Five southern New Jersey United Ways said today they’ll merge with two Pennsylvania chapters in a bid to strengthen the United Way’s regional presence — and its fundraising muscle.
The seven chapters will become the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey on July 1. Jill Michal, president and CEO of the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, will lead the new organization.
In addition to Michal’s Philadelphia-based United Way, the other merging chapters are the United Ways of Atlantic County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Greater Cumberland County and Southeastern Delaware County (Pa.).
Bruce Conway, president of the United Way of Burlington County, said the various agencies have always worked together informally, but they’ve been talking about a more formal merger for 18 months.
“The reason we wanted to do more was because of the environment that we’re in. We’ve had some difficult economic times,” he said. “We also began to look at all the similar things we do that we could gain more impact (with) by working together.”
Conway said merging the geographic footprint of the organization could help it gain more grant revenue for programs such as its preschools. He said United Ways typically rely on workplace giving, where employees sign up to donate part of their paycheck to the local United Way. He said the merger will give the organization greater capacity to devote attention to other fundraising efforts, such as planned giving and major gifts.
In merging, the seven Philadelphia-area United Ways become part of a trend of regionalization among United Way organizations. Just last year, five northern New Jersey United Ways merged, for many of the same reasons Conway described.
“What we’ve seen so far is we’ve attracted a lot of interest from the business community,” said John Franklin, CEO of the United Way of Northern New Jersey.
Franklin said merging the five chapters into a regional force has helped attract the involvement of higher-level and more influential people from the community. He said the organization also has had three major universities approach it wanting to partner on projects, something he credits to the greater visibility of being a regional agency.
Those involved with the new United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey were quick to note that the merged organization will continue to have local staff, local programs and a local boards of directors.
Franklin said it’s understandable for local stakeholders to have trepidation about the local group being folded into a larger one, but he said over time, he’s seen his trepidation give way to an embrace of the new opportunities created by a regionalized strategy.
Though the southern New Jersey merger won’t take place for another two months, Conway said so far he’s been pleased with the response from the local business community.
“I’m excited about this,” he said. “This is very positive.”