United Way looks to build on successes from 2020 after securing several new grants
Organization trying new approach in annual fundraising campaign
United Way of Orleans County’s announcement earlier this month of a $100,000 grant from Eastman Savings and Loan is among the latest funding which has been targeted for the county, through United Way, to help with Covid-related hardships.
This week, United Way of Orleans County’s director Dean Bellack announced another grant of $45,000 from the Western New York Covid-19 Community Response Fund, which has been distributed to 16 of the nearly two dozen agencies United Way funds in Orleans County. Bellack formed a committee to set the allocations from the grant.
So far the biggest amount from this grant, $7,000, was given to Community Action to purchase a refrigerator and freezer for the Eastern Orleans Community Center in Holley. In addition, $5,000 was awarded to Meals on Wheels, $4,000 to the Kendall Food Pantry to help with their move and new refrigerator units, and $4,000 to the YMCA in Medina for childcare needs and supplies.
Bellack joined United Way as a board member in March 2019. At that same meeting director Kaitlyn Delamarter submitted her resignation to take another job, and Bellack volunteered to offer his services as director, as he had just sold his company and retired.
He immediately saw potential for the United Way to accomplish more in Orleans County if the organization changed how it was viewed and how it asked for money. He began to broaden United Way’s image by working with other non-profits in the county and reaching outside the county for financial assistance.
His strategy paid off.
During a recent meeting with Community Action and Ministry of Concern, at which a $100,000 grant from Eastman Savings and Loan was announced, Annette Finch, director of emergency services at Community Action, praised Bellack’s insight for reaching outside the county for much-needed funding. Although 2020 was a very challenging year due to the pandemic, nearly a quarter of a million dollars was received (and distributed) in Orleans County by United Way.
Several more grants were received, including $40,000 from ESL Bank, which was passed on to Community Action to use for housing assistance. Another grant for $50,000 was received from FEMA, which was again directed to Community Action for different housing needs.
The Buffalo Community Foundation reached out to United Way of Orleans County and gave $25,000. Another $15,000 was received from ESL, and $10,000 was received through United Health Care’s Blue Fund. This is one of the foundations around Orleans County that have reached out to United Way this year to help. These efforts by them and the communications United Way has established with them have formed new partnerships which will benefit the community moving forward, Bellack said.
“We were fortunate this year because foundations expanded their giving into Orleans,” he said.
United Way of Orleans County also received $10,000 from the Western New York Covid-19 Community Response Fund through the Buffalo Community Foundation, and $55,000 to hire a consultant to lead the county’s current efforts to bridge the digital divide.
‘We have to work together. We have to think bigger. We have to expand our horizon. By looking at it from a different perspective, we are changing the landscape.’ – Dean Bellack, United Way executive director
Bellack said Orleans County didn’t receive dollars from these large foundations outside the county in the past because “We never asked.”
“Only 6 percent of Foundation dollars goes to rural communities, even though we represent 18 percent of the national population,” Bellack said. “Only 3 percent of large corporate gifting goes to rural areas. We had the president of the Ralph Wilson Foundation on a Hub call a few weeks ago and he told us they want to give to rural communities. These foundations and corporations want to help rural communities, but they are not giving nearly as much as they can because the requests are not coming in.”
The major reason for not asking is because small charities often don’t have the personnel to write and administer a grant, Bellack added. For that reason, United Way’s goal is to hire a grant writer, who would be an employee of United Way, along with an administrative assistant. This grant writer would be available to any non-profit agency in the county.
“The benefits are obvious,” Bellack said. “Most of our non-profits do not have the time or the expertise to consistently apply for the large dollars that surround us.”
Bellack has also tried to increase communication and networking between local agencies and help them connect to the resources they need, especially from sources other than United Way. An example of the success of this is the monthly “Hub calls” Bellack has initiated, often connecting all county agencies and government institutions with information, such as outside pro-bono resources, new foundations to apply to and other agencies with needs they can collaborate with. Last week’s call also included the Ralph Wilson Foundation who reached out to the United Way to introduce our opportunities to create youth activities. The Ralph Wilson Foundation will be distributing $3 million dollars soon. Bellack has invited the YMCA, schools and other charities which could benefit to be on these calls.
One of the most visible projects in the county, which is occurring because of United Way, is the work taking place on the digital divide initiative. United Way brought together several community leaders, including County Legislator Ken DeRoller, Robert Batt from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Kelly Kiebala from the Job Development Agency, Greg Reed from the YMCA and several larger employers and half a dozen representatives of non-profit organizations. Batt wrote the grant which resulted in $55,000 to hire a consultant.
Bellack urged all Orleans County residents to respond to the survey regarding the digital divide. The survey is available in English and Spanish by clicking here.
“The more people who respond means the more impact we have in the political and foundation world,” Bellack said.
United Way has also secured another round of funding for $10,000 from the Blue Fund. Bellack said they reached out to United Way after becoming aware of our efforts. This is the first time the Blue Fund has donated to Orleans County. This funding was allocated to local charities and included for the first time funds for Orleans Recovery Hope Begins Here.
‘Our workplace campaigns are vital and necessary for our yearly allocations which all our local charities count on. The stresses on our charities have been great this year, and the grant dollars we have been fortunate enough to receive are a bonus, but we cannot operate without healthy giving in the workplace campaigns.’
To decide where to distribute these funds received into the county, Bellack formed a committee, which includes himself, Darren Wilson from the Lyndonville Foundation, Jodi Gaines and Jackie Gardner from United Way and Bruce Schmidt from Community Action and Ministry of Concern.
“We have to work together. We have to think bigger. We have to expand our horizon,” Bellack said. “By looking at it from a different perspective, we are changing the landscape.”
While a lot of the grant money which came into Orleans County was because of Covid, Bellack said it is also because of the pandemic that United Way is not able to conduct workplace campaigns. Instead, they are making a fundraising pitch through a video created by Lynne Menz of Orleans County Tourism. Click here to see the video.
“Our workplace campaigns are vital and necessary for our yearly allocations which all our local charities count on,” Bellack said. “The stresses on our charities have been great this year, and the grant dollars we have been fortunate enough to receive are a bonus, but we cannot operate without healthy giving in the workplace campaigns.”
Charlie Nesbitt of Albion, former Assemblyman who served as chairman of United Way’s annual campaign several years ago, put it this way. “It is important that you recognize the value of United Way to effectively deliver what you contribute. However small, it can be the largest amount to the agency that needs it most.”
“Also, please visit our website to give,” Bellack added. “We now accept Venmo, Cash App, Pay Pal, Credit Card or Check. We are currently sending out our annual donation letters. If you get one please try and help. Even with the extra dollars we have gotten in we can only fund 50% of the requests we get across the county.”
Bellack also added a word of thanks to members of Orleans County United Way’s board, and issued a special thanks to four members who recently retired – Bill Hungerford, Dave Cook, Melinda Rhim and Kaitlyn Delamarter. He called them “long serving, dedicated community leaders.”
Three new members recently joined the United Way board – Laura Olinger, Jim Punch and Lynn Vendetti.
“These are all strong community leaders,” Bellack said. “We are thrilled to have these new members on board, and we thank all those who serve us and their community.”