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This FAQ answers some of the common questions about United Way in general. It also provides information on the 2022 merger of United Way of Greater Topeka and United Way of Douglas County to become United Way of Kaw Valley.  

In September of 2022, United Way of Greater Topeka and United Way of Douglas County merged to become United Way of Kaw Valley. The addition of Douglas County, directly to our east, brings several new communities into the service area, joining those in Shawnee, Jackson and Jefferson counties. In addition to a strong commitment to volunteer engagement and nonprofit capacity building through volunteering, Douglas County also brings a thriving AmeriCorps service program.

UWKV now maintains two physical offices. Staff at both locations can be reached through a directory system on our main phone line, 785.273.4804. Our public hours are 9 am to 4 pm, Monday-Thursday and 9 am to Noon on Friday. Resources and referral information is available anytime by call the resource specialists at 2-1-1.

Topeka Office                                   Lawrence Office
1527 SW Fairlawn Rd                      1127 Iowa
Topeka, KS 66604                             Lawrence, KS 66044

While staff housed in Douglas County are mostly responsible for Douglas County programs and fundraising, staff in both offices work collaborate daily for the benefit of all four counties.

Currently we have local advisory councils for Shawnee, Jackson and Douglas counties. These councils work to understand the needs in each community and make recommendations to our staff on funding priorities, collaborative opportunities, and strategic planning. The advisory councils are parallel in purpose, but use their local knowledge to put local dollars to work.

At this time we do not have an advisory council or fund work specifically in Jefferson County, although many of our partners already serve the residents of the county. We hope to increase engagement in Jefferson County in the future and welcome conversations with interested volunteers, agencies and businesses who want to make this happen.

What work does United Way of Kaw Valley focus on?

Local solutions that consider the “Whole Family,” in all its forms.

No one lives in a vacuum. The success of our children depends on the success of those who care for them. The success of our students depends on access to schools, healthy food, affordable medical care and stable housing. The success of our young adults hinges on understanding the financial realities of adult life. And none of those things can happen without an interconnected network of basic support that protects the most vulnerable in times of need.

We are leaders in Childhood Success, working with our early education and child care partners to ensure that those who start life with a disadvantage can get back on level ground BEFORE they have a chance to fall behind in school.

We know that the work doesn’t end there, that students and their families need continued support in school and beyond. Our Family Success work in K-12 supports helps students build a solid foundation as they rise to middle school and high school, setting the stage for on-time graduation and a career. Youth financial literacy and workforce readiness round out this impact category.

The economic aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic have created unusually high demand for the most basic of Family Supports. Your United Way contributions help ensure that our neighbors have partners to turn to when they need food, housing, short-term help paying for rent or utilities, access to health care help escaping relationship violence or trafficking.

Without you, we can’t do any of it. Without your investment, proven strategies and support will never reach all those who desperately need them.

Without your investment, the incredible success in the Pine Ridge neighborhood of east Topeka might never have happened. What started as one 3-year-old preschool classroom has blossomed into community empowerment, drawing support from more and more partners and gaining national recognition for its ingenuity and collaboration. We may not know for several more years if that preschool experience translated into higher graduation rates for Pine Ridge Prep students. But we know TODAY that preschool families in Pine Ridge are engaged in their children’s education and in their community in ways that they never had before Pine Ridge Prep. We know TODAY that opening doors in just one neighborhood has created an avalanche of opportunity for children and adults, opportunities that are making their lives better right now. We know TODAY that all the people who live and work near Pine Ridge have better access to preventive health and dental care. And that is something to build on.

Is United Way a local or national organization? Does my money stay here locally?

United Way of Kaw Valley is a local, autonomous, nonprofit organization governed by a local volunteer board of directors. In exchange for nominal dues (about 1.5% of our revenue), United Way Worldwide provides staff training, community research information, localizable materials and ongoing consultation to local United Ways that help us serve our community better. Previously as United Way of Greater Topeka, we served Shawnee, Jackson and Jefferson counties. In our new, post-merger evolution as United Way of Kaw Valley, we also serve Douglas County. Money raised in each county supports work in that county.

How does United Way support basic needs?

Supporting basic needs remains foundational to United Way’s work and is represented in the Whole Family model by Family Supports. Without having their basic needs met, children may have difficulty learning in school, families may struggle to find financial stability, and individuals and families may struggle to maintain good physical and mental health.

Who gets grants from United Way? Why doesn't an organization I support receive funds from United Way?

Investment decisions are guided by partner submissions to a formal Request for Proposal (RFP). Their responses are evaluated by both our Community Impact staff and community volunteers. Proposals showing the greatest ability to meet the goals receive funding made available through our annual campaign. The amount available to the community depends on how much we are able to raise each year.

Can I designate my donation to a specific organization?

Yes, but there is a $50 minimum contribution for each partner organization or other United Way that you choose. You may designate all or a portion of your donation to a United Way partner organization. Eligible organizations are listed on our website at https://www.uwkawvalley.org/communitypartners. Grant dollars are not connected to the donor designated dollars an organization might receive. Use the QR code to visit the partner designations page on our website.

While United Way once served as a central donation point for any nonprofit, United Way of Kaw Valley now aligns our grants and our designation list with partners who are working toward similar community goals. There are a few historical exceptions, but the vast majority of the partners to whom you can designate your contribution are serving our neighbors in the areas of education, financial stability, health, and basic needs.

Some of our employees are struggling. How can we ask them to give?

Often, people who have recently struggled and have seen the benefits of a helping hand are the ones who most want to help others. They appreciate the opportunity to make a gift, even if is small, or they may wish to volunteer or advocate for United Way’s work.

Everyone should have the opportunity to express caring through philanthropic giving whether it is a financial gift or a gift of time through volunteering or advocating. Also, payroll deduction makes it easy to give small amounts that add up and combine with the gifts of others in the community to achieve even greater impact.

I heard the UWKV CEO makes $500,000/$1 million a year and has their own private jet!

UWKV’s Board of Directors sets our CEO’s compensation, which is far less than that amount. It also does not include any allowances for items such as a private jet. Our financial documents (audits and IRS Form 990s) can be viewed online at https://uwkawvalley.org/finances-reports.

If you are referring to the CEO of United Way Worldwide, their financials can be viewed for the most recent year available at https://unitedway.org/about/public-reporting.

I heard that United Way supports Planned Parenthood and I would never support such an agency.

Each United Way is independent and autonomous in how they make their funding decisions in alignment with their community goals and priorities. United Way of Kaw Valley does not provide funding locally or nationally to Planned Parenthood. The dues that UWKV pays to United Way Worldwide do not support Planned Parenthood.

How much of my gift goes to services versus administrative costs?

Our percentage of administrative and fundraising costs was 14.4 percent in FY 2021. The Better Business Bureau and the IRS recommend that nonprofits spend no more than 35 percent on overhead. Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator to which United Way of Kaw Valley subscribes, states that the most efficient charities spend less than 25% on fundraising and administrative fees.

AT UWKV, we take pride in keeping all of our internal costs as low as possible, so that donor dollars are used efficiently and effectively to build strong, healthy and equitable communities. That being said, without thoughtful expenditures on support services, we couldn’t raise the money we grant or otherwise help our staff do their jobs.  These expenses include the costs of fundraising, rent, communication, accounting, and management, as well as activities critical to our mission and larger nonprofit community, like volunteer coordination and training, capacity building, advocacy and cross-service collaboration and coordination.

What does the merger mean for my workplace campaign?

First and foremost, as has always been our policy: money raised will remain in the county where raised unless donors designate otherwise.

Donors in all counties should make checks payable to United Way of Kaw Valley.

Volunteers in each county help guide the impact work and funding decisions. The exception is Jefferson County, which is currently served by partners through funding received in other counties.

UWGT CEO Jessica Lehnherr continues to serve as CEO of United Way of Kaw Valley.

How did United Way of Greater Topeka benefit from the merger?

Douglas County has a strong record of leadership in volunteerism and service in their community, particularly with the Roger Hill Volunteer Center and their partnership with AmeriCorps. Their leadership, combined with our Service Enterprise certification means collectively we have met national standards for leadership in volunteer management. Together we can deliver an even more impactful volunteer experience and expand nonprofit capacity in all our communities.

Douglas County has also taken the lead in equity work in their community, particularly through grant-making. This is an area UWKV wants to grow in, and we're looking forward to leveraging their experience.

We will be able to grow staff capacity in both our offices. We're excited to add a new role to our Resource Development team to manage and grow individual giving across both our communities.

How did Douglas County benefit from the merger?

The merger will allow Douglas County staff to have more resources (a full finance staff, community impact colleagues, and additional resource development staff) at their disposal and will provide some economies of scale that will add flexibility to our budget.

The merger allows us to better communicate with donors who may live in Lawrence but work in Topeka, and vice versa. It also makes operations easier for partners that span the county line. Now they only have to work with one United Way.