Myth Busting United Way

Myth Busting United Way

I am deeply thankful to Jeffrey Jackson, editor, and Tom Murray, publisher, for earlier this year giving me the opportunity to write a monthly column which allows me to open a window into the work of United Way of Steele County.  Our work can be complicated and, so far, I’ve done my best to outline what we do and how we do it.  But even though I’ve written thousands of words on our mission and process there are still many misconceptions that pop up.  I won’t be able to answer them all here but I will answer a few.  I am always available to answer questions about our organization; give me a call or send me an email.  Our past financials and tax documents are on our website

Our relationship to United Way Worldwide – One of the questions I get asked a lot is about our relationship to the Worldwide organization – do they tell us what to do?  Do we give them a lot of money? Do they give us money? No. No. And I wish.  Every United Way is a stand-alone entity locally governed with missions that are locally identified and directed.  We do have an annual certification process with them which requires us to report about our local governance, adherence to state and local laws for our work, and financial practices.  We also report about our community impact work and the processes by which we raise and allocate funds.  We do pay them annual dues at the rate of 1.25% of our annual fundraising campaign (please see the following category about rumors that circulate about this).  We paid about $8,000 this year.  What we get for that is staff support and training, marketing help, group rates for services such as websites, donor tracking technology, office supplies and other items.  It completely covers at least one or two staff development training courses including travel every year.   We don’t get money back from UWW unless someone has designated a donation to us through the UWW website. 

Social media memes – Every year some absurd meme goes around social media usually about the salary and benefits of CEOs of national charities and nonprofits or claiming an undue amount of locally raised funds are sent to “headquarters”.  I can’t speak to all the other agencies but I will reiterate the fact that United Way of Steele County only sends 1.25% of our locally raised funds away as dues.  Funds raised here stays here to help your neighbors and friends in need.  Please go to our website and look at our 990s and other financials.  These list the amounts we invest in local organizations.  Also, don’t believe everything you read on Facebook or other social media.  Be a student of news and information – research the things you read to make sure they are factual and not maligning a local, needed, community serving organization. 

Overhead – Our overhead ratio is well within ranges previously recommended by Guidestar and Charity Navigator.  We are at 18.8% overhead; they have recommended less than 25%. More importantly is what we do with that overhead and how it contributes to the strength of our organization and the wellbeing of the community.  Having paid professional staff allows us to write grants to foundations, which attracts outside funds to our work.  Staff salaries leverages about $150,000 per year for additional funds for community projects.  These funds have directly and indirectly added jobs. This allows our locally fundraised monies to go to our 16 local Partner Agencies while we still do the extra community improvement work our donors expect.  Another way to look at this is that nearly all of the fund considered overhead in our financials also contribute the economy of our community.  Staff is local.  We buy clothes, food, insurance, mortgages, etc. locally.  United Way of Steele County uses local vendors.  So in this respect 98% of funds raised in Steele County stays here to contribute to our local economy.  You can expect another column in the future which addresses the idea that using an overhead ratio as the prime measure of the effectiveness of a nonprofit is a bad idea.  This has been analyzed by the thought leaders Guidestar, Charity Navigator and Better Business Bureau Giving Alliance who have written about this at

United Way of Steele County is a great community partner by mission and by practice.  The organization funds 24 local programs within 16 local agencies plus 10 internally created program which address current and emerging needs unique to our community.  Thanks to all who have donated to United Way of Steele County.  We cannot execute our mission without local support. 

Kim Schaufenbuel is the Executive Director of United Way of Steele County.  She can be reached at 507-455-1180 or via email at