Some Charleston-area nonprofits are scrambling to fund job-training services for the homeless along with programs for at-risk youth, homeowners facing bankruptcy and others in need following large funding cuts by Trident United Way.
In the previous three-year cycle, TUW funded 33 programs at 22 organizations with grants totaling $2.1 million yearly. The new round of grants, announced in April, totaled $1.2 million.
Christy Boudolf, vice president of communications and volunteer engagement for Trident United Way, attributed the decreases to an overall focus within the organization to change how it allocates funds to the tri-county community.
Those who were assisted in the past are feeling the reduction.
“The pie they have been sharing with the community keeps getting smaller and smaller," said the Rev. Bill Stanfield, CEO of the North Charleston nonprofit group Metanoia.
The organization received $115,000 from Trident United Way in each of the last three budget years, primarily for youth programs that Stanfield said had a record of good outcomes. That money was 8.5 percent of Metanoia's budget last year, but the organization will get nothing from Trident United Way in the next three budget years, which began July 1.
“The responsible thing to do would be to cut staff and programming," Stanfield said. “We have decided, at least for the short term, that we are going to try to weather it."
When applying for a new cycle of grants, Boudolf said organizations were made aware of structural changes in how grants were allocated and the rating system each application would be scored on.
Organizations that weren't approved for any or as much of the funding they initially asked for were offered the chance to meet with United Way officers to discuss their applications. Fourteen of those 16 meetings have taken place, some of which resulted in Trident United Way writing recommendation letters for organizations in search of alternative funding sources.
"There was a lot of transparency for the applicants," Boudolf said. "They had all of that information up front; they knew about the structural changes."
At 180 Place, which provides shelter and services for the homeless in Charleston, CEO Stacy Denaux said that instead of getting $140,000 yearly from Trident United Way, they will get $39,000. She said the large funding cut was unexpected and unexplained.
“You’ll have to ask them," Denaux said. "The rumor is that they’re just out of money."
That claim is simply "not accurate," Boudolf said.
In a June 7 letter to the editor, Trident United Way Board Chairman Bob Fei and TUW's new President and CEO Chloe Tonney said 25 programs at 19 agencies received grants in the 2019-22 funding round, including five new grant recipients.
"Trident United Way is a champion of good grantsmanship," they wrote. "In any grant process, decisions are made that may be understandably disappointing to some."
Boudolf encouraged nonprofits struggling to recoup grant losses to look at expanding their funding sources.
"Much like the way we operate our organizations, I would think nonprofits would always be seeking diversified donors for funding," she said. "We have a whole shelf of funding sources, and I think that’s what we would recommend to other nonprofits."
The funding announcement came with testimonials from nonprofit groups that were apparently pleased with the outcome: East Cooper Community Outreach, Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach, Charleston Pro Bono Legal Services and Summerville Family YMCA.
In the most recent financial information available on TUW's website, covering the fiscal year ending July 1, 2017, the organization claimed revenue and income of $11.2 million. Fiscal Year 2016 saw TUW claim $10.5 million in revenue and income, and Fiscal Year 2015 saw the organization claim $10.4 million.
"For years, we have not done any donor fundraising, because Trident United Way was our donor fundraiser," said Caprice Atterbury, CEO of Origin SC, which provides financial and housing counseling in North Charleston. The nonprofit used to be known as Family Services.
Origin SC just lost about $132,000 in yearly funding from TUW, Atterbury said, and that money counted as local matching funds that helped win federal grants. The money was used to fund counseling for first-time home buyers, and homeowners considering reverse mortgages or declarations of bankruptcy.
"For the last couple of weeks, we've been looking at everything, trying to figure out how we can sustain this without Trident United Way funding," she said. "We'll have to go out and do fundraising."
It's been widely reported that charitable giving declined in the U.S. in 2018, after a federal tax overhaul made the itemizing of deductions unnecessary for many taxpayers.
Boudolf said there wasn't really a causal relationship between changes in the tax law and the total grant money allocated this cycle.
United Way has long been seen as a way for charitable donors to fund a collection of nonprofit groups in a community. Now, it seems some nonprofit groups will need to directly compete with Trident United Way for donor dollars.
The "$185,000 was eliminated from our budget that we count on to feed people,” said Sue Hanshaw, CEO of Tricounty Family Ministries. “I still don’t understand what happened.”
The organization runs a soup kitchen, nutrition services, provides help with medical needs and runs other programs for the less fortunate. Hanshaw said they will need to start aggressively fundraising.
“It’s a whole different ballgame now,” she said. “We will do what we have to, to survive.”
Trident United Way is set to announce another round of community engagement grants in July.