Area United Way agencies anticipate an uncomfortable question from donors when annual fundraising drives start next month: What's the deal with that lady in Charlotte who made all the money and then got booted?
Determined not to let another agency's troubles become contagious, United Ways in York County and elsewhere plan to encourage their staffers and volunteers to confront the question in a candid way.
At issue is the pay controversy swirling around Gloria Pace King, who was ousted this week as director of United Way of Central Carolinas after the board admitted it was wrong to pay her $1.2 million in salary and benefits. The board has apologized and announced a committee to investigate what happened.
Keel: 'Answer any question'
York County Director Kim Keel said she would "absolutely" bring up the issue in her presentations to corporate leaders and employee groups, emphasizing that her agency governs itself independently.
"There's no way I would go to a group of people and not address the unspoken issue that you know is on someone's mind," Keel said. "Why allow that to go unspoken? We have an excellent track record, and we're proud of what our investors have done. We are willing to answer any question."
Shortly after the pay controversy surfaced, York County's United Way shared an audit with The Herald showing that Keel earns a fraction of the salary given to her counterpart in Charlotte. The audit showed Keel was paid $65,625 in 2007. Retirement benefits added $10,481 to that total.
Six full-time staffers and three part-timers at the York County agency earned a total of $203,110, the audit shows.
A balancing act
The drama in Charlotte puts neighboring United Way agencies in a difficult spot: They don't want to badmouth one of their own but don't want to appear oblivious to questions. Their worry is that donors will link their organizations to the one in Charlotte, even though United Way agencies operate as separate bodies.
The damage would hit hard at nonprofits such as the Teen Health Center, which provides medical care and counseling to young people in a storefront on Rock Hill's Cherry Road.
When the United Way fell just short of its $2.1 million fundraising goal last year, the center had to cut its budget by 20 percent.
"Something like this could really be devastating," director Pat Kelsaw said.
Even if extra efforts are made, some donors still might skip out on giving this year, said Mary Vaughn, director of the branch in Gaston County, N.C.
"There's going to be some fallout, and ultimately the people who receive the services are going to suffer," said Vaughn, whose agency kicks off a $3.3 million campaign next week. "Obviously, the situation is not one individuals are happy with."
The lesson for nonprofits, in Keel's view, is that ignoring a controversy doesn't make it go away.
"What we've been determined not to do is be silent about it," she said. "That's what really made a lot of people angry (in Charlotte). When they asked questions, they didn't get a response."