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United Way and local nonprofits brace for multi-million dollar shortfall in 2018 campaign

Cuts will hurt families that 'need it the most'
Posted at 3:09 PM, Oct 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-23 18:18:03-04

CINCINNATI – Even as child poverty continues to bedevil the Tri-State, United Way of Greater Cincinnati expects its 2018 fundraising campaign to fall short by as much as 20 percent.

The campaign still has several weeks remaining.

But United Way is so concerned that it warned more than 140 nonprofits to expect cuts in the funding they will receive.

“This community is still very, very generous,” United Way CEO Michael Johnson stressed. “But there’s going to be anywhere from a 15 to 20 percent reduction this year. And that’s going to have a fundamental impact on their work. It’s going to hurt those who really, really need it the most.”

Nonprofits that count on United Way funding serve 300,000 people across Greater Cincinnati each year. They include such organizations as Brighton Center, Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health, 4C for Children and Every Child Succeeds.

Every Child Succeeds serves about 2,200 families each year with trained home visitors that work with new moms for their babies’ first 1,000 days of life to give the children a good start in life.

Judy Van Ginkel

The organization typically gets about $2.1 million each year from United Way, or roughly a quarter of its annual budget, said Judy Van Ginkel, the nonprofit’s founder and president.

“I can’t think of a time when reduction in United Way funding could be more significant,” Van Ginkel said. “One of two things happens: You either see fewer families or the other philanthropic community steps up and puts more money in.”

United Way did not announce a fundraising goal at the start of this year’s campaign. The money generated by last year’s campaign dropped significantly from prior years.

United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s revenue

2015: $62.1 million

2016: $61.4 million

2017: $56.5 million

Johnson said United Way organizations across the country are seeing declines, too.

‘Real heroes’

More companies nationwide are giving their employees online ways to donate to charities year-round, which puts less emphasis on community campaigns such as those conducted by United Way and ArtsWave.

Charitable donations in the U.S. also are expected to decrease by $17.2 billion because of recent changes in the tax code, according to the American Enterprise Institute.

Here in the Tri-State, many of the region’s largest companies have fewer employees locally, which has resulted in less money for United Way.

Others have been purchased by outside owners who don’t have the same interest in the region’s charitable efforts, Johnson said.

Michael Johnson (Photo by Matt Steffen)

The United Way here is trying to compete with year-round giving by offering companies a way to direct donations to United Way online even when the campaign isn’t happening, he said.

Johnson stressed there are local workplace campaigns that have surpassed their fundraising goals this year.

“There’s been some real heroes I’ve seen in my short time here,” said Johnson, who has been United Way’s CEO since July. “There are dozens and dozens of people I could walk through who have worked extremely hard.”

But the organization must work to find new ways to raise money to fight the overall decline, he said.

Johnson said United Way is projecting this year’s campaign total could be around $52 million, although he stressed the number won’t be final until Nov. 14.

Even the total announced at that event will be a projection, however.

At last year’s campaign finale, for example, United Way announced it had raised more than $60 million.

But the amount of money the organization actually receives is generally less than the amount announced at those events.

That’s because so much of the campaign total is based on donations that employees pledge throughout the year. If those employees change jobs or leave the area, those total dollars pledged can fall short.

Will people step up?

The 2017 shortfall of more than $3 million was bigger than anything United Way of Greater Cincinnati had experienced in at least 20 years, said Teresa Hoelle, senior vice president and chief marketing officer. 

“A lot of this has caused United Way to be more conservative in terms of what our target is internally and what we’re planning to invest in the community,” she said.

United Way has made several million dollars worth of cuts internally over the past three years to reduce the impact of the fundraising shortfalls on the nonprofits that count on the money, Johnson said. But the organization has gotten to a point where it can’t cut a whole lot more, he said.

“I am confident our region will get through this,” Johnson said. “I also believe there are people that will step up once they realize the challenges we are going through.”

For the nonprofits such as Every Child Succeeds that rely on United Way funding, the options are either to cut services or find new revenue, said Ross Meyer, United Way’s vice president for community impact.

One local nonprofit told Meyer that the 20 percent cut could mean 100 families losing access to quality childcare, 20 families not getting home visiting services through programs like Every Child Succeeds, 25 youth not having access to after-school programs anymore and 15 families missing out on skills training that could lead to better jobs and careers.

A little boy at Visions Early Learning Center, a child care program that serves parents trying to work their way out of poverty.

“It’s going to be tens of thousands of people affected at a time when our community needs it most,” he said. “Our focus now is on really doubling down on moving families out of poverty so this level of challenge has a dramatic impact.”

RELATED: Data show Cincinnati’s child poverty got worse

Van Ginkel said she and her staff are still trying to determine what a $440,000 cut in United Way funding would mean for Every Child Succeeds. The cut, she said, is even bigger than it appears on the surface because her organization uses United Way funding as “matching funds” to secure more public funding from Ohio and Kentucky state government sources.

The less private money Every Child Succeeds has from sources such as United Way, she said, the less public money the organization can get.

“What we will do is the best we can with the money that we have,” she said. “We are committed to producing outcomes that matter and using the funds wisely.”

Information about how to volunteer or donate to United Way of Greater Cincinnati is available online. United Way’s 2018 campaign will conclude on Nov. 14.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to

To read more stories by Lucy, go to To reach her, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.