte and Glenn Counties, the more than $40,000 waiting to be distributed to agencies in those counties cannot go anywhere, said Ron Largent, executive director of United Way of Northern California (UWNC). Up to 90 percent of the money is intended for agencies in Butte County, including Catalyst Domestic Violence Services, the Torres Shelter, Meals on Wheels, and the Chico Community Children’s Center.
“It’s a legal issue; the checks came made out to Butte-Glenn, and [UWNC] can’t just write a new check, because [the Butte-Glenn chapter] no longer exists,” he said.
Largent, who’s been involved with United Way since the 1970s, said he’s seen the process of closing an office lag in the past, but it’s never taken so long. He’s gotten state lawmakers involved to speed up the paperwork (which has long surpassed its 60- to-90-day expected processing time), but the closure of the chapter has yet to be finalized after nearly six months, leaving Largent’s hands tied.
“Right now, we’re just waiting on word from the California Department of Corporations, because we have funds sitting in an account earmarked for those agencies,” he said by phone from his Redding office. “And it’s most irritating, believe me.”
The absorption of the Butte-Glenn chapter by UWNC has been especially relevant to Catalyst, which has received United Way funds since 1984. Executive Director Anastacia Snyder said the organization had received up to $15,000 from the Butte-Glenn chapter in years past and is expecting about $8,500 this year.
She said the snafu has affected Catalyst in two ways. First, the agency has yet to receive its usual summertime allotment of funds, causing it to struggle to provide basic services, which range from counseling and help with paperwork to emergency safe-shelter and temporary housing.
“Those [United Way] dollars tie to a direct reduction of services,” Snyder said. Catalyst has a policy of never turning anyone away, so when it can’t stretch its services, staff members have to find creative ways to partner with other local organizations to meet clients’ needs.
Second, Snyder got stuck this year with the responsibility of administering Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds in Butte, Glenn and Colusa counties—a duty that belonged to United Way of Butte and Glenn Counties before it closed—because she co-chaired the local FEMA board and there as no one else to do it. (The North Valley Community Foundation will be taking on the task in the future.)
Snyder is still sifting through the paperwork to finalize funding for approximately 20 organizations, as well as the paperwork those organizations need to reapply for funding. So far, the process has taken well beyond 100 working hours, but neither she nor Catalyst will be reimbursed for the extra work, Snyder said.
And through it all, no one from the Butte-Glenn chapter ever contacted Catalyst to keep them in the loop. “It was sort of like this rumor mill about what was happening over there,” she said. “But there was no appropriate official closure.”
Communication with Redding-based UWNC has been good, Snyder said, and a meeting is scheduled next week to get all their member agencies up to speed on the administrative changes.
Like many nonprofits that rely on fundraising, United Way has been looking for ways to adapt to a lagging economy and a changing workforce, and combining county and regional offices is one way to cut spending without cutting services to the counties that depend on them.
Talk about UWNC absorbing the Butte-Glenn chapter started more than two years ago, but the nonprofit officially started the adsorption process earlier this year.
In addition to the paperwork hassle associated with closing the chapter, the process involved collecting local feedback on how UWNC can best connect with Butte and Glenn agencies from its Redding office. A decision was made to create separate boards of directors for Butte County and Glenn County composed of six volunteers in each of them.
“The needs in Glenn County are very specific and particular to Glenn County, and the same with Butte County,” Largent said. He added that the need to increase fundraising and the number of agencies United Way serves is especially dire in Glenn County, “So we really think this is a better way to go.”