As United Way struggled, Community Shares raised more than expected for social justice nonprofits

'It all culminates in a stronger Cincinnati'
Michelle Dillingham
Posted at 9:17 AM, Jan 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-22 18:00:41-05

CINCINNATI — While United Way of Greater Cincinnati struggled through 2018, the far smaller Community Shares of Greater Cincinnati managed to raise more money for itself and its member nonprofits in 2018 than it did the year before.

Both organizations raise money that they then funnel to local nonprofits. Both do so using workplace campaigns in which employees can pledge a certain dollar amount per paycheck to go to the charities.

“There’s been some talk about how workplace giving is on its way out or is not as viable a method of fundraising,” said Community Shares of Greater Cincinnati CEO Michelle Dillingham. “We’d like to disagree.”

Community Shares raised more than $87,000 through its workplace giving campaigns that help fund local nonprofits. It also raised more than $81,000, surpassing its $65,000 goal, in its fall appeal to help finance its own operations.

That $87,000 total is not the highest the local Community Shares organization has ever raised — it peaked at $300,000 in 2006, and its fundraising dropped off as a result of the recession that followed.

By comparison, United Way closed its fall 2018 campaign with just over $50 million in pledges. That’s roughly $12 million less than the organization raised in 2015. United Way helps fund more than 140 local nonprofit organizations.

Dillingham said she thinks part of the reason the workplace giving model is successful for Community Shares is because employees pick which nonprofit gets their money.

“I think people really appreciate the transparency,” she said.

That’s possible to do with United Way pledges, too. The organization also has funds to address broader community issues that donors can select.

Community Shares raises money for 30 member nonprofits, which are generally small ones focused on issues of social justice and the environment.

“We are supporting sort of front-line, grassroots causes that don’t have top-heavy administrative budgets,” she said. “Some of them don’t even have paid staff.”

The Ohio Justice & Policy Center does. Still, the organization appreciates the support that it receives through Community Shares, said executive director David Singleton.

“Being part of Community Shares is like being part of a family,” he said. “We are a family of organizations working really hard to address some of the most serious problems in our society. We are the type of groups that a lot of folks don’t feel warm and fuzzy about.”

Singleton’s organization works on criminal justice reform and helping people re-enter society after they are released from prison.

Other nonprofits in the Community Shares network include Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing and Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region.

‘A stronger Cincinnati’

The money that Ohio Justice & Policy Center receives from Community Shares doesn’t make up a huge part of the organization’s budget, but it’s money that the center can count on, Singleton said. That’s important.

The support that he and his staff get from other Community Shares members is just as important, he added.

“Social justice work is a challenge, and every single one of Community Shares’ members are doing work that is taxing emotionally,” Singleton said. “You can’t do the work without being loved by people who are also doing the work.”

The Community Shares network also gives its members an opportunity to partner with each other to offer more complete services to their clients, he said.

Cincinnati Public Schools holds one of Community Shares’ biggest workplace campaigns, and the school district raised more money than ever before through the campaign in 2018, said Rolonda Smith, the district’s employee experience manager.

“The Community Shares campaign allows us to be able to give back to the Southwest Ohio region,” Smith said.

The school district launched last year’s campaign with a pep rally, complete with treats and cheerleaders encouraging the district’s teachers and staff, she said.

David Singleton

According to Smith, the school district raised more than $14,000 in pledges — the highest-ever total for a Community Shares campaign there.

“For us, this is a no-brainer to be a partner with Community Shares,” Smith said. “It all culminates in a stronger Cincinnati.”

Singleton said he suspects there is another factor at work in Community Shares’ success, too.

“We live in times where we are so divided in our communities across this country,” he said. “Social justice offers hope for being able to transcend some of the problems that are out there and that are depressing a lot of people.”

Dillingham said she thinks the power of Community Shares is in the nonprofit organizations it supports.

“There’s a lot of competition out there. There’s a lot of worthy needs,” she said. “But what Community Shares is able to do is offer a really large menu of really compelling local causes that are doing incredibly good, life-saving, life-changing work. And when you give through payroll deduction, it’s very easy.”

More information about Community Shares is available online. Its next major fundraiser is its “For the Love of the Community” Valentines party and raffle.

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. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To reach Lucy, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.