United Way allocations dip as agency aims for stronger financial footing

United Way of Horry County’s community partners will share $779,850 next year, but each will have less money because it’s coming from a smaller pot.

The 2013-14 campaign raised $1.2 million, or 93 percent of the $1.275 million goal. The board unanimously decided to base the 2015 allocations on the past year’s history — actual dollars — rather than the future year’s goal, United Way President Genie Sherard said.

“That ensures sustainability,” she said. “You don’t plan to buy a car because you think you’ll get a raise. You base it on the nice raise you got this year.”

Every organization is evaluated each year, and the allocation percentages are not based on merit, but on each group’s unique needs, Sherard said. The organizations will receive the same percentage of funds that they received last year, and the board did not add any new applicants, she said.

The campaign goal for 2015 is $1.275 million and has been for the last few years because of the economic downturn. Recent campaigns have fallen short of the goal but were close enough that the board could use its reserves to avoid allocation cuts, said Tracy Vreeland, United Way spokeswoman, but reserves only last for so long.

“You can’t run a house like that,” Vreeland said.

United Way supports 42 initiatives, with allocations going to 38 community partners. The agency also supports 2-1-1, its information hotline; Get Connected, a volunteer database website; the Prescription Drug Savings initiative; and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance initiative.

Organizations recently were notified of their allocations and now are faced with making up the shortfall.

“I understand it – they didn’t get to goal,” said Barb Mains, whose Help 4 Kids/Backpack Buddies allocation dropped from $20,000 to $17,400. “We just have to try to make it up.”

The Claire Chapin Epps Family YMCA received $27,700, about $4,300 less than last year. All of the money goes toward enabling kids to participate in after-school and summer camp programs, said CEO Matt Dempski, adding the YMCA will raise money on its own.

Dempski said he appreciates that United Way gives ample notice about its allocations, as he has worked with other agencies that report funding in the current year. Knowing the allocation ahead of time allows him to plan necessary budget changes now for next year, he said.

The timing is more difficult for the Coastal S.C. Chapter of the American Red Cross – which saw its allocation drop by $10,000 – because its new fiscal year started July 1.

“This is the lowest our allocation has been in 11 years,” said Executive Director Nanci Conley. “It goes to support victims of home fires and for disaster relief in Horry County, and the figures are going up.”

Conley said the Red Cross spends $1,250 per family of four, and a $10,000 loss equals eight fewer families, or 32 fewer people, who can be served. Last year, the Red Cross helped 309 people in Horry County who lost their homes to fires, she said.

“This just means we’re going to have to really get out there and do more fundraising,” Conley said. “We’ve got to meet the needs of the clients – we’re certainly not going to leave Horry County citizens standing on the corner.”

The Red Cross received a $10,000 grant from Myrtle Beach this fiscal year, the first grant from the city in Conley’s memory. The group did not, however, receive a grant from North Myrtle Beach this year.

United Way’s upcoming campaign will kick off with its Day of Caring Sept. 12, when 300 to 400 volunteers will work on a variety of needed projects for area agencies, said Lisa Bourcier, campaign chairwoman. There will be a phone blitz aimed at reaching people early and lining up the bulk of donations in the first three months, while local businesses will be contacted about opportunities that can expand into that week, she said.

“We definitely want to start calling early,” Bourcier said. “A lot of it is getting the information out there and making sure people are asked.”

Bourcier said there also will be an effort to increase members of the area’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society, a United Way organization for donors who give $10,000 or more a year. Sherard was director of the Tocqueville Society in Detroit, which saw record growth before she left to join Horry County’s United Way in April.

Sherard said not making goal is never a positive, but the board is being fiscally responsible, and they expect to see a turnaround for 2015.

“We feel like we are going to make [goal] this year, and as the economy turns around – as it is doing – we expect it to go back up,” she said. “We’re making a difference, and people want to make a difference – they need to know it is working.”