Nora Carpenter, 55, a Caldwell native and graduate of University of Idaho, has spent most of her career in the nonprofit realm. Since 2012, she has led the United Way of Treasure Valley, the local branch of the largest nonprofit organization devoted to human services in the world. Before that, Carpenter was CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southwest Idaho before being promoted to senior vice president of the national Council of Better Business Bureaus. She also served as executive director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Idaho in 2010.
Business Insider asked Carpenter about United Way’s efforts to partner with community members, attract young donors, focus a spotlight on the value of volunteerism and evolve to suit changing times in the donor world.
Q: Describe United Way of Treasure Valley’s structure.
A: United Way serves what we all consider the metro area of the Treasure Valley. We focus in Ada, Canyon and Gem counties but also provide resources in Owyhee County and others. This United Way office has been active in this area for 80 years. At one time, there were offices in Ada and Canyon counties. In the late 1990s the board decided to blend the organizations to better serve the community. Today we focus on engaging and mobilizing citizens, as well as organizations and businesses to focus on education, health and financial independence. Ours is one of seven offices in the state.
United Way plays two roles in the contemporary marketplace. Many large corporations hold workplace giving campaigns as a convenient way for employees to contribute to their community as well as charities of their choice. When a donor contributes through the workplace, they have two options:
▪ Have their resources pooled into a community fund managed by a group of community volunteers. They use data to help decide how to best invest resources. When individuals contribute in this way they’re effectively magnifying their contribution by pooling their money with so many other donors. Community funds are invested strictly in the Treasure Valley.
▪ Designate a specific charity.
United Way handles that transaction for them through a payroll deduction.
Q: We’ve heard that donors want to have closer relationships to the organizations they donate to, and don’t always want to donate through an organization like United Way.
A: There’s no question that donors have multiple options. But United Way provides a strong conduit for donors who wish to engage with organizations. Organizations that benefit from our programs know who the donors are. United Way empowers donors to connect. We have a huge volunteer hub online.
United Way is at the intersection of helping improve the community by bringing hearts and hands together.
Financial gifts are not the only resource. United Way is good at enlisting volunteerism, in-kind contributions. The ability to contribute financially is just one slice.
Q: Where does your operations funding come from?
A: A variety of sources. A number of corporations support United Way’s operations so that donor dollars can go to charities.
Q: Who are your donors?
A: While we have donors of higher net worth, the vast majority, many of whom have contributed for decades, are the average people who contribute $10 or $20 a month through their payroll.
Q: Is your donor base evolving?
A: I’ve been with the organization for three years. From what I can glean, our donor base has been consistent. United Way makes charitable giving available to anyone. It’s convenient for folks who know they want to contribute but don’t necessarily know exactly where they want their donations to go.
Q: How are you attracting younger people to get involved with United Way?
A: We have a group called United NEXT. It was started by a group of young professionals in the community who came to United Way and asked for a way to get involved.
Q: What is the trend when it comes to your annual revenue?
A: Our current total revenue is up over previous years. The legacy of the recession is beginning to fade, which is true for most of the nonprofit community.
Through the recession we saw corporations leaving the community or changing dramatically. Corporate support wobbled while we went from a community with robust corporate organizations to some changes and downsizing in the early 2000s. But there’s growing stability in the job market and a greater sense of comfort that has helped folks feel like they can contribute.
A couple things about United Way of Treasure Valley’s revenue — when you see a big spike up or down in a single year, that almost always indicates that a grant was received or ended.
We also serve as the fiduciary agent or fiscal sponsor of other programs. That’s reflected on our tax forms.
P16 [a collaborative project in the Caldwell School District to encourage children to seek education beyond high school] is one example. No one group “owns” the project, but United Way is its sponsor, so we receive and record its grants on our tax forms.
The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation gave P16 $500,000 when it got started. When that grant ended in 2013, you see a drop-off in revenue on our 990 form [tax-exempt organizations report revenue and expenses annually on the IRS’ Form 990, a public record].
One pleasant outcome of a difficult time is that during the recession, many more folks saw need in their own lives. Now that they’re recovering they have a greater sense of empathy. There’s a larger giving community.
Q: Has growing revenue meant more projects?
A: We’ve been robust in the last six to eight years and will continue to be. We have expanded through collaborations and community partnerships that did not exist before.
One example is the Treasure Valley Educational Partnership, a program that United Way and many business leaders helped launch. More than 200 organizations, businesses and anyone who cares about education are working together to ensure the educational success of every child from cradle to career. It’s a collaboration of nine school districts plus Bishop Kelly High School. It includes colleges, universities and tech schools in the area, businesses and nonprofits.
One TVEP project that’s been in play for a couple of years is increasing the college-going rate for area high school students. Using data, we determined we had a low number of families filling out the FAFSA, the form to apply for financial aid. TVEP created a program called the FAFSA Frenzy, a competition among area schools to increase the numbers of students and parents filling out the form. The website now offers an online link for FAFSA help.
Q: How does United Way decide where to focus its support?
A: We published our first Community Needs Assessment in 2011 and our second in 2014. A group of community volunteers look at those reports and extract the “Ahas!” to determine what our community goals should be.
In 2011, the Treasure Valley was coming out of the recession. We had naively thought that there would be some positive forward numbers in the area of financial independence. But instead, we saw a huge growth in children in poverty and the related complexities that come with that. We didn’t expect to see that. We saw for the first time a clear indication that our community was beginning to experience a zip code syndrome, meaning that the community you live in can affect your health and life expectancy.
In 2014 we also found growth in the number of kids living in poverty, and the depths of that poverty have gotten deeper. There has been some improvement in health areas, but some of our counties have a better health rate than others. Again, the zip code syndrome.
The most exciting piece of the assessment came from the extraordinary efforts we went to to actually talk to hundreds of people who were receiving services. We asked two questions: What are the barriers, the things standing in your way of getting more education or improving your health and earning capacity? And what are the opportunities you see?
One tangible project in response to the 2011 data was P16. In 2014, it became clear that there were tremendous resources serving kids and families in Caldwell, but they weren’t necessarily connected. We began to convene regular meetings. The group calls itself “the hub.” We refer to it as “Caldwell’s basket of awesome.”
A timely donation
Barnes & Noble hosts its annual Holiday Book Drive through Jan. 1. Customers can buy new children’s books, which will be donated to local children through United Way of Treasure Valley. Barnes & Noble is at 1315 N. Milwaukee St. in Boise. For more information about the book project, call Patty Taylor, United Way relationship and development manager, at 208-336-1070.