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United Way Taps Reserves To Keep 2021 Grants Level As Giving Lags

United Way of Central Carolinas has tapped its reserves to keep grants flowing to local nonprofits over the next year. But officials worry that a continued decline in donations could make it hard to meet the Charlotte region's growing needs in the years ahead.

The United Way board approved $10.7 million in grants to 127 organizations for 2021 - level with last year. But doing that required spending up to $3 million from its reserves - something the organization had previously said it would not do again.

Laura Clark United Way
United Way of Central Carolinas
Laura Yates Clark, United Way of Central Carolinas president and CEO

The extra funding was needed because donations to the United Way fell 13.5% in the fiscal year that ended June 30. And CEO Laura Clark expects contributions to fall another 10% this year.

"The pandemic is hitting our community in different ways," Clark said. "And people are feeling it in different ways. And there's some nervousness right now about people's jobs and whether they're going to continue to be employed. And so we certainly understand why people may be feeling that hesitation."

So Clark and her colleagues are urging people to keep helping, during the organization's year-round fundraising campaign. She notes that the United Way of Central Carolinas was founded during the Great Depression to channel donations to those in need - and it's just as needed today.

"As we think about the moratorium on evictions lifting, and utility disconnects and things like that, we've got a tsunami of need coming in this community," Clark said.

Back On Schedule With Grants

This year's grants put the United Way back on a yearly schedule. Because of a decline in donations last year, the organization adopted a one-time shift to 18-month grants. And it cut the amount it gave out by 25%. The board had hoped that would help end the practice of using savings to fund grants. But this year's needs amid the coronavirus pandemic were too great, Clark said.

"The board a couple of years ago had decided we were not going to use our reserve fund anymore, but because of the pandemic did decide to reach back into that reserve fund," Clark said.

Grants in 2021 will go to initiatives to improve economic opportunity and strengthen neighborhoods. And they'll support agencies that work in fields including mental health and health care, housing and education. Among the major initiatives:

  • $1.1 million to expand the United Way's Unite Charlotte initiative to improve racial equity. That money includes a $1 million contribution from Mecklenburg County. Grants of $15,000 to $40,000 went to 33 organizations including Our Turn, Profound Gentlemen, and Southside Rides. Most are led by people of color.
  • Another $800,000 will go to the United Way's United Neighborhoods program, which addresses needs in specific neighborhoods. Grants include 16 groups and eight neighborhood "quarterback" organizations.
  • The bulk of the money - known as "Community Impact Grants" - will go to 70 agencies in Mecklenburg, Anson, Cabarrus, Iredell and Union counties. The largest individual grants went to the Salvation Army, YMCA, Safe Alliance, Roof Above, Child Care Resources, Communities in Schools and Care Ring. Among the newest grantees were Socialserve, Time Out Youth, and Promise Resource Network.

This year's round of grantmaking is in addition to millions of dollars the United Way has raised and spent specifically to address needs during the coronavirus pandemic. The organization and the Foundation for the Carolinas co-founded the COVID-19 Response Fund in March. It has raised $23.6 million so far.

Avoiding Cuts At United Way

The United Way itself has been able to weather the coronavirus slowdown - thanks to cost-cutting last year, Clark said.

Clark said she was able to avoid layoffs this year among the organization's 34 staff members. The United Way of Central Carolinas got help from a $675,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan.

See the full list of United Way 2021 grants at https://uwcentralcarolinas.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/UWCC-2021-Grants-List.pdf