United Way the Dayton Way

The last thing you do when you want to build trust is start meeting behind closed doors. At least that’s the way true leadership works in this information-driven economy. The Dayton United Way got in trouble by letting an incompetent executive pay himself way too much, for way too long, while not delivering enough of the money to the right places in an efficient way.

The new guy is fighting an uphill battle against the old guy’s legacy- but is still working within the old guy’s playbook. Do what the powers that be tell you to do. Not only that, we’re still caught up with the idea of “benchmarking” as the way out of a mess that can easily be cleaned up by doing the right thing and communicating that message clearly. Sure the economy has changed, but asking for help from the people who were supposedly watching the hen house while the last fox ate the chickens is tantamount to throwing in the towel.

Face it- if these 45 people wanted to prop up United Way and make it work, they could write the checks out of their personal accounts tomorrow. Pam Morris, CEO of CareSource- pays herself $3 million dollars a year to administer tax dollars that are supposed to be doing the same thing that the United Way does- fund the less fortunate. If we paid the head of United Way even 10% of what she made in a year, we’d be up in arms- because that’s 50% more than what we paid the “old guy” and 3x what we’re paying the “new guy.” It’s OK to grossly overpay a non-profit head that’s using tax dollars- but, it’s a no-no to do it to one who takes true charity and tries to distribute it fairly.

From the Dayton Daily News:

Forty-five business and community leaders from across the Dayton region gathered Thursday, April 22, to plot a new course for the United Way of Greater Dayton, an agency that’s seen its fundraising fall and mission challenged amid a troubled economy and rising need.

The invitation-only meeting, the first of three this spring, was mostly a brainstorming session, attendees said.

The meeting focused on, “What are the strategic challenges, No. 1, — what’s not right — and what are the opportunities?” said Ron Budzik, a member of the Dayton Business Committee and a former Mead Corp. executive. “We got all kinds of feedback.”

Budzik and others declined to provide specifics about what was said at the two-hour meeting held at the Entrepreneurs Center, 714 E. Monument. But they said attendees, who included chief executives Pamela Morris of CareSource and Roy Chew of Kettering Medical Center, gathered in five groups to discuss three topics: the United Way’s organizational structure, its fundraising model in the absence of NCR, General Motors and other big corporate donors of the past, and public perception.

“The perception (from the groups) is the United Way serves an important purpose but it needs to change because the economy has changed,” said Bill Burges, a consultant from Cleveland who’s worked on levy and public relations campaigns for Dayton Public Schools and Sinclair Community College. “We have to figure out ways to deal with a younger, smaller, more diverse workforce.”

The United Way ran deficits of more than $600,000 in 2006 and 2007 and ended fiscal year 2008 more than $1 million in the red. Fundraising has declined for years and fell $1 million short this year of its $9.5 million target.

A benchmarking study against seven similar United Ways, including agencies in Akron, Chattanooga, Tenn., and Anchorage, Alaska, showed Dayton is on the low side for staff size, donor participation and average gift size and its overhead is toward the median. But none of the other agencies was a model for Dayton to follow, said Jayne Klose, the agency’s vice president for marketing and resource development.

via Meeting plots new United Way course.

The Dayton Business Committee are the folks that brought you the Schuster Center. It was deemed important to prop up the property values of Virginia Kettering with the Kettering Tower, Tom Danis with the CitFed/5/3 tower (I don’t know what it’s name is this week) and the Mead Tower (now the Key Bank tower) at the corner of 2nd and Main. Other options like building it close to the Convention Center and the Oregon “Entertainment” district were never considered- even though there would have been synergy with the Convention Center, the Crown Plaza and the multiple dining options with an existing parking structure. They are also the people who have been quietly directing Dayton politicians for years. This group operates outside the public view- with its own agenda and zero oversight or accountability. If you are wondering who really runs Dayton- this would be the first place to look.

It’s also odd that a Cleveland PR/political consulting firm has its hooks into this process. Are no local PR executives competent? Burges & Burges worked on Mayor Rhine McLin’s re-election campaign if you need a “Benchmark” to measure them by, and they’ve also been receiving $6,000 a month for at least a year to work with the Dayton Public Schools on a no-bid contract that didn’t give any guidelines for actual deliverables. They did however find and deliver departing Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Stanic to the DPS board before they got the contract (for which they are to be commended- as he’s been the best person to occupy that position in several decades).

Once again, Dayton is stuck on the idea that everything has to be done:

  • In secret
  • By committee
  • With consensus
  • By the anointed ones

Strong independent voices are to be frowned upon.

But, that’s the Dayton Way.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed! If you wish to support this blog and independent journalism in Dayton, consider donating. All of the effort that goes into writing posts and creating videos comes directly out of my pocket, so any amount helps!

Leave a Reply

8 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
8 Comment authors
Ice BanditChris in BostonJeff of LouisvilleDadtruddick Recent comment authors
Notify of
Bob Mullins
Bob Mullins

David….this is an excellent piece on the UW.  Thanks.
I could go into great detail about the strong arm techniques that the UW uses to pressure folks to give and the outrageous salary the “old guy” received.  But that is well covered in the comments on the DDN.
What I did find interesting about the “old guy” is that his wife was appointed to the Board at ADAMHS. Always seemed a conflict to me, but she resigned and moved West with him.
For your information, Burges and Burges also have a no-bid contract to consult (read that design and run) the next Human Services Campaign.


Very excited to have gotten this book delivered yesterday http://www.amazon.com/Garden-Club-Couldnt-Save-Youngstown/dp/0674031768/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1272030131&sr=8-1
“Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown argues that the structure of social networks among the cities’ economic, political, and civic leaders account for the divergent trajectories of post-industrial regions.”


I recall that the original purpose of UW was, in part, to limit charitable fund-raisers in businesses by having one single campaign for a wide range of charities.  That’s one idea that no longer applies.  If UW is not really the “united” charitable campaign, why should corporations keep sponsoring them?

And UW has, over the years, sponsored a narrower and narrower range of charities–the Combined Federal Campaign is a much more comprehensive way of administering a single, less intrusive fund-raiser.

I used to pledge to UW, dutifully increasing my donation annually.  But on 3 occasions UW broke faith with me, either by extravagance on the part of its national office or by cancelling sponsored charities in the middle of the pledge year.  I will never donate to UW again; it’s time for the organization to disband.


When I was a reporter on The Daily Standard in Celina, I was assigned to write an analysis of all the charities in UW because the American Heart Association had refused to help a man who desperately needed surgery he could not afford. It brought the executives of the association to Celina, and they were angry. They said it was not the association’s job to help anyone. The association existed to provide education and to raise funds to pay for that.
When I got done, the Girls Scouts, the heart association and the American Cancer Society emerged as totally worthless charities and only the Salvation Army came out winning praise. Despite all this, contributions to the next UW campaign were up and hardly anyone opted to exclude the non-performing charities. I have never been able to face the American Heart Association since (that was in 1962 or 1963) although I have had two heart attacks and congestive heart failure.
When neighbors solicited me for the American Cancer Society, they were unable to tell me a single thing that this organization had ever done for any individuals. And that was what I learned 50 years ago. All it seems to do is to prepare bandages for people who need them. That’s all!
I won’t even get into the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, which raise tons of money but poor kids cannot be scouts because the uniforms cost so much.
The Salvation Army does good. So why give to UW instead of directly to the Sallies?

Jeff of Louisville
Jeff of Louisville

I usually give to three causes:  Gay community stuff, AIDS, and the homeless.  Because I’m gay, my partner died of AIDS, and I was close to being homeless once.   So I have some empathy for these things.

The sidebar on the Dayton Business Committee is interesting.  The idea of locating a performing arts center north of 3rd dates back to the mid 1980s, where that entire block that the Victoria sits on was proposed for a big arts/hotel complex (same block Citizens Federal is on).  This was the ancestor of the Schuster Center.  I think a consultant was brought in to look at sites, and one was at Main & Fifth, which I think is what Esrati is talking about.

The Dayton Business Committee is shadowy, but has existed for many years (probably different players at different times).  It played a part in getting Wright State set up in the 1960s, and also played a behind-the-scenes role in the I-675 controversy during the 1970s

Chris in Boston
Chris in Boston

Found this link by chance, reading posts struck a chord.  These charities have metamorphosed into entities for which their founders I hope never intended.  Although we have suffered health crises, we found that all of these agencies (American Cancer Society is a poster child) seem to only exist for the welfare of their own employees, who are the largest beneficiaries of the donations their organizations solicit.  The only assistance they could provide us were web links for other similar Non-Profit health oriented organizations. 

It is a shame when one suffers a health crises but is resentful and cynical to avoid donating to an organization that  asserts it exists to advocate for your interests; but you know better by direct experience.   

These organizations spend more on travel and printing costs than the targeted population for whom they claim to advocate.  They have become big business, with all of the fancy titles and accoutrements.  We need to push the reset button on Non-Profits and charity organizations.  Some do a wonderful job, but you know who they are.  Most, in our opinion, are a disservice and are a black hole in absorbing funds that are diverted from those in true need, and need to be merged  or sunseted.

Ice Bandit
Ice Bandit

Yeah, Dad, the expense for certain childhood programs is prohibitive. But much can be learned from the rural areas of northern Ohio, Michigan and the our neighbors in Ontario. No activity is more expensive than youth hockey. In the Old Bandito’s lifetime, hockey has shifted from a blue collar sport to a suburban activity due to ice availability and expense. But in places like Walled Lake and Chatham, by no means wealthy enclaves, hockey thrives because of such community traditions as the bake sale, the car wash and the skate donation. Parents  and their kids start organizing as soon as the last puck is dropped in April, with everyone participating thru the summer. Donations from these activities are put into a central trust. Then, in September, parents donate skates that have been outgrown and sticks that are now too small to the next lower grade. This way, everyone who wants to participate can for minimal price, with the remainder going to ice rental. These activities, while not diminishing other summer activities such as youth baseball, cement the communities by collective effort. Perhaps a similar program could be instituted for Scouting….