UNITED WAY BUDGET STIRS HOT CRITICISM : BOARD MEMBER QUITS OVER ADMINISTRATIVE INCREASES.
Ernie Thurmond logged his first anniversary as president of the United Way of Ventura County this past week but didn't feel much like celebrating.
Thurmond's first budget - approved in early July - drew public criticism and a letter of resignation from one of the charity's 36 board members.
In a stinging, four-page memo, Vince Ordonez criticized the $5.15 million spending plan for increasing administrative costs by $146,000 without increasing contributions to its 62 member agencies.
``We can't give them a penny increase but we can increase the United Way budget,'' said Ordonez, assistant executive officer for Ventura County Superior Court and Municipal Court. ``For two months I've been (voicing) my concern, and it's been falling on deaf ears.''
Thurmond, a former airline and corporate marketing executive, defends the budget as part of a strategic plan to boost overall contributions in the county from about $5 million to $7 million by the year 2000.
``My impression is he (Ordonez) just flatly doesn't understand what we're doing right now,'' Thurmond said. ``I hope that I am bringing a different approach to things. That's why the board hired me, because they were tired of doing things the same way.''
In his memo, Ordonez took issue with a plan to hire a fund-raiser at a salary of $46,000 to target large donors, a plan to pay staff bonuses based on money raised from donors, and budgeting $50,000 for a new computer system that likely will cost more.
Ordonez also criticized the agency's decision to pay $10,000 for Thurmond and office managers to attend a conference in Miami for five days in June, although the agency fell $400,000 short of its fund-raising goal for the 1995-96 campaign.
``The appearance is: . . . `Let's take care of ourselves first, and what's left over, let's throw it out to the agencies,' '' Ordonez said. ``I think they've got it backward. The United Way wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the agencies and if it wasn't for the donors.''
The public criticism stunned Thurmond, who said he answered numerous phone calls from leaders of member agencies this past week. Ordonez was alone among the directors in opposing the budget plan.
Thurmond said that United Way in Ventura County has made clear its mission to invest in a strategic plan to boost annual fund-raising from $5 million - the approximate annual tally of the past decade - to $7 million by the year 2000. Thurmond said Ordonez's public criticism could hamper those efforts.
``I think there could be fallout,'' he said. ``But the only calls that I've received from anybody have been positive.''
United Way of Ventura County, with headquarters in Camarillo, is a not-for-profit corporation that disburses money to charitable organizations throughout the county.
The agency relies on hundreds of nonprofit organizations, businesses, and employees each year to campaign for donations, typically during drives that begin in September and run through February. The money is crucial to the operations of 62 agencies providing services ranging from programs for youths to services for senior citizens and from crisis intervention to health care.
The money is divided among the member agencies based on recommendations of teams of volunteers representing business and government that review applications. Some money also is distributed to nonmember agencies, if so requested by donors.
Allocations for 1996-97 are budgeted to match those for 1995-96. The agency plans to give $3.03 million to the 62 member agencies and $902,000 to other agencies designated by donors, Thurmond said.
Thurmond oversees a paid staff of 14 who manage the office and are assigned to coordinate fund-raising campaigns in each of the county's 10 cities. About 3,000 volunteers help United Way throughout the year.
``Some people have the impression that nonprofits should operate out of the goodness of their heart and that everybody should be a volunteer,'' said Thurmond, who earns a salary of $70,000.
``We can't just continue to do the same old thing and produce the same amount of money, because inflation is eating away at those dollars,'' he contended.
Thurmond said the agency's ``investment in the future'' will increase total administrative costs from $1.07 million in 1995-96 to $1.22 million in 1996-97. The major expenses are expected to be $89,000 to purchase a computer network and a high-speed printer so the agency can publish promotional materials.
Thurmond said hiring a fund-raiser for $46,000 per year will pay major dividends. He said he expects the fund-raiser will more than triple the donations - to a total of $1 million - from people who each give at least $1,000.
Ordonez criticized the organization for planning to spend more on overhead at a time when annual fund-raising campaigns consistently fall short of expectations. He said the United Way should take a cue from corporate America and do more for the community with less money.
``As the leading nonprofit in the county, they should be setting the example. They need to look very seriously at what their current expenditures are and determine what is it they could do without,'' he said.
One donor the United Way already has lost is Ordonez.
``By donating my dollars directly to some of the 62 agencies currently funded by United Way, I ensure that 100 percent of my money goes to help the community and is not used frivolously by an administrative office,'' Ordonez stated toward the end of his memo to the United Way board.