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United Way will consider shutting down

The Prince Edward County United Way is seeking input from the community about its future.

A press release from the organization Monday, April 19, said the United Way Board will vote at its Monday, May 3, meeting to decide whether to merge with another United Way, become an unaffiliated community philanthropic organization or shutter the organization.

The release said those interested in voicing an opinion should contact the United Way at president@uwprinceedward.org.

“We’ll decide if we continue,” Rucker Snead, the group’s president, said. “Is there passion? Does the community want and need us, or is it time to shut down?”

The 11-member United Way board is made up of all volunteers. Over the last few years, the board has sporadically discussed ceasing operation, merging with another locality such as Lynchburg or dropping its affiliation with the United Way and reverting to a community chest. Those all remain options.

Snead said the world of philanthropy and particularly philanthropy in Farmville has changed dramatically over the years.

“As our local economy has changed, the number of local companies here that employed most of the folks in Farmville, most of those are gone now,” Snead said the national chains that have come into the economy do not offer payroll deductions for employees used by the United Way to attract consistent donors for years. “As our economy has evolved, the world of philanthropy has definitely involved.”

Snead said nonprofits now target donors who support their causes directly making them less dependent on the United Way.

While many United Way organizations across the country have a staff with professional fundraisers, the Prince Edward United Way is made up of a board of volunteers. Snead said many of those board members also serve on two or three other boards.

Snead said the need in the community is as great as it ever has been, but the ability to raise the necessary funds has become exponentially more difficult. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped bring this discussion to the table, canceling the United Way’s major fundraising efforts the past year.

“We are at the point, kind of asking the question, of what is our role in the future,” Snead said.

Ellery Sedgewick of FACES said the support the organization gives to the area’s nonprofits would be missed.

“I think the United Way has been a very positive force in the community, not only because it raised an additional $50,000 to $60,000 which was very helpful to its constituent organizations, but it also was very effective in bringing nonprofits together to talk at an annual discussion when the checks were handed out,” Sedgewick said. “The contact between nonprofits was very helpful in generating ideas and cooperation. So I am going to miss it in that sense.”

Sedgewick said FACES receives approximately $3,000 per year from the Prince Edward County United Way.

“In a small town, that is difficult to raise,” he said.

Various United Ways across the country have struggled with the question of their need and significance as people are increasingly giving to specific causes and organizations instead of sending money to organizations who distribute money to affiliated community nonprofits.

“Some organizations have gotten so big the money we give doesn’t make a dent in their budget,” board member Bruce Davis said.

This year, the United Way set a goal of $60,000 for its 21-partner organizations. The United Way makes two allocations a year, and the first, made earlier this year, was for a total of $28,000 divided among the partners.

The release said the last couple of years have been particularly difficult for the United Way as fundraising efforts have been affected by the pandemic.

The organization’s letter campaign has been its only fundraiser so far, and fundraising has stalled at just short of halfway toward the $60,000 goal. Consequently, the organization has a lot riding on its signature and upcoming Third Annual Great Farmville Duck Derby.

The bigger issue is the organization’s future. Board member Lonnie Calhoun said that it is up to the community.

“The issue is not United Way, it’s philanthropy,” Calhoun said. “Philanthropy is not dead in the community, but different types of institutions have different stakes in the community. (The question) in the community is whether or not our community is excited about the United Way.”