David Whiteside, president of United Way Yukon, says that the organization needs more donors to remain sustainable. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)

Fewer donations mean the United Way is worried about its sustainability

“In the past, people were much more willing to give you $10 a paycheque and let you work well with it”

While it’s not quite on the brink yet, the president of United Way Yukon says donations have been gradually declining, meaning that the local branch of the multinational non-profit organization has been funding fewer projects over the years.

That’s why David Whiteside is on a campaign to encourage Yukon businesses and employees to think about a tried-and-true method of giving — namely, setting up a system where a little bit is deducted off each pay cheque and donated — to try and reverse the trend.

In an interview Oct. 15, Whiteside said that while that’s how many Yukoners used to donate to the United Way, a “new donor landscape” has been emerging, with people preferring to respond to “calls for action” or to give to specific causes rather than passive giving.

“In the past, people were much more willing to give you $10 a paycheque and let you work well with it,” he said. “… However, I am guilty of responding to internet appeals just the same as everybody else is and some of my charity money at least goes to appeals either because a friend grows a moustache or because the Red Cross posts an emergency call because they’ve got a hurricane to deal with.”

According to Whiteside, in 2014, United Way Yukon was able to fund 26 programs with an average allocation of $6,000 each, while in 2017, allocating the same average amount, it was only able to fund 17 programs. While its still able to do its work, Whiteside said he’s concerned that, if the trend continues, the United Way will no longer be sustainable.

“We have to decide, do Yukoners see a value in what we do? And I will say there is value in what we do,” Whiteside said. “…Nobody really enjoys the fundraising the same as they enjoy, let’s say, cooking the soups (for the community kitchen) … It’s just not the same warm, cuddly feeling. It’s always one of the problems that charities face and we feel that our presence in the territory makes it easier for the charities that access our funds.”

Groups whose projects and programs have been funded by the United Way Yukon include Autism Yukon, Challenge Disability Resource Group, Blood Ties Four Directions and the Watson Lake Food Bank and Soup Kitchen Society.

For Samantha Lacourse, the coordinator for Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre’s A Safe Place Program, having access to funds from the United Way is essential. Lacourse also oversees the Community Kitchen program, which brings people from all walks of life together for a free meal on Wednesdays and is largely funded via an allocation from United Way Yukon.

“Sharing a meal really equalizes the playing field and removes a lot of general feelings of power imbalance or status and social status or whatever. It’s just an incredible program,” she said.

Angela Krueger, executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters, agreed, describing the United Way’s support as “crucial” — its allocation provides core funding for its mentoring coordinator in Whitehorse as well as its satellite program in Dawson City.

Big Brothers Big Sisters already does three major fundraisers to support itself, she said, but it’s not enough.

“That takes a lot of energy for staff to do and our board to do,” Krueger explained. “… One of the reasons United Way is so helpful is there’s a lump sum that I don’t have to worry about fundraising and directly asking people for … And that’s a really huge help for a small agency like ours, we only have two staff.”

“We’re very grateful to be a United Way-funded agency,” she added. “… United Way is able to connect with folks who would like to give but aren’t sure who they would like to donate their funds to.”

Whiteside said he’s been speaking to local businesses and business groups to try and warm them up to the idea of allowing direct-from-pay-cheque donations. So far, people have been receptive.

“There’s hope still,” he said.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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