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United Way of Cass-Clay ends funding for seven organizations

Cindy Miller organizes the FirstLink table in preparation for the 20th Annual Community Picnic held by the Fargo Police Tuesday, June 24, 2014. Miller's nonprofit will lose funding from United Way, along with six other organizations in the counties of Cass (N.D.) and Clay (Minn.). Nick Wagner / The Forum

FARGO – Several local nonprofits will be “beating the bush” for new funding due to a change in United Way of Cass-Clay’s criteria for awarding grants.

Seven organizations that were previously funded by the United Way, often for decades, were denied in its most recent application round, which invested $682,250 in 19 community partners for 2015 and 2016.

Sher Thomsen, United Way of Cass-Clay president, said the organization’s new investment strategy is a proactive approach to creating social change. It emphasizes collaboration among grant recipients and measured outcomes.

“It’s a narrowing,” Thomsen said. “If we want to have an impact, we can’t be all things to all people.”

Organizations that are no longer funded as United Way partners are Arc of Cass County (Arc Buddies Program), Arc West Central (Family Connections Program), RSVP+ (Volunteer Program) and Hospice of the Red River Valley (Journeys Program).

The American Red Cross Dakotas Region, CCRI and FirstLink each had specific program funding requests denied but will remain United Way partners, receiving funds for other programs.

While FirstLink’s 211 Information and Crisis Services program will still receive United Way dollars, losing funds for its Volunteer Service Center program is a big hit, said board Chairwoman Lisa Bortnem-Wiser. United Way funding made up 49 percent of the Volunteer Service Center’s budget, or $60,000 a year.

Through the volunteer center, FirstLink connects people who want to volunteer with opportunities – 12,129 volunteers in 2013. It also trains nonprofits how to better use their volunteers.

“We’re going to desperately be seeking some kind of support from the community to fill this hole,” Bortnem-Wiser said.

She said what was most shocking was the complete cut, from the full amount to zero. “We thought maybe there’d be some phase approach, some discussion,” she said.

New criteria

The United Way of Cass-Clay began its new investment strategy in 2011. It focuses on four main areas: education, income stability, health and basic needs.

The basic needs area is now subdivided into safety, vulnerable individuals, food and shelter. Two categories are funded every other year through two-year grants. This was the first application round under the new basic needs format, and focused on safety and vulnerable individuals.

Applications are considered by panels of volunteers, and go through a three-stage decision-making process.

Several of the organizations that were denied funding thought they would fit under the new criteria.

“We felt strongly vulnerable individuals is where we’d fit,” said Deb Gemar, director of community relations for Hospice of the Red River Valley, which for 30 years received funds for its bereavement specialists and grief support groups. “People who are grieving are vulnerable.”

Hospice previously received $75,000 a year in United Way money, plus another $75,000 in individual donations that were made to United Way but designated to Hospice, Gemar said.

“While I can appreciate that they have guidelines, we are certainly disappointed to not be partners with them, to not be chosen,” Gemar said, noting the organization was also able to speak to many community groups through its United Way connection.

Hospice organizations are mandated to provide grief support, Gemar said, and locally it has been made a communitywide offering.

“We’ve built it up to be a great program,” she said. “We’re going to find a way to keep that going.”

Donna Atherton, program coordinator of Arc West Central, based in Moorhead, said it’s a “blow” to lose the United Way’s partnership. Its Family Connections Program advocates for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

“It’s a good chunk of our budget. We have to find more resources and probably a little different way of doing things,” Atherton said. “There’s a possibility we could change our programming.”

Thomas Hill, United Way’s community impact director, stressed the organizations all do good work, and that the United Way can be partners in other ways.

“Funding is part of what we do; it’s not who we are,” he said.

The organizations could apply again under different focus areas or as they evolve their programs and show measurable outcomes.

United Way of Cass-Clay’s 2013 campaign raised over $5.3 million. It can invest up to $1.5 million across the four basic needs areas each year.

The United Way will next consider requests for funding for programs that promote income stability.

2015-16 United way grants

The following 19 programs were funded for 2015-16 through the United Way’s investment in basic needs – safety and vulnerable individuals.

The programs that received funding coordinate critical services for children who have experienced physical or sexual abuse, as well as help seniors and vulnerable adults stay in their homes, the United Way noted in a news release.

The total amount awarded was $682,250 per year for the two years.

  • Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, geriatric care management.
  • Lakes & Prairie Community Action Agency, Rainbow Bridge Safe Exchange and Visitation Center.
  • Rape & Abuse Crisis Center, domestic violence counseling services.
  • Rape & Abuse Crisis Center, sexual assault counseling program.
  • Red River Children’s Advocacy Center, forensic interviews.
  • Sexual Abuse Treatment Program of Fargo-Moorhead, sexual abuse treatment program.
  • Vocational Training Center, center based employment.
  • CCRI Inc., Independent by Design.
  • Red River Human Services Foundation, activity center.
  • Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, senior companion program.
  • Fraser Ltd., Stepping Stones Resource Center.
  • Youthworks, street outreach.
  • Barnesville Area Helpers, block nurse program.
  • Community of Care, One Stop Service Center.
  • North Dakota Autism Center, AuSome Kids Afterschool Program.
  • TNT Kid’s Fitness and Gymnastics Academy, special needs program.
  • FirstLink, 211 Information and Crisis Services.
  • HERO, affordable health care supplies.
  • South Central Adult Services Council, prescription assistance program.


Sherri Richards

Sherri Richards has worked for The Forum since 2002. She is the features and business editor, overseeing Variety, SheSays, Farmers' Forum, the daily Business pages and Saturday Business section.     Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to

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