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More Directed Giving, Some Responding To Ferguson, Leaves Less For Other United Way Agencies

Costs of goods and services in St. Louis rose 2.5 percent between the last six months of 2009 and the last six months of 2010 - more than double the national rate. (via Flickr / _J_D_R_)
Costs of goods and services in St. Louis rose 2.5 percent between the last six months of 2009 and the last six months of 2010 - more than double the national rate. (via Flickr / _J_D_R_)

Some social service agencies in St. Louis will receive less funding from the United Way of Greater St. Louis this year despite a record annual campaign for the agency.

The United Way raised $73 million to fund programs in 2015, about $500,000 more than its stated goal. But $3.7 million of those dollars were directed to specific agencies or causes - more than 20 times the amount of restricted giving in 2014.

The rapid change reduced the pool of money available for allocation panels to distribute to member agencies. Those 170-plus nonprofits all received what's known as a minimum funding level, which is designed to provide a consistent base from year-to-year. But some providers saw their 2015 funding decrease by more than $50,000 compared to 2014 levels.

There is still more money as a whole going to help the needy in the region, said Kathy Gardner, the United Way's senior vice president of community investment.

"Last year, that money came through one funding pool," she said. "This year, there are multiple funding pools."

The St. Louis Effort for AIDS is one agency that saw its funding drop year-over-year.

"I can safely say knowing the history of the EFA that we will not cut services to clients," said its executive director, Cheryl Oliver. "We certainly will not cut staff as a first choice. We’ll look at all of the different options before we decide."

The Salvation Army's Midland Division received about $60,000 less in United Way funding in 2015. The United Way allocation typically makes up about 8 percent of the division's budget, said its general secretary, Phil Aho.

"We're committed to continuing our programs," Aho said. "We'll look at ways to streamline, and for other fundraising opportunities." He said the Salvation Army's Tree of Lights campaign is currently running short of its $5.8 million goal, with about 20 days left.

New Giving Trend

Gardner, of the United Way, said the desire of corporations to respond to the unrest in Ferguson drove some of the directed giving. About 30 percent of the $3.7 million was earmarked specifically for that cause. But she said she expected the trend to continue.

"This has been happening across our country," she said. "Philanthropy's changing. People are looking for more specific results. We are positioning ourselves to be able to provide that information."

Lindsay Nichols, with the online nonprofit information service Guidestar, said the conversation about philanthropy and the way nonprofits spend donations really began with the economic downturn. The directed giving trend, she said, has picked up over the last few years.

The changing landscape can be a good thing, Nichols said.

"Sometimes a nonprofit needs a little shake-up occasionally to say, 'We've been relying on that funding for so long, is that necessarily a good thing?' " she said. "In some cases, it means that people are going without clothes or food or shelter."

Nichols said an increase in directed giving is much harder on smaller agencies that don't have the benefit of marketing or communication staffs.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.