Give United

An organization in which I’ve been involved for almost all of my adult life is entering an exciting new phase, and we need your support.

John I. Carney

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Volunteers standing in the Duck River have just released hundreds of rubber duck toys into the river. The shot was taken at some distance from a bridge above the river.
Numbered rubber ducks are released into the Duck River as part of United Way of Bedford County’s 2018 “Ducks On The Duck” fundraiser.

What is United Way?

In its simplest form, United Way is a consolidated giving program, a way to make one contribution (or a recurring contribution) which will then be used to benefit a number of health and human service agencies. The agencies apply for funding, and then an allocations committee — usually composed of volunteers — reviews their budgets, leadership, and the work they’re doing. The allocations committee decides how to divide up the available funds to have the most impact.

Many United Way programs have expanded beyond the consolidated giving program and allocations process to create their own initiatives addressing specific local needs.

In about 1990, one of Shelbyville’s largest employers was besieged by donation requests from various Bedford County not-for-profit agencies. The factory wanted to help, wanted to support the community, but didn’t really have the time or ability to vet each request and decide what would be appropriate. The employer approached the late Bob Green, who was CEO of the local Chamber of Commerce at the time, to ask if it might be possible to start a consolidated giving program in Bedford County.

Bob began working with Ben Landers, a Shelbyville native who — at the time — was working with Nashville’s United Way organization. (Ben later went on to have a long and distinguished career as CEO of United Way of Greater Knoxville.) With support from the Nashville-based group, they began having informational meetings about the possibility of launching United Way of Bedford County.

I was 28 years old, and had been working as a reporter at the Shelbyville Times-Gazette for about five years. Franklin Yates, the crusty but big-hearted publisher, called me into his office one day, and if I remember correctly Bob Green was sitting there with him. Mr. Yates (as we always called him) asked if I would represent the newspaper on the founding board of United Way of Bedford County. I agreed, and took on the role of communications chairman, helping to explain and promote the United Way concept to the community. Dr. John Derryberry, a beloved local physician, served as our founding board chair. Within a few months, Ann Farrar was hired as our first executive director.

Black-and-white photo of the author, John Carney, standing at a lectern on the steps of Bedford County Courthouse, wearing a United Way T-shirt. In the background is Dr. John Derryberry.
Here I am on the steps of the Bedford County Courthouse for our first big campaign kickoff in 1991. Dr. John Derryberry can be seen in the background.

I have rolled on and off the United Way board several times over the years, but even when I was off the board I kept close tabs on United Way through my work at the newspaper. I had rejoined the board several years ago. I had also changed jobs, leaving the newspaper after 35 years to take a position with county government.

In 2022, however, we were struggling. The pandemic had interfered with some of our key fundraisers. We hadn’t kept up with changes in how people give and how companies want to interact with their communities. Our executive director left. We weren’t sure there was a way forward for us as a standalone organization.

Dawn Hobbs, a former executive director who was a member of our board at the time, began talks with United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties about taking over the United Way program in Bedford County, and by the end of the year that’s what the United Way of Bedford County board agreed to do.

United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties (which will soon change its name to something less geographically-specific) is a top-notch organization with a four-star, 99 percent rating on Charity Navigator that has managed to thrive and adapt in an age when some other United Way groups have struggled. The more I’ve gotten involved with them the more impressed with them I’ve become.

The new structure works this way: We have a Bedford County Advisory Council that works with specific local United Way programs and activities. The council includes some people, like me, who had been serving on the old United Way of Bedford County board, but it also includes some new members, who bring fresh perspective and energy. The chair and vice chair of the advisory council (Kayla Hilliard and Shay Maupin, respectively) serve as members of the parent United Way of Rutherford and Cannon Counties board.

I am a member of the Bedford County Advisory Committee, and also agreed to serve on the marketing committee for UWRCC.

UWRCC is searching for a staff member whose primary responsibility will be Bedford County, but that position has not been filled yet.

We haven’t really done a big, splashy announcement yet, because we were waiting for our staff person and for UWRCC to change its name (an involved process for a variety of reasons I can’t go into here). We’ve been working quietly through 2023 trying to gear up for a fall campaign.

Now, UWRCC is gearing up for its “Give United” event, which will take place Oct. 24–26, culminating in a big celebration event at the Nearest Green Distillery (Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey) here in Bedford County. The event will serve both as a celebration of the fall fund-raising campaign and a celebration of the expansion into Bedford County.

In the past, a United Way workplace campaign was focused on payroll deductions, and some companies were reluctant to go through the work of setting that up in their payroll system. But UWRCC no longer emphasizes payroll deduction. Donors can give directly to United Way through the UWRCC website. You can make a one-time donation, or you can sign up for a recurring monthly donation. A modest monthly donation can add up to a lot over the course of a year.

So that’s the story about how we’ve gotten to where we are. Now — and you must have known this was coming — I am going to ask you for your support.

  • If you work for a medium-sized or large company, please consider having a United Way campaign at your workplace. Ask your manager, employer, or HR person about it. Remember, unlike in the past we are not emphasizing payroll deductions, so this would NOT mean any additional work for your payroll office. All it would mean would be getting the word out about United Way to your employees and encouraging them to take part (plus any corporate contribution the business itself would like to make). The employees can list their employer when making their donation online, so that companies can still track the results of their in-house campaigns and be publicly recognized for their support.
  • If you aren’t at a company with a United Way campaign, you can give as an individual. Please go to my individual fundraising page, https://fundraise.givesmart.com/vf/GiveUnited23/JohnCarney. Don’t be put off if the suggested amounts are more than you can give right now; just select “other” and give any amount with which you feel comfortable. Remember, you can set up a recurring monthly donation which will add up over time. Please check “Bedford County” in the menu for how you would like your donation to be used if you’d like to make sure your donation benefits agencies that work here. Or check one of the other options if that’s your preference. You can even designate your gift to a particular 501 ( c ) 3 agency or to a United Way in another community. (There’s a minimum amount for such designated gifts.)
  • You can also text GiveUnited2396 to 71777.

This is an organization that I strongly believe in, and I’m determined to see it through this transition into an exciting new phase. I humbly ask for your support.

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John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike