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September 2, 2014

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United Way announces new policy on funding

United Way of Southern Nevada is moving forward with a new policy regarding which groups will get most of its millions, an agency official announced Tuesday.

The policy is based on "the needs of the community as opposed to agencies coming to us and saying what is important to them," said Dan Goulet, president and chief executive officer of the agency.

Minorities and women in the valley need more help paying their bills, and they need more access to health care and better educations, and United Way wants to fund agencies that can meet those needs, Goulet said.

Nonprofit organizations are divided on the change and what it will mean for the Las Vegas Valley and for them.

Phil Bevins, scout executive for the Boulder Dam Council of the Boy Scouts, said Tuesday that he is "concerned about the impact of these decisions on our community."

His organization has been one of the Top 10 recipients of United Way money for years and received $318,524 of its $3 million budget from United Way this year.

Other nonprofit groups that have historically collected the most cash from United Way of Southern Nevada include Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, the Boys and Girls Club of Las Vegas and the American Red Cross.

Teri de la Torre-Azeman, executive director of the Nevada Association of Latin Americans, said the change was "well overdue." At 35-years-old, her group is the valley's oldest nonprofit organization serving Latinos.

NALA got $121,000 of its current $1.1 million budget from United Way, de la Torre-Azeman said.

United Way of Southern Nevada channels about three of every four dollars it raises to dozens of local nonprofit organizations, according to tax documents that are public records.

But the organization hadn't done a comprehensive study of the growing valley's most pressing problems until late last year.

The study, which can be seen at www.uwaysn.org, showed that minorities and women are hardest hit by poverty and a lack of health care -- particularly psychiatric care.

"What we have been doing (historically) ... is agencies would come to us and say, 'Here's what we're doing, you've funded us before, here's what we need this year,' " Goulet said.

United Way gets its funding from private and corporate donations.

The organization kicked off its fund-raising campaign Tuesday, announcing it had already raised $1.1 million of its $10.4 million goal. Fourteen public and private initiatives -- from Boyd Gaming Corp. to Clark County government employees -- committed to that initial amount.

United Way funds nonprofit organizations after certifying their financial well-being and program management abilities.

Teams of volunteers visit the organizations seeking funding to ensure their ability to deliver services, Goulet said.

Organizations can lose that certification -- and their funds -- as in the case of the Economic Opportunity Board, an agency created to fight poverty that lost $167,000 this year after several negative federal reviews.

Bevins, the Boy Scout executive, said he and other agencies that have received funding in the past met with United Way in May and were told of the change in policy.

He said had concerns with the study.

"The study is not as comprehensive as it could be and does not address the full spectrum of things a community needs," Bevins said.

He also said it "looked mostly at solutions to deficiencies in the immediate future."

But de la Torre-Azeman said the study, and the United Way's shift, was on target.

"I see (the problems identified in the study) every single day," she said.

De la Torre-Azeman said her agency sees a lot of "women looking for jobs that have difficulty filling out applications because of their lack of English ... (and) low-income families, primarily minorities."

She also said that a change in funding patterns should not be seen as a slight against larger organizations such as Catholic Charities and Salvation Army.

"(They) serve a lot more people than we could -- but I think at this point, it's time for smaller organizations recognized for helping the minority populations that are growing so much, with so many needs," she said.

Goulet said United Way will work with organizations that may wind up receiving less funding than in the past to try to cover the shortfalls with funds from private or other sources.

"We do not plan to leave any agency behind," he said.

He also said his agency would be working hard to identify existing groups that can meet the needs United Way identified in its study, rather than supporting the funding of new groups.

"I'm not a believer in starting new nonprofits, since that creates more overhead," he said.

"We may suggest creating new programs ... in agencies that exist," he said.

As for any controversy caused by the move, he said. "'When you make change -- especially financial change -- there always concern."

De la Torre-Azeman said it was time to "embrace change.". is agencies would come to us and say, 'Here's what we're doing, you've funded us before, here's what we need this year.' "

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