United Way Ottawa is under fire after it declined to renew funding for Planned Parenthood and other longtime recipients of grant money.
In June 2010, United Way Ottawa announced a change in its priority goals for community funding — away from target groups toward impact-based projects.
The change in direction alarmed many health and service community organizations. The fear was that the focus was too narrow and that many community programs would fall by the wayside.
In April, that fear materialized as community programs, some that had been funded for years, were cut. The community education program of Planned Parenthood of Ottawa (PPO) was one of them.
United Way has funded the sex-ed program, one of the most widely known and most respected programs in Ottawa, since 1975.
Since the announcement, PPO met with United Way to discuss future funding proposals. Although the sex-ed program no longer fits the new criteria, PPO will be applying for a new program that does.
Heather Holland is the executive director of PPO.
“We are grateful for United Way’s longtime support, and we are looking to renew and continue that relationship in the future. I don’t think it is the end of a long relationship but a shift in priorities and a change in the funding relationship, and I am optimistic that we will be able to renew support in the future,” she says.
However, PPO is just one of the many organizations affected by United Way’s new direction and, although Holland is optimistic about future funding, others are not.
Shellie Bird, from the Ottawa Budget Coalition, helped coordinate meetings to discuss the concerns.
The meetings are a collaborative effort arranged by individuals involved in the workplace campaigns for United Way, people living in the communities and a broad group of agencies — some of who have received funding and others who have not.
“They are concerned about what this means for communities, says Bird. “They are concerned about the incredible instability this kind of funding means, not only for community service agencies but also for the communities themselves.”
These meetings are not sanctioned by United Way Ottawa. A spokesperson from United Way provided Xtra with a statement.
“There is really nothing we can say at this time. We have not been invited to participate or even asked to attend. And for that matter, we don’t even know who’s behind it. We don’t feel that it would be fair or appropriate to comment.”
Bird says the Ottawa community wants a higher level of transparency from United Way, that more information is needed on the changes made in the funding criteria, how funds are designated, who is behind the funding decisions, what criteria are used, what is the impact of the funding criteria on the community and what percent of campaign funds are withheld for administrative purposes.
According to Bird, approximately 32 percent of all campaign funds are used to cover the United Way’s administration costs.
United Way Ottawa, for its part, says the application process is transparent and that the organization worked with community members to review the new “competitive” process.
They were unable to comment on the community meetings, which were organized throughout the month of May.
Jay Koornstra, executive director of Bruce House, plans to participate even though the agency does not receive program funding. Bruce House receives designated funds — but only from donors who stipulate that they want their donation to go to Bruce House.
Bruce House has received money from United Way’s community fund only once, in 2007. Koornstra said they received less than half of what they applied for, with the understanding that it would be renewed.
It wasn’t, and after months of trying to get feedback from United Way as to why they funds were stopped when all the proposal criteria had been met, Koornstra decided not to apply again.
Although Bruce House is not affected by the funding changes, Koornstra feels that the agency is not acting in the community’s best interests.
“I think there needs to be some transparency. I believe that part of the problem is that they are changing their priorities without real consultation with the community,” he says. “They have made some really weird decisions this last go around that have impacted negatively on many organizations who have become reliant upon United Way funding.”
Bird echoes Koornstra’s sentiment.
“There is real concern of what this will mean,” she says. “I think that’s what bringing people together, because they realize that if we don’t come together in a good way that it will only get worse over time.”
TAG: The next community meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 26 at noon at the Public Service Alliance of Canada offices, 15 Holland Ave.