Michigan United Ways to merge

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Three Michigan United Ways voted to merge their formerly separate entities into one organization.

United Way of Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region (UWBCKR), Capital Area United Way (CAUW) and United Way of Jackson County (UWJC) last week announced plans to form a combined nonprofit organization to bring new opportunities to the region while maintaining a local presence.

United Ways of South Central Michigan (UWSCM) will maintain its formerly separate staff, offices, partnerships and investments serving Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Ingham and Jackson counties.

UWSCM will be led by a newly formed board of directors with equal representation from each of the three locations. The new board hopes to launch the new organization within the next six months. Local leadership committees will report to the new UWSCM’s board as well as advise each local site.

“People trust their local United Way to use their donated dollars to change lives locally. We’re committed to keeping that in place,” said Ken Toll, president and CEO of UWJC.

The formerly separate United Ways have worked together on common needs for more than a decade, and the “merger of equals” seeks to bring together unique strengths, shared authority and a continued focus on local needs.

“Each of our communities is unique, with needs that our individual United Ways tackle every day. At the same time, many of those needs are interconnected. We think we can address these issues better together, both locally and regionally,” said Teresa Kmetz, president and CEO of CAUW.

Toll said financial instability among Michigan’s asset limited, income constrained, employed (ALICE) population is one example of the shared issues the merger will better be able to address. According to United Way, 40% of households in Michigan are ALICE households.

“The ALICE Report shows how the challenges for people in poverty or just above poverty are similar across communities — depressed wages, access to key services like child care, systemic inequities, the economic effects of the pandemic and lots more,” Toll said. “Combining our expertise means we can bring more resources, capacity and ideas that will benefit all of our communities.”

UWBCKR President and CEO Chris Sargent said people who rely on United Way can count on local systems remaining in place. Donations made locally will be invested locally and not sent elsewhere. The names of local United Ways will remain the same for fundraising and other community purposes.

“The strength and benefit of a merger like this is in its scale,” Sargent said. “The merged organization will be able to tap new sources of funding, create new partnerships, advocate for racial and economic equity more effectively, and take a bigger role in leading impact for vulnerable families that our individual United Ways can’t do by themselves.”

Kmetz said talk of the potential merger began in 2020 with board members and stakeholders from each of the three organizations involved in the conversation.

“We’ve talked with key donors, agency partners, corporations, organized labor, former board members and others, explaining how a merger would allow us to do more for those we serve,” Kmetz said. “Everyone who looked closely at this merger, everyone who helped us study it from every angle, gave strong support for the idea.”

More information is at unitedforscmi.org.

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