Nonprofits break from United Way

by Sarah Fay Campbell

It's no secret that many non-profit organizations in Coweta County haven't been very happy with the United Way of Greater Atlanta in the past few years.

As the giant fundraising and grant-making organization has "sharpened its focus" by concentrating on specific focus areas, some local groups that had received funding for years found themselves no longer aligned with United Way of Greater Atlanta's goals.

Now, many of those local organizations have decided to no longer apply for United Way funds, and to instead mount a major annual fundraising effort to collect funds in Coweta County — for Coweta County.

"We're going to go our separate ways and we hope that the public will follow us and support us," said Bobby Welch, executive director of The Rutledge Center. The new organization will be "even more accountable" and will be very transparent, he said. And those who donate "will see a tremendous reduction in administrative costs" compared to United Way of Greater Atlanta.

Sixteen nonprofits formed a new foundation, Coweta Together Foundation. But instead of moving forward as an independent body, Coweta Together Foundation is merging with the existing Coweta Community Foundation to form the new Coweta Community Foundation. The foundation's board will almost double in size as a result of the merger.

"Everything is going to be a joint effort moving forward," said Deidre Bembry of the Coweta Community Foundation.

The organizations include CORRAL — the Coweta Organization for Riding, Rehabilitation and Learning — Bridging the Gap, Breakaway Childcare Center, the Cancer Support Group of Coweta County, Coweta CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — Coweta County Special Olympics, the Housing Authority of Newnan's Family Self-Sufficiency Program, Meals on Wheels of Coweta, Family Patterns Matter, One Roof Ecumenical Alliance Outreach/Coweta Community Food Pantry, Prevent Child Abuse Coweta, the Rutledge Center, Shenandoah GYSTC, Stepping Stones and The Community Welcome House.

In the next several months, the organization will hire a director and lay the groundwork for a fundraising campaign, which is set to begin in January.

"We don't want to go into this thing until we fully get organizations on board for payroll deductions," Welch said. Hopes are that local businesses will offer their employees the opportunity to have donations to Coweta Community Foundation deducted from their paychecks — just like they currently do for United Way.

"We've got to do a lot of legwork to see that these things take place," Welch said. Donors are always welcome to go ahead and make donations to the organizations of their choice.

In many ways, this is going back to the way things used to be. The United Way of of Newnan-Coweta County merged with the United Way of Metro Atlanta in 1997. The United Way of Newnan-Coweta began as the Coweta Community Chest and Council, Welch said.

The option of recreating the United Way of Newnan-Coweta didn't exist. "United Way won't allow any new units to be established," Welch said.

After the merger, things were alright for a few years, but "it hasn't been that rewarding," he said. "You just don't have a community identify the needs and then have someone from outside the community tell you 'you don't need that anymore,'" Welch said, referring to the denial of funding for some groups.

The United Way of Greater Atlanta is now only making awards to organizations that fit the focus areas of education, health, income and homelessness.

Within those four focus areas, the metro group has six community goals: children should enter school ready to learn and graduate prepared for careers; families are self-sufficient; babies are born healthy; young people avoid risky behaviors; people have access to primary health care; and homeless people are housed within one year.

"We don't line up with United Way. The money is not coming back to Coweta County," said Marie Powell of CORRAL, a therapeutic riding program for children and adults with disabilities.

"We think it is time the money that is raised in Coweta County stays in Coweta County."

"It took a leap of faith" to break from United Way, Powell said. "Everybody was scared to death."

Now, "we're excited about it. We're a little apprehensive because we're still not really sure how it is going to work out and how long it is going to take to get funds for it," Powell said.

But, "we're looking forward to it. And I think the community is ready," she said. Powell said she's heard from many people who say they haven't donated to United Way in a long time.

There will be a paid director but the salary "won't be $400,000 like Milton Little," the director of the United Way of Greater Atlanta, gets, Powell said.

Any Coweta organization will be eligible to apply for funding from the foundation. The application process will be much simpler than the cumbersome process for United Way, according to Welch and Powell.

"That is the beauty of this whole thing. There is no limit," said Welch. "Any Coweta County-based nonprofit can apply for funds and be on equal footing."

"We're going to learn from what happened, what not to do," said Powell. "We're excited about it and ready to move forward."



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