If you’re a woman and have roots in country living, United Way of McLeod County has a new opportunity for you: the Rural Women Conference from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, at Glencoe City City.

The event, which includes dinner and a cash bar, is featuring Rural Mental Health Counselor Ted Matthews as the keynote speaker. He will talk about how to improve communication and relationships.

In addition, there will be intentional conversation and a stress relief exercise focusing on the importance of breathing during stress.

“It’s a welcoming event hopefully for women to feel more connected to their community,” said Hannah Tjoflat, executive director.

While many organizations host events to increase visibility and raise money, it’s a relatively new avenue for United Way of McLeod County. It launched Bike United and Power of the Purse in 2017, which was followed by SongBlast: Dueling Guitars in 2018.

For many years, the organization fundraised exclusively through its annual workplace-giving campaign. Things began to change in 2015 when it saw a shift in giving.

Locally, the 2015-16 campaign was extended to reach its goal, and the 2016-17 campaign received pledges of $225,004, about 12 percent short of its goal. The 2017-18 campaign, which concluded March 31, received pledges of $292,357. This marked the highest total pledged in a single campaign since the organization began its work in the area in 1962. Unfortunately, there’s a difference between money pledged and money received and the money received was less than what was pledged. As a result, all partners were funded, but at a reduced rate.

This brings us to the current campaign, which is expected to end March 31. The goal is to raise $230,000. So far 31 percent of the money has been pledged, which is on track with what happened in 2016-17.

United Way of McLeod County isn’t alone in riding this donation roller coaster. According to Nonprofit Quarterly, the shift in giving has migrated donations away from United Way to community foundations, GoFundMe campaigns and targeted charities.

“Giving is changing,” Tjoflat said. “People are having to adjust to how people are giving. Less organizations are doing payroll deductions or they are doing it differently with open-giving campaigns.”

To supplement the funding gap, the local United Way has stepped up its community presence through new events such as the Rural Women Conference and the second annual Songfest: Dueling Guitars on Friday, March 22.

GETTING THE WORD OUT

In talking with people, Tjoflat said she was surprised to learn they didn’t know the money donated to United Way of McLeod County stays in the area.

Most recently, United Way funded about 40 local programs ranging from HOMES and Crow River Habitat for Humanity to the Wheel and Cog Children’s Museum of Hutchinson, 4-H and McLeod Alliance for Victims of Domestic Violence.

“It’s a challenge to us to tell our story,” she said.

To get the word out about United Way and its funding partners, Tjoflat is producing a series of short videos that explain what the funded partners do and how the money is spent. The videos will be available for viewing on the United Way’s Facebook page.

“We’re trying to be more connected through social media,” Tjoflat said. “We want to be more of a presence in the community.”

United Way of McLeod County’s only source of income is donations. As a result, about 20 percent of the money raised is used to cover the operational costs of the organization including rent, campaign materials, accounting fees, staff and so on.

According to Tjoflat, this is better than the Minnesota Charities Review Council’s recommendation of 30 percent and the Better Business Bureau’s guideline of 35 percent for fundraising costs by nonprofit agencies.

GROWTH AND CHANGE

What does all this mean for United Way of McLeod County and its partner agencies? Growth and change, according to Tjoflat.

Growth is coming in the form of expanding its board of directors.

“When I started in June, we were down to eight,” Tjoflat said. “Now we’re at 11, and 15 is what we’re looking for. It’s encouraging because it brings new energy.”

Another area of growth is the addition of hiring a new finance manager who will be co-working with Tjoflat on fundraising.

Change is in the wind for United Way’s funding partners. Partners are chosen because they fall within one of the organizaton’s three pillars of funding: health, education and financial stability.

Agencies that apply for United Way funding go through a Community Investment Review each spring. This means they come in and state their case for funding before different teams of the United Way board. All funding has to go to actual programs, not capital needs such as facilities.

And just because an organization was funded in the past doesn’t mean it will continue to be funded.

“Every year is a fresh start,” Tjoflat said. “It gives opportunity to new programs.”

FROM THE PARTNERS

United Way funding is important for partner organizations.

“It helps supplement the cost of our day camp programs, so that way we can offer more affordable opportunities to target kids outside of our traditional 4-H club,” said Darcy Cole, county 4-H program coordinator. “Without the funding, we would eventually have to raise fees for those programs.”

According to Dan Hatten, board chair of the McLeod Alliance for Victims of Domestic Violence, every dollar the nonprofit receives goes to one of two things: supporting individuals and/or families in need and the salaries the staff receives to support these individuals and families.

Hatten said the nonprofit relies on three things: fundraisers, grants and donations such as United Way,

“A big support is the community itself through direct-donation request or through different types of fundraisers such as the bowlathon, which we have coming up,” he said. “Every dollar that comes in goes out. When there’s a reduction from any source, obviously we have to work a little harder to find another source or bolster the other sources we have. Any reduction is going to have an impact. The larger (the) reduction, the greater the impact to provide the necessary services.”

Hatten, who is also chief of the Hutchinson Police Department, described the Alliance as an area that is “near and dear” to him.

“Obviously I see the impact domestic violence has on our community and specifically the citizens of our community,” he said. “The Alliance plays an extraordinarily vital role to help these people. Law enforcement is good at getting in there and getting control of the crisis and resolving the immediate crisis. The Alliance comes in to help after the crisis, finding safe homes and helping them through the lengthy, easily overwhelming court process, even legal papers such as restraining orders and other documentation. Without the Alliance, the great majority of our victims wouldn’t be able to follow through.”

HOMES, Housing Options for Emergency Shelter in McLeod County, is another United Way funding partner.

According to John Hassinger, a steering committee member, the nonprofit receives $8,000 from United Way for the year to provide temporary emergency shelter to families.

“The money is used to rent a two-bedroom apartment,” he said in an email. “The money is exclusively for shelter.”

If United Way funding is reduced or discontinued, Hassinger said fewer families would be served, and safe, secure housing would not be available for some individuals and families.

“Homes has served 11 families in the past nine months using United Way money,” he said. “It would be a serious loss to the community if this resource, which focuses on giving individuals and families a period of time to work on becoming self-sufficient, handle medical needs and local permanent housing (were lost).”

To help partners plan for the future, United Way is meeting with them to talk about the changing funding landscape. How things will shake out is uncertain at this time, but likely one of two scenarios will happen: fewer agencies will be funded or all agencies will be funded at a reduced rate.

“I’m learning we have an extremely generous community,” Tjoflat said. “We want to tell our story clearly and offer greater transparency, so people know where we are.”

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