New United Way Chief hopes to restore trust

Giving a very clear vision to the regional United Way is an important step to restoring public trust in the beleaguered organization, according to its new leader.

“We have to figure out a way to get people to see the impact. They need to see where the money goes,” said Robert Egger, interim vice president of the United Way of the National Capital Area, which includes Prince William County.

Egger will speak to the Prince William United Way Executive Committee next week. The group’s executive director, Lucy Beauchamp, said she already likes what she hears from Egger.

“I’m very encouraged,” Beauchamp said. “A lot of the things [Egger] is talking about are things that we are already doing. We are out in the community and people know what we do.”

Egger, the founder of a successful soup kitchen in Washington, D.C., was selected by the regional United Way board in September after its former chief executive Norman O. Taylor resigned amidst allegations of financial mismanagement.

The regional organization is the subject of a federal investigation. Among the allegations are that it took credit for millions of dollars in contributions it never received; it withheld from charities more than $1 million it collected that was earmarked for them; and that it deducted as much as 45 percent of contributions it received to pay for overhead.

The dominating leadership styles of the previous administrations and an oversized board led to the management problems of the regional United Way, Egger said.

“It was a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Additionally, Egger said, the focus on the organization was on money instead of on results.

“You end up with a public that is disengaged,” Egger said. The public doesn’t understand why they should give to the organization because it does not readily see the results of the work being done, he said.

Several management changes have been made since Egger took the reigns. They include new financial controls, budget cuts to reduce overhead and the appointment of an ethics officer.

Additionally, earlier this month almost $1 million that had been previously designated by donors for specific organizations was released to those organizations.

“I believe the majority of the things that need to be done [to change the organization] are easy,” Egger said, but establishing a vision or mission is harder.

“How are we going to get people to see the impact [of their donations]?” Egger asked.

One way might be to increase the number of people who volunteer at the charities supported by the United Way. It would show more people how their charitable donations are being spent.

Egger acknowledged that the discovery of the problems at the regional office and the timing of the ousting of the former director right before the launch of the annual fund-raising campaign couldn’t have been worse.

As a result, he anticipates that donations would be down this year, but Egger did not want to estimate by how much. “I don’t want a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.

It worries Egger that people and services could be hurt by reductions in donations, especially during a slowing economy.

The regional United Way raised about $90 million for 1,100 social programs.

The goal for the Prince William campaign is $1 million.

Egger said he believes that people want the organization to succeed.

“Most people want [the United Way] to work and they want to give,” Egger said.

Following the conclusion of this year’s drive, Egger plans to continue his push for improvements.

“In January we will unveil a new system, a new board and a new vision,” Egger said.

“We need this United Way. It’s a big part of the community,” Egger said.

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