Stake Driven Through Transylvania’s United Way

It’s been a tough year for the United Way of Transylvania County (UWTC). Steve Pulliam retired in February after 19 years as CEO. His immediate successor, Louis Negrón, stepped down seven months later. In September, the Brevard, N.C.-based affiliate faced a $60,000 shortfall that was covered by a stopgap loan. Earlier this month, the board decided to dissolve the organization after 65 years in operation.

UWTC’s main office will close on Friday (Jan. 31), after which, staff and volunteers will begin administrative matters to complete dissolution. The board decided to distribute its remaining funds to local agencies after “lengthy deliberation.” Direct service programs provided by Transylvania Resource Access Information (TRAIN), including VolunteerTransylvania.org and a monthly roundtable and newsletter for agencies, will be transferred to other agencies.

Most of Transylvania County is comprised of Pisgah National Forest and Brevard is located at the entrance to the park, about 45 minutes south of Asheville, N.C. and less than 50 miles from the border of Georgia and South Carolina.

UWTC cited via a press release a “national trend of decreased giving by individuals” and a decline in payroll deduction participation in recent years as reasons for dissolution. “The decrease in donations, combined with increased grants to local programs, led UWTC to expend its reserves to fund local programs. Over the past several years, UWTC leadership used a variety of solicitation techniques and funding sources to increase income, but could not meet the shortfall,” according to the statement.

“UWTC sought grants to bring ‘outside’ money into the county to fund programs but grant opportunities often have very focused and specific restrictions that don’t exactly match up with our programs,” Interim CEO Rick Houck said in a statement. He referred further questions to United Way Worldwide or United Way of North Carolina.

Houck told The Transylvania Times that at least a half-dozen United Way affiliates last year, including United Way Harnett County in Dunn, N.C. UWTC failed to meet a $315,000 projection by September to nonprofit agencies that it agreed to fund, The Times reported. A $60,000 shortfall was covered by a stopgap loan from a private citizen, allowing UWTC to meet first-quarter allocations, according to the report.

Transylvania County is among 54 affiliates within North Carolina. Revenue and contributions the past several years has typically hovered around $500,000. Harnett County, the affiliate cited by Houck, was much smaller, reporting contributions ranging from $52,000 to $63,000 in recent years. Other affiliates, like Albermarle Area United Way in Elizabeth City on the Eastern side of the state, have reported increases in fundraising in recent years.

UWTC is scheduled to be closed by the first or second quarter of this year but it’s dependent on state regulators, according to Southerlyn Resig, director of public relations for United way Worldwide in Alexandria, Va. She described mergers and dissolutions as “relatively infrequent” within the network of 1,100 local affiliates.

“We are seeing a slight uptick in merger activity as the United Way network is continuously evolving to efficiently serve the local communities,” Reisig said. The number of mergers has increased by two or three annually the past few years compared to what they were seeing five or more years ago, she added.

There were at least seven mergers involving 15 United Way affiliates in 2019 and about eight mergers in 2017.

It’s unclear whether the Transylvania County affiliate had any discussions about potential mergers with neighboring affiliates. The national office was unaware of any merger discussions involving United Way of Transylvania County, according to Reisig.

UWTC’s decision to close was abrupt, precluding much discussion about any potential merger. “We’re not in a position to do that, we have a lot of our focus now on Henderson County,” said Denise Cumbee Long, executive director of nearby United Way of Henderson County.