As a longtime donor to Greater Twin Cities United Way and an employee of a United Way-funded agency, I’m saddened by recent coverage (“Charities scramble as United Way wanes,” April 1). I believe there are pieces to the conversation that are missing:
• Poverty is complex. Donors want to give directly to an organization, but those individual efforts do not have the impact that a shared approach to ending poverty has. I’ve seen families leave poverty who have benefited from many United Way-funded services that, together, provided wraparound or holistic support.
• Minnesota has some of the worst disparities. United Way builds equity by providing funding and capacity-building support to nonprofits serving culturally diverse communities. These nonprofits are rigorously evaluated before selection and during funding. United Way still services a role in vetting nonprofits.
• Human services are dependent on complicated funding. Organizations piece together revenue from varied sources and the uncertainty has a cost. The importance of the multiyear grants United Way makes cannot be undervalued. United Way brings stability and consistency, allowing us to focus on helping individuals with long-term solutions.
• Individual donors are important as government and foundation support changes. However, individual funding is uncertain, fluctuating as giving patterns and interests change. United Way absorbs the uncertainty, combining the funding so that organizations have consistency.
• United Way plays a vital role promoting its nonprofit partners, providing expertise, advocacy support, visibility, volunteers and board members.
I hope United Way’s full story is highlighted, not just its challenges. Through United Way support, 19,400-plus children were ready for school with access to foundational reading skills last year.
Ann Gaasch, Minneapolis
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I used to be a faithful and generous giver to United Way through my employer. As my corporate employer became less and less concerned about employee work-life balance, pay and work environment, I became less interested in helping it, through my pledge to United Way, look superficially like a good corporate citizen. I continued to be generous with my charitable giving; I just chose to donate to charities outside of the workplace.
Becky Carpenter, Minneapolis
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I do not regret the waning of United Way. It is a private charitable organization, governed by a board of wealthy and prominent individuals, that, in effect, determines social policy for our community by directing funding priorities across a range of social problems.
Wouldn’t it be better to not have so many poor and disadvantaged people in the first place?
Compared to other advanced industrialized nations, the U.S. depends far more on charitable institutions, like United Way, to address social problems. Other nations depend on universal public policies, supported by progressive tax systems, to support essential human development needs like health care, housing, transportation and education. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), those nations’ economic and social well-being indicators, things like social mobility, infant mortality, and life expectancy, are far superior to our own.
Hannah Arendt said: “Charity is not solidarity; it usually helps only isolated individuals, with no overall plan; and that is why … it is not effective. Charity divides people into those who give and those who receive. The former … have a stake in the latter not jeopardizing their positions where they live, and keeping them at a distance. … Those who receive charity become undesirables, degraded and demoralized.”
In the spirit of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., perhaps it is time for this country to do less charity and more justice.
L. Hope Melton, Edina
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As the leader of a nonprofit, I know that finding like-minded partners is essential, and to be picky when putting out funding “asks.” I learned quickly not to go after a funder that wants a “shiny penny,” because you may not be able to offer that exciting new thing to the people you serve next year. Last, I know to focus on what we do best, because funding only comes after proving success.
Loaves and Fishes, of which I am executive director, has served meals to those in need since 1981, and we are on a trajectory to serve 1 million meals in 2018. The Twin Cities United Way has faithfully funded us for many years and works hard to build donor confidence. It makes certain that the United Way dollars we receive are spent wisely and in accordance to donors’ desire to feed hungry Minnesotans. We are incredibly appreciative of the longtime funding we have received from you (the donors) through United Way and are grateful for all the work United Way does for people in need.
Cathy Maes, Minneapolis
My experience seems to confirm gender inequities in treatment
I read with interest Gail Rosenblum’s April 1 column about author Maya Dusenbury and about Dusenbery’s journey through the American health care system that “she found to be rife with inequities in its diagnosis and treatment of men vs. women.”
I am one of those women. Over two years, I spent more time visiting doctors with “ologist” after their specialty than I did with friends. The majority of these “ologists” were men.
My problem was that I was suddenly besieged with near-syncope every time I stood up or sat upright. I was a healthy-looking sick person. I was an oxymoron. It was an overwhelming medical journey. At every turn, I was greeted with, “you’re just anxious,” “you’re depressed” or “there is nothing wrong with you.”
Finally, a friend recommended a cardiologist at North Memorial Medical Center. As soon as I walked into her office, she said, “I think I know what is wrong with you.” Within a month I was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS).
It is difficult to be your own advocate when you are sick, and it’s more problematic when you must also combat sexism and ageism. I firmly believe if I had been a 40-year-old male instead of a 70-year-old women, my symptoms would have been addressed more aggressively as opposed to being greeted with “you’re anxious” or “you’re depressed.”
Geri Minton, Roseville