Tough times call for tough choices. For Herb Klein, president and CEO of United Way Greater Mercer, the significant reduction in revenues over the past five years meant a decision to reduce or eliminate funding to about a dozen local agencies this year and into 2013.
As reported in Michele Alperin’s article, “The Battle Over United Way’s Dwindling Dollars” (U.S. 1, December 5), the cuts and Klein’s controversial philosophies in making them are being criticized by other members of the nonprofit community. The reactions have continued in letters to U.S. 1 and comments posted online. The letters and some of those comments are printed below. To see all the comments, go to http://goo.gl/2PuET.
#b#To The Editor: Klein A Hypocrite?#/b#
In U.S. 1’s December 5 cover story Herb Klein, CEO of United Way of Greater Mercer County, revealed an appalling lack of respect for the agencies that make up the nonprofit sector in Mercer County and a startling lack of familiarity and knowledge about how Mercer County addresses hunger through the nonprofit sector.
Let me state at the outset that I am the husband of Phyllis Stoolmacher, the long-time head of the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank. Anyone who has interacted with Phyllis knows that she doesn’t need me to fight her battles. I’m writing this letter based on my 25 years of assisting Mercer County nonprofits in the areas of strategic planning and fundraising, as someone who has taught classes at Rutgers University School of Social Work on performance-based measurement, and as someone who is very familiar with the needs of those who hungry in Mercer County. I also served as president the Board of Trustees of the United Way Princeton Area Communities in the early 1990s, when I was employed in a management position in the private sector.
During my career I have worked in government, the private sector, and with more than 100 nonprofits agencies. I can say without equivocation that if you can make it in the nonprofit sector, you can excel anywhere. I have come to greatly respect the nonprofit sector and the people who work in it. This is not to say that there are no poorly run nonprofits. However, the agencies that were de-funded by the United Way operate high-quality programs that achieve important measurable outcomes.
Mr. Klein’s suggestion that the agencies that were de-funded do not “solve programs that move the needle” is disingenuous, disrespectful, and false. To suit his own purposes, Mr. Klein defines success simply as monetary return on investment — it “has to be dollars.” Improving the quality of one’s life has no value in his “measurement world, the management consulting and start-up world.” In the world in which I operate, when someone is bleeding, you apply a band-aid to address the short-run need while you work to address the underlying problem. It is not a matter of either/or, but rather that both efforts are needed.
Mr. Klein is a hypocrite. On one hand, he indicates that the United Way of Mercer County is totally outcome driven; yet he proceeds to indicate that the reason that Family Guidance was de-funded was that employee groups did not vote through donor designating for the agency — “our community votes with dollars. We look at where people want to give their money, and it tells us where they care about,” he said. Mr. Klein, you can’t have it both ways.
Mr. Klein needs to get his facts straight regarding what constitutes the emergency food network in Mercer County. He notes that Mercer County has “21 separate food banks.” This is inaccurate and it appears that Mr. Klein does not know the difference between a food bank and a food pantry.
A food bank functions as a central clearinghouse to secure and distribute donated, purchased, or government-supplied food to a network of local hunger relief agencies. A food pantry is a place where people in need can receive free groceries and other hunger prevention services. Mercer Street Friends is the sole food bank serving Mercer County; it partners with 41 food pantries, nine shelters, three soup kitchens, five non-emergency meal sites, and two group homes. In addition, there are other places where people can receive food assistance that are not members of the food bank.
Mr. Klein’s view that providing food to hungry people “solves no problem other than ‘I’m hungry’,” shows an absence of knowledge regarding food insecurity. Does it not occur to Mr. Klein that providing food to individuals and families not only improves their physical and emotional well-being, but also strengthens their economic stability by allowing households to use their limited financial resources for other basic needs such as housing, clothing, medicine or health care?
Mr. Klein goes to great lengths to promote the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and I concur that this is vital program that can increase the financial resources of low-income households. But so is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — the very program that the United Way chose not to fund when it eliminated the Nutrition Alliance. SNAP benefits enable individuals and families experiencing economic difficulties to buy groceries and reduce the pressure of having to make hard choices between eating right and paying for other essentials. Mr. Klein’s observation that EITC “put thousands of dollars into the hands of families so they have money for food as opposed to going to a food bank” is equally applicable to SNAP.
It distresses me deeply that the United Way of Mercer County, an organization with a long tradition of supporting the nonprofit sector, has been transformed into an entity so distanced and disdainful of the very human service agencies it was created to assist.
President, Stoolmacher Consulting Group
How unfortunate to portray this as a battle between two men. Instead it is a enormous philosophical difference between valuing people and valuing money. As the director of a nonprofit myself for many years, Mr. Klein well articulates the difference between running a nonprofit and running a start up financial turnaround company.
Outcomes in his world include money. Outcomes in our world include improved quality of life for those in our community who to often are over-looked. We both run businesses, indeed Womanspace has been in business for over 35 years and according to our auditor continues to be a strong, well-run, fiscally responsible organization.
We also help people, and I would challenge anyone who believes that moving from a home of life-threatening violence and pain and taking the long and difficult journey to a life of stability and peacefulness is not a measurable outcome.
Shame on Mr. Klein for not truly understanding the mission of a nonprofit before deciding to criticize and denigrate the important services that we all provide. And as a point of clarification: I believe that replicating existing community services is exactly what United Way is doing. United Way has the right to make the decisions that it makes. It is my belief that the donor community is not aware of the shift in mission and the defunding of the safety net. It is our right to inform so that donors can make an informed choice.
Executive Director, Womanspace
Herb Klein has it wrong. For years the United Way funded local charities simply because they were doing good in communities that needed help. Some organizations that the United Way supported did little to evaluate, document, or publicize their results. The United Way knew this going in, claims to be disappointed in their outcomes. Whose fault is that?
Now Mr. Klein wants to paint all nonprofits with the same brush and start anew with a grand plan that puts the United Way in the center of philanthropic activity in the region. First, I remind Mr. Klein that most nonprofits do excellent work that is responsive to community needs. They make a real impact, and they measure this impact. These organizations are constantly evaluating their outcomes, collaborating with other organizations, harnessing the work of volunteers, and changing practice to improve results. Where does Mr. Klein come off thinking these organizations don’t do this?
Secondly, I agree with Mr. Klein’s goals and his desire to bring practical business thinking to the nonprofit sector. And I remind him that the best nonprofits have been walking that walk for over a decade. Nonprofits are making an impact in education, income, and health. Nonprofits are moving the needle.
Thirdly, donors are concerned that nonprofit services not be duplicated. Nobody wants to see charities competing for resources, much less see the United Way competing with organizations that are successfully providing services in the community.
Mr. Klein has lofty goals, but the wrong model of how to achieve them. He will have to learn to play better with others before I support the United Way again.
#b#Other online comments:#/b#
I believe Mr. Klein really does not understand what his donors want — they want to make a difference in the community. I will no longer donate to the United Way; instead I will donate directly to those organizations that provide a “safety-net” of services to our most vulnerable.
When Herb Klein refers to local non-profits as “dogs at a feed bowl,” he reveals his true contempt for these organizations that have been serving the Mercer County community for over 20 years. I suppose since he sees them as the dogs fighting for scraps, he’s the guy dangling the scraps of meat for them to fight over. What a disgusting analogy.
I have the privilege of volunteering a couple of days a week at a food pantry and I can only say that Mr. Klein should come into the trenches where not being hungry for a day is a HUGE DEAL. Short-term solutions and long-term solutions are not mutually exclusive.