False emails about nonprofits hurt locally

Published 5:55 pm Saturday, November 2, 2013

Column: Live United, by Ann Austin

Around this time of year there are always e-mails that get forwarded throughout communities which make false claims about how certain nonprofits manage their organizations. I’m thankful when we get calls from people who question the claims and comments they hear from others.

Our United Way chapter is a local organization that works with local programs to help our neighbors. When false information gets out in our community, it’s not only damaging to our organization, it hurts our community and the people we are trying to help.

Ann Austin

Ann Austin

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Each year, the statements change slightly, but they are always inaccurate — I suggest that people visit Snopes.com to find out for themselves what the truth is behind the claims being made.

Though United Way chapters work nationally and worldwide to find solutions to the greatest challenges in the areas of education, income and health, each chapter raises and distributes funds locally. Our United Way has a staff of two people — Amanda Weiss (soon to be Irvine!) and me. We are thankful to have many volunteers who help us reach out to the greater community with a more substantial impact.

We have been thankful to raise over $600,000 for each of several years now and support 29 local programs. In addition, 98 percent of funds stay local — our overhead expenses account for approximately 11 percent of our total budget. The other 2 percent of our funds are split in the following way: 1 percent is directed to United Way Worldwide for membership (which offers many benefits) and 1 percent is designated by donors to other communities.

Several times a year, we receive a call asking for more specific information about our operations. We are very open about all expenses and strive to operate in an efficient way. We undergo an audit every year and our 990 tax forms are found on our website: www.united wayfc.org.

Last year, United Way Worldwide issued a statement that helped clarify some of the information. I have linked their PDF statement on our website, under the “About Us” tab. Following is some clarification:

“A viral email has circulated widely for several years, listing information about executive compensation and overhead costs at several large nonprofit organizations. The email is incorrect in many ways, with outlandish claims about perks and overhead costs. United Way Worldwide cannot detect the original source of the email …. Our hope is that people will refrain from passing around emails with such claims before checking the validity of those claims. …

“Regarding Brian Gallagher’s (CEO of United Way Worldwide) compensation:

• “United Way Worldwide’s executive compensation committee and board of trustees base Mr. Gallagher’s compensation on that of CEOs of other large nationally recognized charities.”

• “While Mr. Gallagher leads the largest privately-funded nonprofit organization in the U.S., his cash compensation ranks fourth out of the large national charities comprising the Leadership 18 (the country’s largest human service nonprofits).”

• “United Way Worldwide is the leadership and support organization for the nearly 1,800 local United Ways in 41 countries around the globe. United Way Worldwide’s work is supported by the 1 percent membership fee paid by local United Ways and by corporate and foundation grants.”

• “Local donors support work in their communities through local United Ways, which are separately incorporated nonprofits with their own CEOs and boards of directors. …

“Overhead rates vary at local United Ways. The overall United Way system’s administration and overhead rate in the U.S. of 13.8 percent (far from the 88 percent claimed in this incorrect email) remains extremely competitive with the top 100 nonprofits in the U.S. and is well below industry standards and recommendations. Moreover, United Way helps hundreds of other nonprofits maintain low overhead rates.”

I chose to work for United Way because I believe it is a wonderful vehicle for community problem-solving. I have been impressed with the way United Way operates and the support network from peers. I would not work for this organization if I found it to be operating in an unethical way.

I personally don’t expect everyone to support our organization, but I do expect people to be honest with others. If you don’t believe United Way is the best vehicle for your donation, just say so. I won’t judge. But I do ask that you take the time to look into where you are donating your funds — it will be beneficial for your understanding and for the organization you support.

And, if you happen to take an interest in our United Way, please feel free to call or stop by and ask us what we’re up to. I have a feeling you will be impressed.


Albert Lea resident Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.