Major Donor Ends Support for United Way for 'Not Being Truthful'

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

( - A United Way of Ventura County, Calif., policy to stop funding groups like the Boy Scouts and other organizations that don't admit homosexuals is likely to result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars for the charity.

A major benefactor of the charity said he is cutting off his funding because he wasn't informed of the policy change.

Former United Way board member Dennis Mark Weinberg and his wife Allyson manage a philanthropic family foundation, and said they will now make contributions directly to individual groups, bypassing the United Way.

The Weinbergs have given $100,000 this year to the charity, but "we're not getting a financial return on our contributions to charities. I think charities have a higher standard," said Mr. Weinberg. "That means when an organization like United Way says 'here's our mission and here's what we stand for,' they had better be very clear about it."

The Weinbergs said finding worthy groups and making contributions directly to them may require more time and effort, but he said, "I would rather do that extra work than rely on an organization that's not being truthful about what its agenda is."

Mr. Weinberg thinks their stand against United Way could start a trend of funding cutoffs from many contributors.

"Is there going to be a trend? I sure hope so. I sure hope people have a much higher expectation of full disclosure from organizations that solicit their money for purposes of passing that money on to other agencies," he said. "Otherwise, we don't need intermediaries like United Way."

Allyson Weinberg said the issue was less about homosexuality and more about candor and disclosure. "It wasn't so much the homosexual or gay issue as it was the issue of not being told before we allocated money through United Way to certain places, then we were told there was a change in policy," said Mrs. Weinberg.

But the increasingly political nature of charities like the United Way, which has been critical of the Boy Scouts and its policy against letting homosexuals serve as scoutmasters, was also a factor.

"It's not supposed to be a social and political (organization) and taking sides," said Mrs. Weinberg. "It's supposed to be helping people in need and in your community."

According to Mr. Weinberg, he and his wife received a letter on Thursday night from United Way, which included an announcement of the policy change that was buried in the body of the letter.

The United Way chapter collected $5.2 million during its most recent campaign that kicked off on September 27, 2001 and ended on May 8 of this year, according to a statement on its website.

Numerous telephone calls by seeking comment from officials with the United Way of Ventura County, Calif., were not returned, but Samuel Vernallis, chairman of the Ventura County United Way Board of Directors, reportedly told the Los Angeles Times the new policy bans funding to agencies that don't allow homosexuality.

The change was approved unanimously last year by the 40-member board, according to Vernallis.

But Mrs. Weinberg wasn't satisfied with the reported explanation. "My question to Sam Vernallis is 'when were you going to tell us?' We have a right as donors to know corporate policies."

Mr. Weinberg said, "It doesn't really matter what the effective date of the change was. When a company makes a change in its operating policy, it makes a disclosure to its shareholders the next day or that day. I think what United Way and every other charity needs to do is make a disclosure the day they make a board level policy decision."

The United Way of America, the national organization that oversees more than 1,400 local chapters across the U.S., said in a statement it does not dictate policy or funding decisions to local chapters of the United Way.

"United Way of America, as the national membership service and training organization for local United Way organizations, does not dictate policy or funding decisions to local United Ways except to the extent that funding decisions must be consistent with applicable laws," said the group.

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