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John McMillin: Awarding funds is a difficult task for volunteers

John McMillin • Updated May 9, 2017 at 8:00 PM

It’s been a busy week for the United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Thankfully, we’ve had several local volunteers who eased the workload while making some important decisions along the way. 

I’m talking about finishing our first week of local allocations, which simply means your friends and neighbors have been busy deciding where to award undesignated funds in our communities where they can do the most good.

The work is difficult. It certainly isn’t physically hard, but deciding where to spend limited funds can be stressful. Luckily all of our panels have a small amount of extra funds to award compared to last year but that margin is pretty thin. The only way to give out more is to take in more and, in today’s economy, bringing in more money is as difficult as ever due to more non-profits seeking funds and a shrinking number of people able to afford to give.

There are a few things that many of our allocations panelists learned that many of you may be surprised to find out as well. For example, although we ensure that local funds stay local, donors to UWWUC are free to choose to designate their funds to programs and causes that are close to their heart. This year, our local United Way will pass on several thousand dollars in funds designated by many of you to non-partner programs and other United Ways.

You, our donors, have told us over the years that the option to designate your generous financial gifts is important. I won’t lie; it makes the allocation process more difficult because our local allocation panels, four of them in Wilson County alone, review about 32 different programs that serve Wilson County residents. These programs complete an extensive application process including a site visit and presenting their request in person to one of our various panels.

Almost all of these programs have incredible stories to tell. The programs cover the most basic needs of food, clothing, health care, senior assistance, prevention of child abuse, as well as issues we like to address to make our communities better places to live. Panelists also consider programs that add assistance for educational help for the young, along with programs that prevent problems before they can start.

At the end of any of these panel meetings, volunteers decide how much of the available funds that have not already been designated to a particular program or area will be awarded to address a certain issue. While most of our volunteers say they feel better for having been through the process and helping, they also feel frustrated that most programs can’t be helped more.

Personally, I feel lucky that we are able to help where we can, and I know that over the years many millions of dollars have stayed in our county and made life a little better for thousands of people. I will pass along the same thing we tell our panelists at the end of every meeting: Feel good about where you have been able to help and please encourage your company or workplace to host a United Way employee campaign and help us stay busy helping our neighbors.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at john@givetouwwc.org.

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