BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Coronavirus has forced non-profit agencies funded by the United Way to look at things differently. The irony there is that the United Way itself is having to look at things differently.
The United Way of the Great River Region is currently in the middle of its annual campaign and the group is at about 63% of last year’s funding levels with about three weeks left.
Director Karen Siefken said the United Way board’s allocation committee will be making determinations on agency funding by Dec. 16 and she said the campaign’s success in a coronavirus world will determine funding levels.
“The better our campaign, the more we can fund,” Siefken said.
“We’re at 63% of our goal and I would say we’re on target to be where we were last year, but we still have about 40% to go. “
The United Way campaign opens in early September and runs through December 31st. She said contributions continue to come in through January and even later in the year. But she said the funds raised in 2020 are what is given out in 2021.
Not every United Way agency functions that way. Some organizations collect all the funds from the previous year’s campaign and then make allocations the following year. For example, in some United Way operations funds committed in 2020 won’t be given out until 2022 when all the donations have been collected.
“They want it all in before they give it out, and we don’t do it that way,” she said.
Twenty-two agencies have submitted applications for funding this year. Several organizations from last year weren’t able to use part or all of their grants from 2020 due to COVID-related closures and restrictions, but those funds were squirreled away by those groups and will be used for 2021.
She said the coronavirus has had a large impact on United Way activities as well as having an impact on the agencies it helps fund. And the need is still very real.
“The needs is always going to be there. They’ve had to figure out a different way to provide their services in most cases,” she said.
“We’ve temporarily lost a lot of that in-person, stop-by, kind of thing. And that creates challenges. Agencies are now investing in wi-fi and tablets so they can continue to provide services remotely and maybe they haven’t budgeted for that.
“I’ve heard stories about how agencies are delivering with things like curbside book pick-up at the libraries. Who would have thought of that – or Boy Scouts getting merit badges virtually. That’s pretty cool stuff.”
Donations in rural areas like Lee, Hancock and Clark counties, the three served by the local United Way, are still predominantly from worker pledges and individual contributions, but the face of that has changed as well.
“This is rural Iowa. Most of our donations are still done on a pledge card that goes to an employer payroll and the payroll department takes care of the deduction and getting us a check in their cycle,” Siefken said. “But I do get checks in the mail, occasionally cash, and then our events.”
She said 2021 will look a bit different with a more visible presence online and through social media.
She said despite the annual campaign officially ending in December, it’s never to late to give and people wanting to help the United Way can do so in a myriad of ways.
“It’ never too late to give. If all of a sudden it’s April and you go, ‘Oh gosh, I would love to give to the United Way’, that’s ok. We just have to kind of have a date to call it done so we can set up allocations,” she said.
“But we can accept donations all year. You can sponsor some of our events, the golf outing, spaghetti dinner, and this year we’re kicking around the idea of maybe an individual fishing rodeo or a virtual 5K.”
Her expectations have been trimmed, but Siefken said she may end up being proved wrong.
“I think it’s just very individual in how its affecting people. Are they feeling generous, or are they afraid for their own families and the communities as a whole – I don’t know,” she said.
“I see where some people aren’t giving as much from the uncertainty, but then we’re seeing new donors, too. So my expectations are that we will come up a bit short, but we’re getting close to where we were last year.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the United Way can do so by either dropping a check in the mail to 511 Blondeau Street #3, Keokuk, Iowa 52632 or by calling the office at 319-524-4505.