With more need, the United Way looks to get more funding

Published 5:11 pm Sunday, December 14, 2014

United Way Executive Director Diane Baker talks to Hormel Foods Corp.'s Nicole Shute, a co-chair for the company's United Way drive, and other employees at the north corporate office before accepting a $275,915 from Hormel's corporate employees on Friday. Jason Schoonover/jason.schoonover@austindailyherald.com

United Way Executive Director Diane Baker talks to Hormel Foods Corp.’s Nicole Shute, a co-chair for the company’s United Way drive, and other employees at the north corporate office before accepting a $275,915 from Hormel’s corporate employees on Friday. Jason Schoonover/jason.schoonover@austindailyherald.com

Each year, the United Way of Mower County’s board of directors comes together to review applications from dozens of area nonprofits looking for funding.

They’ll rank funding requests based on community need according to a predetermined ranking system. From there, the United Way looks at how much money the organization received during its large fall campaign.

That’s business as usual for the United Way, considered one of the largest sources of nonprofit funding in the area. Yet in recent years, the United Way has faced an increasing need for funds from local groups and services. Though the United Way has garnered more donations over the past five years — United Way staff broke the $1 million donation mark in 2011 and raised $1.03 million last year — 56 organizations have asked the United Way for more money each year.

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“We added two organizations last year and we’re looking right now at six more programs that would like to apply for funding,” Executive Director Diane Baker said.

Austin and Mower County have faced underemployment issues over the past few years. While unemployment in Austin is lower than the state average, about 1 in 5 Austinites live at or below the federal poverty wage guidelines, part of about 16 percent of Mower County residents who live in poverty.

That’s why many organizations seek help from the United Way to provide services to residents.

Yet several organizations either had their funding levels frozen or decreased this year, all while those same organizations see an increase in need.

The Welcome Center of Austin didn’t see a funding increase this year from the United Way despite serving more than 700 more people this year compared to last. Though Executive Director Jake Vela praised the United Way’s willingness to help area nonprofits in September, he said difficulties in funding across the board meant the Welcome Center would have to seek more outside funding to keep up with its demand.

The Welcome Center has found a little help thus far, as the Austin City Council voted in October to increase its annual grant from $5,000 to $7,500 in 2015.

Other groups have had to make up the difference. The Arc of Mower County has looked to make up $16,000 in funding after the United Way couldn’t fund all of its requests this year. Since then, the Arc has looked to the community to help create new ideas for fundraisers and other ways to receive funding.

For Baker, the increased need means an increased emphasis on the United Way’s annual campaign. With a few weeks left until the end of the year, the United Way has raised more than $800,000 toward its $1.1 million goal this year. Baker and the United Way are working to secure even more funding for organizations as the year turns to 2015.

“What we will determine early next year is how much we are going to give back to the community,” Baker said.

Some groups have already broken records this year donating money to the United Way. Hormel Foods Corp.’s corporate office, and Hormel’s Austin plant have all broken fundraising records once more this year to give to the United Way. Hormel plant workers gave $150,895 this year and Hormel’s corporate employees gave $275,915 on Friday.

“They see the need and they’re responding,” Baker said.

Still, as more people come into the area, services and nonprofits will need more funding to help people. The United Way plans to continue funding those groups to help the community. Baker hopes area residents will continue to donate to the United Way to make that happen.

“The need is there; it’s growing,” Baker said.