United Way Greater Topeka, Douglas Co. to merge into United Way of Kaw Valley

Live at Five
Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 10:20 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The United Way of Greater Topeka will merge with the Douglas County United Way as problems in Lawrence persist.

At a news conference at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 3, The United Way announced that the Douglas Co. United Way will now be under the banner of the United Way of Greater Topeka.

While the two outposts are separated by 30 miles of interstate, they said they have decided to join forces under a new name to better serve residents in Shawnee, Jackson, Jefferson, and now Douglas counties - The United Way of Kaw Valley.

The United Way said it was in the final stages of the merger which will install Jessica Lehneherr - CEO of UWGT - as the director of the new outpost.

The United Way noted both organizations will host final approval votes in September and plan to file with the Secretary of State’s Office in the fall. While staff have already started to collaborate, each outpost will host its fall workplace campaign under their existing identities. However, a brand relaunch has been scheduled for the start of 2023.

The United Way also indicated that both organizations have events on their fall schedules that will continue as planned. UWGT will also continue its coordination and support of the Shawnee Co. Christmas Bureau.

“We realized early on,” Schueler said, “that both organizations share stakeholders and an ultimate goal of positive impact to our communities. Throughout the discussions, we have thought constantly about how we can do better for Douglas County. We are confident that joining forces with the United Way of Greater Topeka makes sense on every front - for those we serve, for those who receive our grants and for those who trust United Way to invest their donations.”

UWGT Board Chair Matt All was equally as positive.

“United Way of Douglas County is part of the fabric of all the communities it serves,” he said. “We are excited to combine our talented staffs and share the best each organization has to offer and to be a leader among Kansas United Ways.”

Both board chairs affirmed work in Douglas Co. would continue to be funded with donations made in the county and would continue to be defined by Douglas Co. volunteers.

The United Way also said UWGT’s work in Jackson Co. provides an existing model for merging with an eye to local control of funds. It said donations given in one county stay within that county unless a donor specifies otherwise and donors always have a choice.

The organization indicated that maintaining local control of initiatives and impact choices also leaves the prioritization and decision-making in the hand of the volunteers who know the community best.

“It makes perfect sense,” All said. “for Douglas County to define what works best for Douglas County in the best interest of Lawrence, Baldwin City and Eudora. Jackson County has used a similar model for more than a decade in partnership with Topeka. They have a local advisory committee, local grantmaking, while at the same time benefitting from the support, talent and resources of a larger staff.”

Lehnherr said members of the communities would see an immediate change.

“We have a lot of operational details to collaborate on as a unified staff,” she said. “Even though we’ll be hitting four busiest time of the year, we’ll be learning how things work in all four counties and deciding together what United Way of Kaw Valley becomes in its first phase.”

While the name will change before current grants expire, United Way said neither organization will alter agreements currently active due to the merger. It also said existing community grants and agreements with Americorps will continue under the merged organization.

The organization said UWGT’s bylaws require current donors to be given the chance to vote on a merger, so notifications will go out this week to those qualified to vote.

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