United Way agencies form union

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Twin County United Way will merge with United Way Virginia Highlands, forming a partnership that spans the five counties of Carroll, Grayson, Russell, Smyth and Washington; and the City of Galax.
The merger will allow the organization to serve more than 28 towns and one city, which together contain 168,000 residents over a span of 2,500 square miles.


The Twin County United Way office in Galax was packed for the announcement on March 28. Cameras flashed while former TCUW board chairman Ron Passmore officially announced the merger.
“By coming together and sharing our talent, resources and best practices, we will be able to deliver greater impact to those who need us most in our communities across the region,” said Travis Staton, president and CEO of United Way Virginia Highlands.
“While for-profit mergers are often about increasing shareholder value, non-profit mergers are about amplifying mission. As an organization, United Way Virginia Highlands believes in the power of collaboration and partnerships to solve problems because we know the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Smooth Transition
For those who made up the board for Twin County United Way, this merger couldn’t have come at a better time.
Jane Phipps confirmed that the deal had been in talks for the past couple of years. “This wasn’t something we just tossed around... we really talked about this and made sure that it would be beneficial for everyone,” she said.
Passmore explained that United Way had sent out a notice around five years ago, explaining that the smaller United Way offices would be required to merge into larger, regional entities over the next 10 years.
That information, paired with the departure of TCUW’s executive director, influenced the board to take a serious look into what they needed to move forward.
“We just realized that, historically, over the last few years, we have been struggling to raise the funds just to operate. We have been pulling out of our reserve funds to do allocations,” said Passmore.
Since the agency would eventually have to look into the process anyway, TCUW decided to do some research on other successful United Way mergers. This led them to United Way Virginia Highlands.
The more local United Way officials learned about this group, the more impressed they were with how much growth had already been accomplished. United Way Virginia Highlands began operations out of Washington County, and expanded over the years to include Russell County, then Smyth County and now the Twin Counties.
“I talked to a gentleman from Russell County, and I said, ‘tell me something bad,’” said Larry Bolt of TCUW.
The answer came after a lot of thought: “Nothing. There is no negative to this,” the man told Bolt.
Passmore, Phipps and Bolt all agreed. With the merger in place, a lot more opportunity has opened up for TCUW and the non-profit partner agencies it serves. Not only will funding be kept where it is raised, but there is also the added benefit of not having to use any raised funding to cover operating costs.
“When it was just Twin County, what we raised we had to operate with. Now, under this new set-up, they have large, corporate sponsors that give donations to cover operating... so they don’t have to spend any of the money they raise towards operating,” said Passmore.
This frees up United Way to focus on what’s really important: running a local campaign to fund partners that range from rescue squads to homeless shelters.
Phipps added that United Way will also benefit from several more grants.
“They even have a grant writer on staff, which we didn’t have,” Passmore said.
Seeing nothing but potential, TCUW moved forward with the merger. “They already had the experience merging, and this process was as smooth and seamless as it possibly could be,” Passmore said.

A New Beginning
Staton will continue to serve as both president and CEO of the growing organization, and already has several plans for moving forward.
One of the first things on the agenda is building and establishing a campaign cabinet. “We are seating three individuals on the United Way Virginia Highlands board: one from Grayson, one from the city of Galax, and one from Carroll, so they are equally represented,” said Staton.
The full board will have representatives from each of the six localities. Members joining the board from the Twin County region are Larry Bolt, Grayson County commissioner of revenue, representing the county; Franklin Jett of Mount Rogers Carroll Counseling Center, representing Carroll County; and Dana Olson, also from Mount Rogers Carroll Counseling Center, representing Galax.
"We are also developing a campaign cabinet for the Twin County region that will be local individuals responsible for garnering support and raising resources for the work in this community," Staton said. "They will also be the individuals that oversee the fund distribution process... so that remains local.”
United Way officials stressed that the money raised through the annual campaign will continue to serve the communities from which the money is raised.
United Way Virginia Highlands will maintain an office in Galax, which will serve as a base for Twin County-related operations and as a convenience to the public.
The building on West Grayson Street in downtown Galax, which was gifted to United Way more than 10 years ago, is another item on their agenda, Staton said. “One of the first things we want to do is make sure we could finish some of the upstairs that needs to be renovated, and make sure that the building is being adequately used.”
After speaking with the city manager for input, and hearing the results of a feasibility study that is now being conducted, United Way plans to look at accessibility issues, grant funding possibilities and public opinion. “We were looking at local individuals to have this conversation on the purpose of this building and what we need to serve the community,” Staton told The Gazette.
When asked if United Way Virginia Highlands will continue its growth, Staton said it is interested in collaborating with other organizations. “We have a strong partnership with the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation out of Richmond, and we’ve been looking at Smart Beginnings” he said. “We have been looking at a regionalization effort where we can bring those local chapters together and make them stronger. In doing that, it really opens our conversations up with other United Ways organizations in Southwest Virginia.”
Staton confirmed that the organization will be recruiting a resource development manager for the Twin County region, who will be responsible for overseeing the campaign cabinet and working with them directly to raise funds, as well as helping with the fund distribution process; and a director for community impact, who will oversee efforts, fund distribution and investments.
He noted United Way’s current focus on the three building blocks for building a better community: education, income, and health.

A Rally of Support
Following the announcement, several speakers offered words of support and encouragement.
“This has been a thorough and thoughtful process. We are excited to come together and build on one another’s strengths to create a lasting impact for the region,” said Alan Jones Jr., senior vice president and controller for Alpha Natural Resources, and board chairman of United Way Virginia Highlands.
Virginia Sen. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County) offered a fitting quote from a gentleman: “’If I want to do something good, I’ll do it alone, but if I want to do something great, I’ll build a team.’ And that’s what United Way Virginia Highlands is doing. They are building that team by putting their sources together.”
Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-5th District), who witnessed the growth of United Way Virginia Highlands from the beginning, expressed his eagerness to watch its continued efforts. “Anyone up here would admit that government can’t be all things to all people all the time. There’s inherently going to be a gap and that’s where your help is so crucial. Where the need begins and what government can do kind of stops. United Way is an incredible partner in that,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va) was unable to attend the event, but expressed his thoughts in a letter read by Constituent Services Director Drew Lumpkin: “I recognize the vital role that non-profit organizations like yours play in our economy. They allow the Commonwealth to thrive and to expand and help our neighbors and neighborhoods become lively and flourishing.
“I commend all those who work with your organization to help strengthen the community and the lives of others,” wrote Warner.

For more information about United Way, visit www.UWVH.org, Facebook.com/UWVH.org, or follow @UWVH on Twitter.