Commentary: Does Yukon need a United Way?

“The reason we ask is that we may not be sustainable”

David Whiteside

Does Yukon need a United Way?

The Yukon has supported a United Way for almost 25 years now. Those of us who volunteer for United Way Yukon (UWY) believe that we have an important impact on the territory. The charities we have supported agree.

The reason we ask is that we may not be sustainable. In the next five years UWY as we know it may disappear. The donation landscape is changing and our business model may not be working the way it once did.

The payroll donation, a brilliant system by the way, may not appeal to the new donor. They may not see the ease of donation, the painless nature of the process and the ultra-low overhead involved the way that older donors may see it.

Under the guidance of United Way Centreaide Canada (UWCC), United Ways across the country are retooling and reworking their business model.

The thing is though, the new model is just not doable when you are a small, volunteer-run United Way. United Way Yukon has, until very recently been a small, volunteer-run United Way.

If I understand what I read, the modern donor reacts to calls for action.

Their email or their Facebook feed presents a situation where someone or some organization needs help. We have never done a call for action.

Well, that is until now. Facebook is not involved, but this is definitely a call for action.

The modern donor also wants agency and a hands-on experience when they donate. They want to feel in control over where their money goes and what impact it has.

We have always had a committee of volunteers that evaluates applications from local charities and does the math to divide the donation pie from our fall campaign. If a donor wants agency they can always join the committee. But, maybe that’s not what is meant by “agency.”

What choices does United Way Yukon face?

UWY can join together with another United Way. That is the most common choice among small United Ways like us. It is happening across the country and it is working. The problem though is that we do not see ourselves becoming United Way Northern BC and Yukon and remaining relevant here.

United Way of the Territories could be a solution. Nunavut does not currently have a United Way. The Northwest Territories do. Both the NWT and Yukon are small market United Ways but even together we would still not have the population base most United Ways are working with.

There is another possibility. United Way Yukon believes that, with help, we can become sustainable.

Over the past almost 25 years of our existence, we have remained pretty much with the campaigns with which we began. In 2017, we had workplace campaigns at most of the banks, Yukon Energy, Northwestel as well as the federal and Yukon governments. Together these campaigns accounted for over 70 per cent of funds raised. While our fundraising is down, we still managed to raise $121K.

Only about one-third of the workers in the Yukon have ever been asked to make a payroll donation to UWY.

This year we hired an employee. His job is to reach out to the private sector to establish payroll donation campaigns. If we are successful in our outreach, if small businesses and larger companies in the Yukon help us to engage the other two thirds of Yukon workers, we believe that we can become large enough to maintain membership requirements with UWCC, continue to help local charities and retool our model so that we can begin to reach out to Yukoners in a more modern way.

We envision having the capacity to act as a vehicle for other Yukon charities. UWY has always worked to help local charities to achieve their goals by doing the hard work of raising funds on their behalf. If we are able to increase our outreach in the community we will be able to send out appeals on behalf of local charities. Raising money is the work we have always done and it is the work that we hope to be able to continue, just in a new way.

If we are unable to do this, then who would? Local charities are stressed for time and money. While their core work may be supported by grants, they are expected to raise funds themselves. Many fundraisers that enjoyed significant support are no longer worth the time and effort it takes to enact them. One example is the AIDS walk. Blood Ties Four Directions used to be able to count on $20,000 in receipts from that event. It has dwindled to a point that this year it will not take place.

Charities appreciate that our system involves filling out a simple form, providing a budget and, at the end, writing a report. With little work, when our coffers are full, they can access as much as $10K.

So what can you do if you think, as we do, that United Way Yukon is an important part of the charitable sector of the Yukon?

• You can join our board. We need all kinds of different people working on our behalf and helping us to become sustainable.

• You can organize a workplace campaign. There is no workplace too small to do this. United Way is famous for working with donations like a dollar a day.

• If you own a business, no matter how big or how small, you can offer the possibility of a payroll donation to your employees.

Didn’t I just say that people don’t donate this way anymore? Yukon may be fortunate to be behind a trend for once. The donors that are currently supporting UWY around the territory are doing it using payroll donations. While there are other ways to connect with local charities, we remain the simplest and, without bragging, the most effective.

You can respond to calls from agencies outside the territory but you will see few from charities like LDAY, Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre, or Skookum Jim. The people who work their magic daily in these places are busy just doing their jobs. Creating modern media campaigns is just not on the roster. So, for now, old style still has appeal in the territory.

Do we really need United Way Yukon? I say yes. But if we are going to have a workable United Way in five years we need your help today.

David Whiteside is the president of United Way Yukon

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