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Charities' funding feud: A question of priorities

| Thursday, Oct. 2, 2003

The Salvation Army and the United Way of Westmoreland County risk damaging something vital -- their good reputations -- if they allow a disagreement over funding to devolve into charges and countercharges.

Handled the wrong way, the dispute could have a chilling effect on public contributions -- and right before the holidays, no less.

The disagreement began in April when the United Way withheld $21,000 from the Salvation Army after it failed to provide an independent audit, among other requirements. (We're told the funding still could have been accessed by the Salvation Army.)

The Salvation Army responded with an emergency fund-raising campaign of its own in June; its literature didn't paint a positive picture of the United Way. The United Way, which allocates about $300,000 annually to 12 Salvation Army units in Westmoreland County, responded by informing the agency that "any additional adverse publicity" will be factored into an ongoing program review. Translation: Knock off the negativity.

Neither side wins if contributors bypass the United Way, the Salvation Army -- or both as a result. Better for officials of two well-regarded organizations to meet face to face to candidly discuss and amicably resolve their differences. Letting things fester only widens a divide when both agencies essentially are in the same business.

Here's hoping that business -- and not an inter-agency squabble -- will take precedence.

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