United Way to dip into endowment to keep funding pledge

Jared Goldberg-Leopold

Though nonprofit organizations are struggling nationwide, 28 Evanston charities affiliated with the United Way can temporarily breathe a sigh of relief.

The Evanston United Way pledged in December to fund its affiliated agencies for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in June. The United Way will fulfill the rest of its $690,876 commitment to the agencies for the 2002-03 fiscal year by taking about $125,000 out of its endowment.

“We had all been really anxious about what was going on,” said Don Baker, executive director of Y.O.U., an Evanston youth outreach agency. “We thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to be hit big.'”

The United Way board couldn’t justify reserving the endowment for the future in light of projected cuts, said Jim LaRochelle, president of the Board of Evanston United Way.

By fulfilling this year’s proposals, the Evanston United Way has given organizations a chance to brace for future cuts, said Alexander Brown, executive director of Housing Options for the Mentally Ill, a supervised housing program for adults with mental illness.

“They are able to give us seven months’ advance notice before funding is going to be cut this summer,” Brown said. “The writing is on the wall.”

Next year’s cuts will depend on how much money Evanston United Way raises in its annual giving campaign, which usually nets about $500,000, said Thomas Jager, executive director of Evanston United Way. The rest of the money usually comes from the United Way of Suburban Chicago, which cut Evanston’s funding this year.

“The United Way of Evanston has never not met its goals,” Brown said.

“The United Way of Evanston is a place that most of us agencies rely on because they’re always there.”

The board chose to dip into the endowment to cover a shortfall after the United Way of Suburban Chicago cut some of Evanston’s funding in January, Jager said. In past years, Evanston United Way has used about $30,000 of its endowment to cover various expenses, but this year’s $125,000 represents a significant jump.

However, LaRochelle said, the board cannot continue to dip into its $400,000 endowment and likely will cut services next year.

“We are in a fortunate position that we could do this for the rest of the 2002-2003 year,” he said. “It’s just not doable (again).”

Though the fiscal aid is only a temporary solution, leaders of the affiliated agencies officially thanked the organization’s board for its commitment in a letter sent to several local newspapers this month.

“The Board of Directors of the United Way of Evanston is commended for their decision to use a part of their endowment to avert what could have been a crisis for our community,” the letter stated.

“Their commitment to stay stable with us through this year is really awesome,” said Baker, whose agency will get more than $40,000 of United Way grants in the current fiscal year. “It was a tremendous statement of commitment on their part.”