Where has all the money gone?
It has been said that Cleveland and Bradley County people are some of the most charitable in the nation. So where has all the money gone?
Often, rationality is mistaken for being mean-spirited and in this What do you think? many readers will initially believe it spiteful rather than logical thought. I have never been one for niceties. Political correctness is not one of my strong points. Straightforwardness sometimes upset people because it upsets their equilibrium. Don't read this column if you believe some things are best left unsaid. Don't read this if the thought of criticizing one of Cleveland's most revered organizations offends you.
Since the devastating April tornadoes many of our citizens are still in need of help recovering from the life altering destruction. Many are not financially equipped to regain an even keel without assistance. Appeals for help have encouraged the creation of yet another relief agency called the Long Term Recovery Organization. Already in full donation and volunteer collection mode with an Unmet Needs Committee, a Recovery Leader and a Case Manager at the helm, it sounds like urgent help is finally being offered for those in need.
What have the millions already collected in charitable donations annually been used for? And wasn't there an outpouring of local volunteers to help victims after the storms? Why do we need another organization to add yet more red tape to a system that we are told is failing to provide help?
This editor has been known to criticize the Bradley County United Way for not doing enough to help actual people. This is not my idea, it comes from disenchanted people seeking their help and not receiving it. I am repeating what I hear but is never said publicly for fear of upsetting community leaders and the respected institution itself. Doesn't Bradley County already dig deep to support efforts to help people in need? What is the point of having all these charity supported agencies when there is no money left to do the job they were created for.
The local United Way get millions by way of donations, plus public funds, and they claim they disperse all the money to other agencies for them to help the needy. The United Way acts as a middle-man to feed other charities to do the actual work of helping people. The United Way skims some off the top to provide a service that could be handled directly by the people actually giving the help. They also get to choose where the money goes and again we are told, no money is stockpiled for an emergency.
Ultimately, any deficiency or gap in providing help should fall on the people dispersing the money; the United Way. If gaps exist, the United Way are largely responsible for the shortcoming. We read daily accounts that needs remain unmet for storm victims with urgent pleas for donations and volunteers, but it is almost impossible to tell exactly how much is going to organize the agencies involved, and how much goes to actual help.
Can someone in the United Way identify who specifically is being helped?
Of course not. They say it is not their policy to identify those they help, other than general amounts given to other agencies. Even where money is being accounted for, it is not precise, just general figures that total the money collected.
It is not just the United Way that doesn't have to justify every penny spent, it permeates throughout charity funded agencies. And apparently some of the same names sit on many of the boards charged with overseeing the agency work. It seems somewhere along the way, the reason for the United Way existing has been lost to primarily keeping charitable agencies funded.
It has become a way to ensure job security for agency employees. Just like government does.
I am not suggesting money is being illegally siphoned off because the independent audits required by law would catch it, but I believe much of the money meant for the needy is used to staff and run the agencies. Maybe there are just too many fingers in the charitable pie.
Also, raising money for charity is labor intensive and is primarily done by volunteers who work tirelessly with the purest of motives. To them we all owe good stewardship of the money collected. Frittering it away on administration cost is a disservice to the community service they perform. Accountability for every penny is a must, as is the efficiency and speed with which help is dispersed to people in need.
Does anyone remember the Tennessee state police annual fundraiser organized to help the families of officers injured or killed in the line of duty? A charity organized by the police has to be above board. Apparently, after years of collecting money, not one dollar could be traced to an injured cop, all was used in administering the charity and paying telemarketers.
If you can't trust a police charity, who can you trust? We must be vigilant that the same thing doesn't happen locally.
Back to my initial statement. Where is all the money?
I believe, like the police fundraiser, most if not all the charitable giving in Bradley County is being used to administer the charitable agencies. Even the new Long Term Recovery Organization had in place staff to run it before they could identify the people who needed help. Then, an outside organization was employed to justify the new agency. If that is not milking the cow, I can't think what is. Do we really need outsiders to come here to identify people needing help?
I am not suggesting that the needy do not exist, but with all the agencies operating in the community, why is the need not already being met? Why more money and yet another agency? What is happening to the money already being given?
As I said at the beginning of this piece, it is likely to upset local charitable organizations and the community leaders that run them. Regardless, there are questions that deserve answers.
That's what I think. What do you think?
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