United Way launches 3-year program to close social services funding gap

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Faced with the challenge of what it terms "flat line funding" from government sources to care for the critical needs of seniors and people with disabilities, United Way of Allegheny County on Wednesday said it is launching a three-year effort to find better solutions and strategies to help those groups.

A needs assessment report conducted for the nonprofit by the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health found the most significant issues facing seniors as they become frail are being able to age safely in places where they choose to live and having caregivers who have access to sufficient support. For individuals with disabilities, the report said, the biggest challenges are helping them to find work and live independently while providing support for their families and caregivers.

United Way aims to close the gap that has resulted from tighter government resources for social services and the ever-growing needs of seniors and people with disabilities in the Pittsburgh region, said Robert Nelkin, the organization's president.

"There's a flat-lining of resources in the community ... to help people with the very basics," he said. "By basics, I'm talking about bathing, dressing, meals, grocery shopping, ambulation within the home, getting to medical appointments and being safe. These are basic human needs."

Wednesday's report came as United Way is in the process of kicking off many of its 750 workplace campaigns in the region and as it gears up for the holiday giving season. A majority of the organization's fundraising occurs in the final quarter of the year.

Last year, United Way of Allegheny County raised $33 million, an increase of 2.7 percent over 2011.

Despite the increase, Mr. Nelkin acknowledged United Way faces challenges not just in generating contributions but in marshaling volunteer support.

"We're projecting again an increase [in donations] over last year; we've recorded an increase over the last six years. But that doesn't get to the magnitude of resources that we're going to need to help these many thousands of individuals who become frail," he said.

The needs assessment -- which United Way conducts every three years for the populations where it aims to make an impact -- also received input from a steering committee comprised of corporate and community leaders, Mr. Nelkin said.

The next formal step in the process will occur in December when United Way issues requests for proposals that will target projects specifically designed to aid seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Fundraising revenue at the largest charities in the U.S. will drop by 1 percent this year, according to a report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The report put United Way Worldwide at the top of its Philanthropy 400 list, which ranks the largest U.S. charities by the amount raised.

The worldwide agency -- a network of approximately 1,800 community-based United Ways -- raised $3.9 billion last year, up less than 1 percent from 2011 contributions. Other charities in the top five were Fidelity Charitable, the Salvation Army, the Task Force for Global Health and Feeding America.

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.

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