News: More Choices, More Giving?

Now in its final stages of applying for donations by payroll deductions at City Hall, Community Shares claims that choice helps everyone

Greater Cincinnati Community Shares now has payroll deduction at 35 companies and organizations, including the University of Cincinnati, several law firms and state and federal agencies. But the group has been trying for three years to get into City Hall.

Ron Wahl, assistant to Mayor Roxanne Qualls, said charitable giving campaign guidelines were presented to Cincinnati City Council in June 1997 and sat in the finance committee for many months. At the end of 1997, Community Shares representatives said they were unhappy with the guidelines, he said.

After meetings with representatives from Community Shares and other organizations already holding campaigns with the city, Wald said, new guidelines were developed and adopted in October 1998.

Greater Cincinnati Community Shares is an "umbrella" organization that represents 19 member groups that provide health and human services and work for social change and do not receive United Way funding, said Community Shares Director Mary McCoy.

Employees at participating companies and organizations can donate to Community Shares through payroll deduction, similar to the payroll deduction campaigns sponsored by United Way.

United Way has held payroll deduction campaigns in the Cincinnati area since just after World War II and now works with about 2,000 companies, said Patti Cruse, senior communications associate for United Way.

At some workplaces, all it took was a telephone call to set up a Community Shares campaign, McCoy said.

So was it a matter of inefficiency at City Hall or were there sticking points — perhaps including concerns that Community Shares would take something away from the United Way campaign?

Or could it be that with organizations like Stonewall Cincinnati, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union as Community Shares recipients, city officials were concerned that the cause was just a little too liberal?

Wahl declined to comment on why he thought it had taken three years for the city to develop charitable giving campaign guidelines or if there were any concerns about the organizations represented by Community Shares.

Betty Baker, the city's director of personnel assigned to organize a committee to review the request to have Community Shares added, also declined to comment.

McCoy said that some city officials were concerned that Community Shares would interfere with the United Way campaign, but that those concerns were unfounded.

Statistics from other cities that have both a United Way campaign and an alternative giving campaign show that giving increases overall, she said.

"New life is brought to the (United Way) campaign," she said.

And, McCoy said, employees can donate to both United Way and Community Shares if they choose to.

In addition, many people will donate for the first time when alternative funds are an option, she said.

"People will give more if they have more choices," McCoy said.

McCoy said she made an initial request to City Manager John Shirey to bring a Community Shares campaign to city employees in early 1996. That summer, Mayor Roxanne Qualls presented McCoy's request to city council, and Shirey suggested that a committee of city employees look at the request, McCoy said. A committee was formed in early 1997 and it drafted a set of guidelines. But those guidelines were difficult to understand and implement, she said. The guidelines were rewritten over another year, given to the legal department and passed by city council in October 1998, McCoy said.

According to these guidelines, in order to be eligible to participate in a charitable giving campaign, an "umbrella" organization must have at least five constituent health and welfare service agencies providing services primarily in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, be in compliance with all federal, state and local laws, be financially responsible, and have a proven track record of providing funds for its agencies for at least two previous campaigns.

McCoy said she was confident that Community Shares and all of its participating organizations met those guidelines, so she expected to get approval this year and have access to the city's 6,000 employees.

Eligibility will be determined by a Charitable Contributions Steering Committee made up of one representative each from executive management, the middle management association, and several union groups, Baker said.

Baker said the city already has charitable giving campaigns for United Way, the United Negro College Fund and the Fine Arts Fund.

The guidelines state that the United Negro College Fund and the Fine Arts Fund were grandfathered into the City of Cincinnati Charitable Campaign and are not subject to the city's guidelines, while United Way must adhere to the guidelines.

McCoy said Community Shares exceeded its 1998 financial goal of $130,000 by getting pledges of more than $145,000.

She said increased giving to alternative funds like Community Shares is a national trend. Nationally in 1997, giving to United Way increased 4.7 percent over the previous year, while giving to alternative funds increased 10.5 percent, according Community Shares' literature.

People find donating to alternative fund organizations like Community Shares attractive for many reasons, McCoy said.

"We're non-traditional, and there are a lot of people who want to donate to organizations who have new ideas about how to address social problems," she said. ©

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