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United Ways of Battle Creek, Kalamazoo to merge | News

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United Ways of Battle Creek, Kalamazoo to merge
United Ways of Battle Creek, Kalamazoo  to merge


BATTLE CREEK/KALAMAZOO – The boards of directors for the Greater Kalamazoo United Way (GKUW) and the United Way of Greater Battle Creek (UWGBC) unanimously approved the merger of the two agencies today, pending completion of the standard legal process. The merger will create a new provider of social services that becomes Michigan’s second-largest United Way agency.

The merger was hailed as “one of the most important decisions the United Way boards have made in the history of our respective organizations,” UWGBC Board Chair Linda Miller and GKUW Board Chair Jim Stephanak said in a joint statement.

The announcement culminates nearly three years of discussions and follows a recommendation by a task force that included civic leaders, local volunteers and representatives from both United Way boards in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.

“Merging our two United Way organizations will enable us to build a stronger and more collaborative network, more effectively address regional health and human service needs, and mobilize more human and financial resources,” Stephanak said. “Simply put, a single, stronger organization will serve more people, solve more problems and influence greater social change.”

With giving trends across the country changing, and in some cases declining, conservative 10-year projections show that the merged organization will have significantly more in available community funding than they would as single entities. Further, the size of a consolidated organization will increase efficiencies, reduce duplications and build on the collective strengths, task force members said.

“Today’s donors have different expectations. They demand more accountability, transparency, and visible results from the charities they support,” Miller said. “We’ve heard their message loud and clear. A merger of our two United Ways is essential to meet those expectations while doing even greater good in the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo areas.”

Also announced today: Mike Larson, currently president & CEO of GKUW, will become the president and chief executive officer of the merged organization; and Chris Sargent, currently president & CPO of UWGBC, will become the new agency’s vice president and chief operating officer. Other details, such as the new name of the regional agency, are under consideration and will be finalized following the completion of the standard legal process. 

Both organizations have proven track records of good governance, sound fiscal management and effective stewardship of resources. Battle Creek and Kalamazoo raised about $6 million and $9 million, respectively, in 2010 donations. Both organizations rank among the top 10 nationally in per capita giving for similar-sized United Ways.

Despite the sustained history of accomplishment by UWGBC and GKUW, task force members concluded a merger is necessary in the face of an evolving regional workforce that includes an increasing number of retirees, small businesses and entrepreneurs. Cumulatively, over the past 10 years, the two organizations have experienced a decrease in the overall number of donors as major employers have reduced the size of the region’s workforce. 

“The workforce is changing, so must United Way,” Larson said. “The merger is an effort to better mobilize resources to address pressing needs as well as resolve fundraising, marketing and administrative challenges that increasingly impede our ability to adapt to the rapidly shifting economic landscape that exists in Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties.”

Without a merger, analysts project annual declines in the respective campaigns. Alternatively, estimates show the potential exists for campaign increases by developing more tailored communication and grassroots outreach strategies.

“The newly created organization will help us mobilize the community for change while still maintaining the value of locally based relationships, knowledge and investments,” Sargent said. “Merging our two United Ways offers the best hope for affecting greater community impact and providing for long-term sustainability.”

The merged organization will continue to champion the unique identities of its communities, Sargent emphasized, and will honor the requests of individual donors who want their gifts to remain local. At the same time, a merged United Way will have a greater ability to address community needs that are common across the region, he said.

Because full transition and integration could take a year or more, donors and most stakeholders will see little change in the short term, said Larson. This year’s community campaigns in Greater Battle Creek and Greater Kalamazoo will look much as they have in the past, he added.

“We will work together with local organizations and programs as integral partners. Offices will remain in place. Staff will continue to provide quality services. And the merged organization will continue to coordinate with volunteers and community leaders to help guide local strategies, programs, relationship building and fundraising,” Larson said.

GKUW is the third-largest United Way agency in Michigan. UWGBC is the fourth. The consolidated organization becomes the state’s second-largest United Way agency, behind United Way of Southeast Michigan that serves Detroit/Wayne County.