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Its a more united Way as five chapters merge

North Jersey groups say coming together will help nonprofit thrive

Five United Way chapters in northern New Jersey — Morris County, North Essex, Somerset County, Sussex County and Warren County — will merge Jan. 3 following a year of talks on how to increase their fundraising, now a combined $15 million a year, and operate more efficiently in the face of a prolonged economic slowdown that has severely hurt many…

In a statement released exclusively to NJBIZ, the newly created United Way of Northern New Jersey said it doesn’t expect the merger to prompt layoffs among the combined staff of 54 full- and part-time workers, who will instead be working even harder “to compete effectively for the charitable dollar and provide adequate staffing for volunteer involvement” across the region.

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John Franklin

John Franklin, previously CEO of the Morris County chapter, was named interim CEO of the UWNNJ during a national search for a permanent chief executive.

While the recession certainly played a role in the chapters’ decision to come together, “we began the discussion of merger long before the economy went the way it did,” Franklin said, noting the five United Ways are among a group of 32 in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area that began discussing consolidation about five years ago.

As a larger organization, Franklin said UWNNJ “will make the best use of our people” by eliminating administrative duplication and having staff members specialize in their areas of strength. And he said it will be easier for a larger United Way to “attract higher-level board members” to strengthen its cause.

Fundraising throughout the nonprofit sector is off during the recession; Franklin said the Morris chapter’s campaign has been flat, raising about $6 million annually for each of the past three years. But he sees opportunity: “Corporate donations have been down, but not across the board; employee giving has been up, and individual giving has been up.” He said the merger “is a good model for the rest of the country, and it’s nice to be at the forefront of this movement.”

Phil Brown, president and CEO of Somerset County United Way, said the merger will provide a benefit to donors, as well, saying a larger United Way will be able to “provide a richer, more rewarding donor experience.

“By working across county borders, United Way of Northern New Jersey expects to offer a near-seamless experience for corporate and workplace donors who previously needed to deal with multiple United Ways,” Brown said.

UWNNJ said its goal for its first year is to increase its fundraising by 3 percent in 2011. Most donations to the nonprofit’s chapters come from partnerships with employers, who raise money from their employees during annual workplace United Way campaigns.

The five United Ways currently fund 200 community service programs that address education, health, and income and financial stability. Cynthia Villarosa, executive director of United Way’s North Essex chapter, said, “We are convinced that by combining resources, professional expertise and experience, United Way of Northern New Jersey will be a stronger organization better equipped to address the needs of our local communities and throughout the region.”

E-mail to:  bfitzgerald@njbiz.com

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