Editorial: Checking up on a charity

Apr. 03, 2014 @ 11:44 PM

Sevier County people, by nature, seem to be charitable, giving and genuinely concerned about their neighbors.

That’s why when nearly any nonprofit launches a fundraiser or campaign, people come out in great support.

With the United Way of Sevier County, however, questions come up: Where does the money go? Are they still in operation? Doesn’t the CEO of the national organization make a gazillion dollars?

As the local chapter of UW announced its reaching the $400,000 campaign goal for the ending fiscal year, it might be the appropriate time to answer some of those questions.

1 — Where does the money go? Thanks to the Alexis De Tocqueville Society, which pays the local chapter’s administrative costs, money given by locals to United Way go to benefit dozens of area agencies supported by the group — from the Boys & Girls Clubs to organizations that help sexually abused children, the elderly and mentally disabled. 

Many are great agencies, doing great things for Sevier County residents. Some may even be sponsored by your church or business. They’re worthy causes that often get large portions of their funding through United Way’s efforts.

2 — Are they still in operation? Yes. Despite nearly shutting down at the end of 2012, the United Way of Sevier County is still alive and kicking, even thriving. With a new board and new executives leading the charge, United Way re-formed to pick up the cause of the county’s small nonprofit agencies. With over $50,000 raised Tuesday night and another $350,000 raised in donations and pledges since September, there’s little doubt that United Way is back.

3 — Isn’t their national CEO very well paid? Yes, as a matter of fact, Brian Gallagher, CEO and president of United Way Worldwide is very well paid for his work. According to Snopes.com, the Internet’s often-cited myth buster, Gallagher’s last reported total yearly compensation was $717,076 (including a base salary of $415,613). At the same time, the group gave out over $60 million in contributions and grants in 2012, according to its IRS 990 form, while maintaining an excellent record from charitable giving watchdogs.

Contrary to the chain emails that often go around, both Charity Navigator and Forbes look favorably on the United Way Worldwide, giving it favorable ratings that compare well with many of the similarly-sized nationally-run charities. The Christian Science Monitor reports 90 percent of United Way’s total expenses are spent on programs.

Are there other organizations you can give your money to? Yes. Will it be spent in a more economically efficient way? Not necessarily.

The United Way of Sevier County does good things here. Just ask the mother of a child being helped by Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center or an elderly widow who relies on Senior Citizen Home Assistance Service for care. They’ll tell you all about it.