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United Way Of Denton County’s Financial Shortfall Could Lead To Fewer Families Being Helped In 2021

In the image, two volunteers pose for a photo in front of food they're preparing to give away to families in need. The volunteers are women who are wearing face masks.
United Way of Denton County
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Two United Way of Denton County volunteers pose in front of food they're preparing to give to families in need.

The United Way of Denton County is facing a massive decrease in donations this year, and the money the organization received from the federal government to help families facing financial crises runs out at the end of the month.

Gary Henderson, president and CEO of the United Way of Denton County, says the nonprofit was expecting to raise about $1.5 to $2 million in 2020. But with less than a week left in the year, they’re stuck at about $800,000. That’s almost a 40% decrease from fundraising efforts in 2019, and it’s merely a drop in the bucket during a global pandemic.

Henderson spoke with KERA about the organization’s shortfall and how it could put already vulnerable families in the position of facing homelessness in 2021. Here’s what you need to know about what the group does, who it serves and how it got into these financial struggles.

Interview highlights have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Who Has The United Way Of Denton County Served In 2020?

This year has been a pretty unique year. Back in April, we connected with Denton County Judge Andy Eads to leverage the county’s CARES Act funds, which came from the U.S. Department of Treasury for COVID-19 relief and recovery. And from then up until now, we have served more than 4,256 households with 7,200 months of financial assistance. That includes rent, mortgage and utilities.

But I need to say that we did not do this on our own. We were working with about a dozen Denton County-based nonprofits.

What Are The United Way of Denton County’s Focus Areas?

Every United Way is governed locally by volunteers from the community. They serve as board members. And together with the board, a staff looks for the unique needs within a community to tailor a response.

In Denton County, you’re going to find that we focus on access to mental health services, the rapidly growing homeless population and children and families.

Around here we use the term ALICE. ALICE stands for Asset Limited Income Constrained, but Employed. Those ALICE households that are above the poverty level, but that are stuck at that “survival wage” level, tend to get hit financially by hefty car repair costs or even large Texas-summer utility bills. Those families have been hit especially hard by COVID.

Why Has Fundraising Been So Hard This Year?

We should’ve secured about $1.5 to $2 million through our traditional workplace campaigning efforts. And for you who may be unfamiliar with the United Way fundraising model, we have corporate partners, outstanding companies, that invite us into their workplace to appeal to their employees to give through payroll deduction. It’s a powerful thing.

So unlike most nonprofits, about 85% of our donors are weekly payroll deductions of $30 to $40 per pay period. Thousands and thousands of employees donate through their paychecks.

Right now though, we’re only at about $800,000 in fundraising. And if you break that down, it means our impact has been minimized. Because we also provide funding to our partnering nonprofits. So in 2021, not only will United Way of Denton County be short. But so will the groups we partner with to impact the largest number of people in Denton County.

Isn’t There More Federal Money On The Way?

If the White House should sign the most recent bill that’s been passed for COVID relief, we fully expect to get some of that money and to collaborate with Judge Eads again.

But we also know that those funds do not fund baseline operations. Operations that we need day in and day out. So, what we’re looking at in 2021 is less capacity. And to put it more plainly, in 2020 we were able to ride the strong fundraising we did in 2019, and here came the relief funds to help prop up that strong donor base from 2019. But in 2021, if there are more relief funds and we’ve lost our base funding… Then we wont have as much money for our staff, utilities and for general operations.

That means we will have money from the Federal government, but the staff won’t be there to take calls and to help a family access the money available to them.

What Can Be Done Now?

Well, you can donate. You’ve asked me “why are you asking for help now?” And the answer is that people need help right now.

There are dozens and dozens of reasons that compel a person to give. Dozens. And I would never attempt to crawl into the head of a person thinking about making a donation. But I know that every time an individual has thought about making a gift, it’s because they had it in their heart to give. My job is to let them know what our needs are. It’s about aligning our needs with their passion to give.

What happens if we don’t get the funding we need? Well, I know what happens. Before I came to nonprofit work, I was a management consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers and a senior vice president at Bank of America. And if we can’t get the money we need, we start to look like every other business in America. And that means making cuts. Cuts to our staff and cuts to the funding we provide to other nonprofits in Denton County. Cuts to the people we serve.

Got a tip? Email Hady Mawajdeh at hady@KERA.org. You can follow Hady on Twitter @hadysauce.

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