The United Way of the National Capital Area has suspended America's Charities, a Chantilly-based nonprofit that represents 35 charities in the United Way's local fundraising drive, from this fall's campaign, saying the nonprofit is trying to muscle in on its fundraising role among area employers.
America's Charities raises money for its members but also seeks to contract with corporations -- as United Way does -- to run its in-house fundraising campaigns among their employees. For that reason, it will not be allowed to list its 35 local charities in this fall's United Way campaign, United Way chief executive Charles Anderson said this week.
Anderson said that by competing with the United Way for corporate business, America's Charities was violating the United Way's requirement that workplace campaigns be conducted in a manner that will "engender employer support of the United Way."
Soliciting area corporations to drop the United Way and sign with America's Charities is "competing with the United Way," said Anderson, "and that's not engendering the support of the United Way."
America's Charities chief executive Don Sodo denied that America's Charities is trying to lure companies from the United Way fold. He said it began courting area employers only after the United Way became engulfed in a financial scandal in recent years, causing some employers to drop their participation in the campaign.
"They weren't doing a United Way campaign, and we stepped into a void to help them," Sodo said.
Last year, America's Charities handled the workplace campaigns for 23 local employers -- 21 more than in 2001 -- including former United Way participants Lockheed Martin and Exxon Mobil, raising $4.5 million from their employees for local charities.
Anderson said America's Charities' removal is part of an overall tightening of standards by United Way's new management, which came in last year to clean up the organization after it was nearly ruined by a financial scandal in 2002 and 2003.
In examining the applications of local charities that had been included in previous United Way campaigns, Anderson said, United Way found that several violated long-standing eligibility standards, which require nonprofits to meet certain financial standards and support the United Way's annual fundraising drive.
United Way's previous management applied the eligibility requirements inconsistently, and the new management is cracking down, Anderson said.
"I'm sure it's hard on some organizations because they don't understand why it's different today," Anderson said. "Well, it has to be different because the way the old United Way behaved in the past was not effective."
In addition to America's Charities, about a dozen individual charities have been suspended from the campaign for violating United Way's standards, Anderson said.
Charities seek to be included in the United Way campaign because it gives them access to thousands of area employees who fill out pledge cards and check off the names of charities to which they want to contribute. Last year, the United Way's private-sector campaign raised $20 million.
In all, the United Way's campaign this year will list about 3,000 local and national charities that have applied individually or through their federations, such as America's Charities, Independent Charities of America and the United Black Fund.
There has been confusion and anger among the ousted charities. Some said this week that they were not aware they had been eliminated from the campaign, and others said they believed that they had been removed in error.
Regina Schewe, a spokeswoman for Family and Child Services, a Northwest Washington charity, said the United Way notified her organization a few months ago to say it would be dropped from the campaign because it received too much revenue from government contracts.
The United Way requires that charities receive at least 20 percent of their revenue from public donations -- a requirement that Family and Child Services meets, Schewe said.
Schewe said she is not sure what happened -- whether the United Way erred or whether her organization furnished United Way with the wrong information. She said that she has been trying to reach someone at United Way for the past six weeks but that her phone calls have not been returned.
The United Way has said that donors still can write in the names of organizations to which they want to donate.