Far too often, a request to donate to a nonprofit draws a response like: “They spend all their money on big salaries for their staff and a fancy office.”

For most local nonprofits, however, that is far from the truth. More than likely they struggle to keep the lights on while paying modest salaries and squeezing more work hours out of their dedicated employees than they can pay for.

Still, United Way of Charlotte County has a plan to make sure no one ever accuses it of spending donations on staff and overhead — and it all started with a generous donation from Dr. David Klein’s family, way back in 2001. That was the year the good doctor’s aunt left a sizeable gift that was used to do much good in the county — including a $250,00 donation to United Way.

After taking care of a couple of urgent needs, United Way stuffed the remainder of the money in an investment account. Today that account has about $400,000. And, while that is a good sum, United Way Executive Director Angie Matthiessen, Dr. Klein and others have come up with a grand idea.

The long-term strategy for sustainability is to use the foundation as a vehicle to support the UWCC mission to eliminate poverty. They have enlisted four investment companies and the Charlotte Community Foundation as partners. The goal is to raise at least $5 million in the next four to five years and eventually have a fund of up to $10 million.

That money will be used to pay UWCC’s operating expenses — salaries, the mortgage, office supplies etc. — and allow them to invest 100 percent of the community’s donations into helping those hurting the most in Charlotte County.

The Charlotte Community Foundation along with financial firms Merrill Lynch, of Punta Gorda; Edward Jones, of Punta Gorda; Raymond James, of Port Charlotte and Wells Fargo, Punta Gorda hold accounts to which donors can contribute.

How does that work?

A lot of investors seek advice on where to make donations — sometimes from required distributions they must take out of their accounts each year. The financial advisers can suggest the United Way. And the Charlotte Community Foundation already has a relationship with investors and donors who might find the United Way an attractive recipient of some money.

“We wanted to put this out and let people know we are working with the (Charlotte Community Foundation) so no one will think we are competing with them,” Matthiessen said.

United Way of Charlotte County is an umbrella of support for 29 various agencies in the county — doling out money to programs like VITA, which prepares tax returns for anyone who makes less than $60,000 a year, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Charlotte County, for example. United Way provided relief to 49 families who were hit hard by Hurricane Irma last year. They assisted 196 households with rent or utilities.

“People don’t realize how folks struggle,” Matthiessen said. “I know one woman who works three jobs and still has to decide sometimes whether to buy food or pay her utilities. We have to address poverty in Charlotte County.”

If you want to know more, go to unitedwayccfl.org.

Pulitzer Prize winner John Hackworth is commentary editor of the Sun newspapers. You may contact him at jhackworth@sun-herald.com.

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