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United Way of Butler County seeks answers as fundraising falls short

| Saturday, June 14, 2014, 5:42 p.m.

A fundraising campaign in the red is forcing the United Way of Butler County to do some soul-searching, its executive director said.

“We're not working together. As unpopular as it is, we have to take a step back and see how things function and ask how we're going to change this,” Leslie Osche said.

With just a couple of weeks before the 2013-14 fundraising campaign ends, Osche said the agency is about $200,000 short of its $1.6 million goal. She doesn't expect to make up any ground.

“Until our goals are specifically defined, we're not going to raise additional dollars,” she said.

An agency breakfast featuring awards and volunteer recognition that had been scheduled for Thursday will be delayed until Sept. 4.

Instead, the United Way will meet Thursday with participating agencies and board members to refine its mission and determine what issues it should focus on.

“Financial security and poverty, we're looking at the problems. Have we moved the needle? The answer to that is probably no,” Osche said.

The nonprofit organization raised $1.48 million in 2012-13, $200,000 short of its $1.68 million goal. For 2011-12, the organization raised a record $1.7 million.

Last year's shortfall has meant cuts in funding to various programs, though Osche said she hopes some funding could be restored as the financial picture improved.

The Paul Laurence Dunbar Community Center in Butler Township lost $40,000 this year in funding, which would have gone to after-school and summer programming that serves more than 1,000 children, in addition to other efforts.

“I do believe times have changed with the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter, and all the abilities that agencies have to raise their own money, and with the shortage of dollars, we all have to look at where we're spending our money,” Dunbar Executive Director Heather Dovenspike said.

She added that with an annual budget of $300,000 from federal, state and private sources, the center has made up some of the loss through private donations, but it's still a significant hit.

“All nonprofits need to get better administratively,” Dovenspike said.

Osche noted that the United Way cut funding to one food program in Butler. But there's another non-United Way agency within a half-mile that serves hundreds of people.

“Feeding more and more isn't solving the problem. It isn't changing people's financial security. We're not working together,” Osche said.

The United Way of Allegheny County announced this month that it raised nearly $34 million in its 2013 campaign, the fourth straight year-over-year increase. But, as in Butler, other smaller United Way chapters are struggling.

The United Way of Beaver County extended its fundraising campaign through July, hoping to raise nearly $700,000 of its $750,000 goal.

“It's the economy, and the loss of high-paying jobs in the workplace,” Executive Director Bruce Simmeth said. “The backbone of giving for the United Way is payroll deductions, and we've lost a lot of high-paying positions. Entire companies have closed their doors here.”

Osche said her organization has lost money from corporate partners, but she would not identify them.

One of Butler County's largest employers, AK Steel, with nearly 1,300 employees, has remained consistent with its corporate and payroll donations over the past several years, giving about $150,000 annually, said spokesman Mike Wallner.

“The United Way has been supporting the community for so many years, and we're proud to contribute,” Wallner said.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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