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United Way cuts staff, costs

The 60 members of the United Way board unanimously accepted every recommendation from an independent review of the CEO pay controversy. That includes cutting the board's size in half, holding open meetings and making sure future executives make more reasonable salaries. Having made those decisions, Board Chairman Carlos Evans says, "At this point, the board agrees that our responsibility is to move the organization forward. And we can not do that if we continue to reflect on the past. And so from now on, I welcome any questions from the public about the future. But the past is in the past, and for the sake of the organization, we feel like we need to move on." Evans' request may be a bit premature, since he also announced that next week the United Way will release a detailed audit of former CEO Gloria Pace King's expense accounts. That's sure to raise additional questions about how King was promised more than 2 million dollars in compensation last year. Fallout from the pay controversy continues to affect the United Way's future in Charlotte. Starting with its size. "We're not just eliminating jobs, we're eliminating work," says United Way Interim CEO Mac Everett. "And this isn't just an expense reduction. It truly is a restructure of how we do things and the kind of organization we need to accomplish what our goals are." Everett says about 30 employees have taken voluntary severance, since the nonprofit fell 15-million dollars short of its fundraising goals in 2008. That's about thirty-percent of the local United Way staff. "Certainly you don't have the same size organization that you do for a 45-million dollar fund drive as you do for a 30-million dollar fund drive," says Everett. He's cut about 3 million dollars from the agency's budget and the board agreed to spend five-million dollars from its rainy day reserve. Still, United Way will have a lot less money to give the 90 local nonprofits it helps fund. For example, CommunityLink usually gets about 420,000 dollars from United Way, which is 18- percent of its annual budget to help poor working families find affordable housing. So as United Way cuts back, so too is CommunityLink's CEO Floyd Davis, Jr. "We've looked internally and have downsized and streamlined everywhere possible," says Davis. "We were at a staff of about 45 and now we're down to a staff of 34." And at the same time, Davis says CommunityLink is "experiencing a 36-percent demand over and above our current capacity. And we, for the first time have waiting lists of people knocking on our doors, in need of our services." Davis says he's also had to beef up his own fundraising efforts. The CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Charlotte - Sarah Cherne - says she's actually had an increase of direct donations as a result of the public's mistrust in United Way. "We've received a lot of support from people doing different workplace campaigns rather than just have a United Way campaign," says Cherne. "And we were fortunately one of those recipients." United Way's troubles have raised some question about the value of a single agency raising money for dozens of local nonprofits. This week, Mecklenburg County Commissioners agreed to consider allowing the county's five-thousand employees to give to individual nonprofits directly from their paychecks. Currently their only options are the United Way and the Arts and Science Council. United Way Board Chairman Carlos Evans maintains a united fund is still the most efficient way to raise money.