Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

October 13, 2013

United Way of the Virginias: Revelations reason for concern

— — The United Way of the Virginias — once a robust human-service agency that actively engaged its community in annual campaigns — appears to be in a state of disarray. In fact, recent revelations concerning the United Way of the Virginias are alarming.

Where we do start? First we learn that the United Way of the Virginias lost its corporate status back on Dec. 1, 2008 — a startling fact that is now only coming to light a good five years later. Then we learn that the nonprofit status of the United Way of the Virginias also has been revoked by the office of Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. The corporate status was revoked because the United Way didn’t file an annual report, and pay the required filing fees, according to Jake Glance, a spokesman for Tennant. He says the charity registration status expired on Dec. 8, 2008, and officials with the United Way didn’t renew their charity status, and didn’t file a report to say they were no longer soliciting donations. An organization lacking both corporate status or charity registration should not be accepting donations, as correctly noted by Glance.

But the situation grows even more alarming from there. Michelle Carter, executive director of the United Way of the Virginias, says she doesn’t know why essential documents necessary for her organizations’ charity status had not been filed since 2008. When asked specifically by the Daily Telegraph why this had not been done, Carter says officials are trying to “backtrack through our paperwork to see what happened.” She says she “thought” the necessary paperwork had been filed. Glance says charities are required to file with the state if they receive $25,000 or more a year in donations.

Carter says the problem with the United Way’s nonprofit status developed because the IRS had not been receiving annual 990 forms, which charitable organizations are required to file, from the United Way. She says notices the IRS sent to the United Way were mailed to an address on Tazewell Avenue in Bluefield, Va. — a location she says the United Way never occupied. Carter says the United Way did file a change of address form with the United States Post Office. She adds the United Way has not been campaigning for funds since learning in April of this year that its non-profit status had been revoked.

How did this happen? Anyone who operates a non-profit or charity organization is expected to know that necessary forms must be filed — and filed on an annual basis — with the secretary of state’s office. And if nothing was received in the mail from either the secretary of state’s office or the IRS, did anyone from the United Way office bother calling to see why? When you move, it is your responsibility to ensure that all mail is being forwarded to your correct address.

Now we are told the United Way will have to pay a mountain of fines to regain its corporate and charity status. Glance says the United Way failed to register in 2009, 2010 and 2012. As a result, late fees and registration fees will total a substantial $1,525. That’s revenue that should be going to agencies served by the United Way — not to the state. And that just gets the United Way up to date until December of this year.

Unbelievable. It would appear that the ball has been dropped by someone at the United Way of the Virginias. And that’s truly a shame.

We are deeply concerned about the status of the United Way of the Virginias. Someone — Carter or members of the board of directors appointed to oversee the United Way of the Virginias — must step up and explain to the public what went wrong. And immediate steps must be taken to regain public confidence.

When trust is lost in a non-profit charity, it is very difficult to regain.

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