Thursday, August 27, 2009

United Way and the Levines' challenge

Good thing Leon Levine bought four new suits recently. He's been in the news lately and needed them as he and wife Sandra make one high-profile announcement after another about gifts from their Leon Levine Foundation.

The latest came today, a week after announcing a $9.3 million scholarship program at UNC Charlotte. Now their foundation is giving a $1 million challenge grant to the "Community Care Fund" of the United Way of Central Carolinas to create a rallying point for the fall fundraising campaign that was launched today, two weeks early.

As new United Way President Jane McIntyre explained at a new conference, the Levines' foundation will match any amount raised over last year's $21.7 million, up to $1 million. The agency's new goal is $22.7 million, so if the campaign gets there, that'd be at least $2 million over last year to deal with the huge needs that continue to spiral in the uncertain economy.

Yet the Levines surprised even McIntyre and United Way board chair Carlos Evans when they announced that their family also had decided to give a personal gift of $100,000 to the campaign.

McIntyre and Evans said they hope the "Levine Challenge" will rejuvenate giving again and help repair the agency's damaged image, crippled for more than a year by what many saw as exorbitant pay and benefits paid to former United Way head Gloria Pace King.

In the furor, donations to the last campaign fell by almost a third and many members saw their funding cut by 40 percent.

The Levines say their grant is a powerful vote of confidence for McIntyre and the work Evans has already done to overhaul the agency. McIntyre said the Levines' name will draw more people to the campaign.

Both Levines applauded the agency's recent changes: cutting expenses, slashing the board from about 60 people to 18 to 24, and making the board's business more transparent.

And they liked the notion of placing the focus on the Community Care Fund, which supports more than 90 nonprofits across the Charlotte region.

Leon Levine called the United Way "the pillar of Charotte charity."

"It was stuck in a nonstop story of scandal and failed expectations," he said. "Millions raised but far less than half of that going to help the needy in Charlotte. We became concerned about the welfare of our neighbors and the validity of the best vehicle to help."

McIntyre said that all money that goes into the community fund is used to help those in need.

"The fund is the essence of what United Way has always been about -- neighbors helping neighbors," Leon Levine said.

In recent months, the Levines have given to many cash-strapped charities, making front-page headlines.

They say they don't give to anyone unless they check them out. Sandra Levine said she's concerned that an awful lot of people are "being punished" for the mistakes of a few at United Way.

They feel they've checked out the new order at United Way and like what they see.

"The time has come to move on and try to make this campaign as successful as possible," Sandra Levine said. "The Community Care Fund is going to do a lot of good and help a lot of people."


Anonymous said...

As much as I admire the Levines for their philanthropic spirit and ability to give freely of their fortune, I still have to recommend that no one give any money to the United Way. Charities are still far better served when donors give DIRECTLY to them, rather than through the money-filtering and -wasting United Way. Perhaps the Levines have enough money that they can afford to throw away 30% of theirs on supporting the United Way's staff -- the rest of us get the best bang for our bucks when we give DIRECTLY to charities.