United Way Dissolution


January 9, 2020

The decision by the United Way of Transylvania County (UWTC) Board of Directors to dissolve its operation in the next few months presents new challenges for county nonprofit organizations.

Over its 65 years of existence, the UWTC has done a good job of raising funds and distributing them to local nonprofit organizations. When the major manufacturing plants closed around the turn of this century, corporate and payroll deduction contributions dropped significantly. Nevertheless, the UWTC was able to find other ways to raise funds. From 2013 to 2018, the UWTC directed more than $1.5 million to local programs.

UWTC also changed its funding model to encourage cooperation and reduce duplicative services among local nonprofits. This led to a more efficient use of UWTC funds and improved collaboration among the county’s nonprofits.

With the impending closure of the UWTC, local nonprofits will have to adapt. For the past six decades, the directors and board members of local nonprofits – such as The Family Place, Rise & Shine, El Centro, The Mediation Center, Augustine Literacy Project, etc. – were able to establish relations with the UWTC and make their case directly to the UWTC for funding. Now those nonprofit directors and board members will have to establish new relations with other, relatively new organizations and seek contributions directly from donors. Some organizations may be able to make this transition seamlessly; others may not. Historically, some organizations have had good public relations personnel and have been able to get their message to donors on a consistent basis. Other organizations that serve equally important functions, however, have not been as adept in soliciting funds from the public; they will have more difficulty soliciting funds when competing directly against other local nonprofits that have mastered the public relations process.

By their very nature, some organizations have a visceral advantage in attracting donors. A photo of smiling children being tutored by volunteers at Rise & Shine is typically going to draw more attention than a photo of an adult receiving financial advice from OnTrackWNC, even though both organizations are currently receiving funding from the UWTC.

Local nonprofits could find themselves competing against one another at a time when donations are shrinking. As we reported earlier, Giving USA’s June report estimated a 3.4 percent decrease in charitable giving in 2018. According to Rick Houck, interim CEO of the UWTC, reduced donations is a national trend, not an aberration.

Houck and Brevard City Councilwoman Maureen Copelof, who is also vice chair of the Rise & Shine board of directors, mentioned the Pisgah Health Foundation and Dogwood Health Trust as new organizations that could replace funds the United Way has provided for years. That is certainly possible, particularly in the case of the Pisgah Health Foundation. However, unlike the UWTC, neither of these organizations distributes funds solely within Transylvania County.

Even though the Pisgah Health Foundation evolved out of the Transylvania Regional Hospital Foundation, unlike the Transylvania Regional Foundation, it serves more counties than Transylvania.

According to its website, Pisgah Health Foundation supports “the health and well-being of all communities in Western North Carolina,” with its primary focus on Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania counties. It also states that “In the fall 2019 grant cycle, special consideration will be given to programs and services provided in the WNC region C-4: Buncombe, Haywood and Madison counties.”

The Dogwood Health Trust, according to its website, serves the more than 900,000 people living in 18 counties in Western North Carolina.

As a result, when local nonprofits submit applications to either of these two trusts, they will be competing with organizations in other counties. It seems quite unlikely the Dogwood Health Trust, which serves so many counties, including populous Buncombe and Henderson counties, would have much money to disburse in Transylvania.

With increased competition and reduced charitable donations, local nonprofits could face more financial challenges than they did when the UWTC was in operation. We hope they can meet those challenges and not suffer the fate of the UWTC.


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