Boston Area Salvation Army Leader Dumps His Second United Way

November 1, 2010       Kate Rogers      

It seems a certain major in the Salvation Army isn’t too fond of United Way. For the second time in 10 years, Maj. William Bode, now the divisional commander of the Massachusetts division of the Salvation Army, has disaffiliated with a local chapter of United Way.

After more than 70 years of collaboration, the Salvation Army of Massachusetts in Canton, Mass., pulled away from United Way of Massachusetts Valley and Merrimack Bay in Boston. The local division of the Salvation Army announced the split in September, citing years of funding cuts as the reasoning behind the rift.

Back in 2004, under Bode’s command, the Salvation Army chapters in Bucks County, Pennsylvania broke from United Way of Bucks County, also citing funding cuts as the primary reason.

It has the United Way leaders scratching their heads wondering what’s going on since Bode’s division still received United Way funding, albeit less than before.

Bode said he had expressed budget concerns for the past three years to United Way of Massachusetts, with the Salvation Army’s allocation dropping annually from $1 million in 1990. Next year the allocation was going to drop to $171,000, a 54-percent decrease from three years earlier, Bode said.

“We count on their support,” he said of the local United Way. “There is giving in other ways, but it hasn’t made up for the significant cuts over the years.”

Michael Durkin, president of United Way of Massachusetts Valley and Merrimack Bay, said he was caught off guard by the decision to disaffiliate. Durkin said he had met with Maj. Bode for lunch in early September, during which Bode expressed his concerns with budget cuts.

Durkin said in the year to come, the local Salvation Army was slated to receive an 18-percent increase in funding, totaling more than $415,000. According to the local United Way, this designated $358,611 in operating support and grants from United Way and $56,527 in direct donations from supporters. Durkin also noted that fundraising is down 4 percent overall for his chapter of United Way, so such increases to the Salvation Army showed their commitment to the organization.

“I have never been so disappointed honestly,” Durkin said of Bode’s announcement. “We have had a 70-year relationship with them in Boston, and for them to want to end that relationship in a year they are getting more funding, and want to end a relationship that has been around for that long helping children and families — I don’t understand it.”

Bode said the two organizations have different fiscal years which accounts for some of the disparity between their numbers, and also noted that United Way is including designated gifts from direct donors in its calculations for the year to come.

The two organizations’ boards did not have the chance to meet and discuss the decision, Durkin said, although he claims he requested such meetings several times. The only provision the local United Way has over the Salvation Army is that they do not separately seek workplace-giving campaigns, he said.

“I don’t know how many other donors they get that annually give them over $400,000,” Durkin said. “I don’t think they would cite budget woes to those donors and walk away. I don’t know what their plans are to make it up, because United Way allows them to do almost all other types of fundraising.”

The restrictions the United Way placed on the Salvation Army were light, Bode said, and the organization is relying on the generosity of the public to make up for the funds it would have received through the partnership.

“We are letting people know there are increasing needs in today’s economy, and people are still in need of basic assistance,” he said. “We have shared with the United Way for three years that we were not happy with the decline in allocation that has been taking place. We shared this concern with their board members as well.”

The Salvation Army also called upon Boston-based public relations firm O’Neill and Associates to announce the split, which Durkin said was uncommon and in bad taste on Bode’s part.

“I know I was trying to work out and build upon our 70-year relationship and his concern was how to spin a story,” Durkin said.

The public relations firm is part of the Massachusetts Division’s staff year-round, Bode said, and they were not used solely for announcing the split.

“I can give illustration after illustration of our relationship with the firm over the years,” he said. “His (Durkin’s) assumption was not correct.”

Maj. George Hood, chief communications officer for the national headquarters of the Salvation Army in Alexandria, Va., said such disaffiliations with United Way have become a growing trend for local chapters since UWW shifted its philosophy in 2007 to focus on special areas of direct service provision.

If the Salvation Army of Massachusetts leaders believe they would raise more money without its affiliation with the local United Way, Hood said the move would make sense. The local Salvation Army had no contact with the national office in making its decision, and instead consulted with its own local advisory board.

“United Way has reinvented themselves, and there is no question that tension arises in local communities,” he said. “Each party has to do what they believe is in their best interest. We have wonderful relationships with United Ways all over the country, and hopefully those will endure.” With the relationship being severed, Hood said the local Salvation Army can fundraise without restrictions on campaigns. The fundraising must sustain for years to come, which is questionable on the part of the Massachusetts division, he said.

“They have to raise more independently than they would get from a direct grant from United Way, and you have to do that every year,” he said. “It’s not a one-time shot. It has to be a sustainable program. We will see if they can.”

Hood also said the two organizations have like-minded missions, and ultimately have the same objective.

“The goals of the Salvation Army and United Way are certainly compatible,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind. The issue is are we generating enough revenue to sustain those programs, and is there an alternative way to raise more money?”

The best outcome for United Way would be for the two organizations to regroup, Durkin said, which he is committed to making happen. If an agreement cannot be made, he said the funds his chapter of United Way had allocated in its budget for the Salvation Army of Massachusetts would be directed toward other organizations helping children and families in the community. If donors had designated funds specifically to the Salvation Army through United Way, the Salvation Army will still receive them.

“I think everyone loses in this one,” Durkin said. “The United Way will lose a valuable partner with which we have helped a lot of poor people for a long time. Our community loses a partnership that helps people. There are over 30,000 nonprofits in Massachusetts. People don’t need another fundraising effort, they need us working together for the best outcomes.”

At press time, Bode said the Salvation Army’s main concern was kicking off its annual holiday kettle drive and serving people in need for the current season. Once the holidays are over, he said the organization will move on to other issues.

“We have to best position ourselves to meet demands for food and clothing, and we are concentrating literally on helping to meet the needs of people for this Thanksgiving,” Bode said. “That is our priority right now, and once that is through we will consider other things.” NPT