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Wadena United Way fights through fundraising slump

Donations received by the Wadena United Way were low again last year, but that isn't stopping them from carrying on with their annual fundraising drive beginning this September.

As of Aug. 26, contributions were more than $2,000 behind last year's total, although yearly contributions are not measured until Sept. 30 of each year. The Wadena chapter had a deficit of more than $2,500 in 2012 and is currently operating at only $752 under budget, according to budget reports. Budgets for the past four years ranged from around $23,700 to $26,000.

Local United Way organizers attribute the slump to a decline in membership and the economic downturn.

"Part of it is, I think there's so many organizations trying to get that money donated, and I think it's whoever's the loudest...right now that's getting that," Wayne Grothmann, a Wadena United Way board member, said Monday.

The typical fundraising campaign consists of local United Way members contacting businesses as well as individual people for donations. Those donations are then routed to local non-profit organizations - in Wadena's case, groups like Madhatters and the Wadena Senior Center. The donations from United Way to each particular group on their recipient list ranged from $500 to $2,000.

Wadena chapter members said they're also struggling locally with a negative stigma against the national organization: that the money United Way routes to nonprofits is spent at the nonprofits' offices rather than going towards the people those nonprofits are supposed to serve.

The Wadena chapter says both their group and the national United Way have worked to fight that negative perception, however. For example, the national organization discourages local chapters from allowing their recipients to spend more than 20 percent of the money they get from United Way on administrative costs, Grothmann said. A Wadena-area group was taken off the recipient list after they admitted using more than 60 percent of their United Way money on administration, Wadena Board Secretary Marilyn Twede said.

New groups getting United Way backing this year include Mahube-Ottwa's Retired Service Volunteer Program (RSVP), as well as the Wellness Center project. Twede said the Wellness Center money is earmarked specifically to help low-income people pay for memberships at the center, rather than the financing simply going to construction.

The United Way has been operating so long in Wadena that Grothmann and Twede didn't know when exactly it came in, although Twede said it was at least thirty years ago; when she first joined. Now, some members aren't optimistic about the Wadena chapter's future if donations continue to stall.

"I have hopes," Twede said. "I'm not sure that I'm exactly optimistic, but I certainly have hopes."