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August 23, 2017

Celebrating the Marriage of Two United Ways

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in the Herald-Tribune by Tom Tryon.

Not long after tying the knot with a new partner, the United Way of Manatee County held a reception this week to celebrate its union with United Way Suncoast.

Let’s hope it’s a long, happy and prosperous marriage.

In February, the Manatee organization announced an engagement, of sorts, to Suncoast — which includes United Ways in DeSoto, Hillsborough and Pinellas and Sarasota counties. Those plans for a merger were consummated July 1.

The partnership makes sense, as we noted five months ago.

There is significant potential for Manatee’s United Way to benefit from efficiencies of scale in so-called “back office” functions, promotions and corporate fundraising as part of a Suncoast alliance.

Carefully managed, merged organizations can realize savings in overhead and administration — which can enable a United Way to direct more of its resources and the community’s financial contributions to programs that aid individuals, families and local service providers. The Sarasota United Way joined Suncoast five years ago for those very reasons.

Manatee’s merger thus unites the United Ways in Manatee and north Sarasota counties — neighbors that share a common border and extensive, longstanding cultural, commercial and political ties.

Manatee and Sarasota form a true regional economy and share so much — numerous legislative and congressional districts, bays and estuaries, the State College of Florida, a University of South Florida campus, water and infrastructure. Legions of residents travel between the counties for work and pleasure. Cultural institutions depend upon patrons and attract students from both counties.

One excellent, recent example of bi-county collaboration on a vital social issue is the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which has linked Manatee and Sarasota in a much-needed effort to improve early-childhood learning. Manatee’s United Way has played a vital role in this campaign; the merger should provide even greater access to partners and assets.

Successful mergers provide all of the partner organizations with expanded expertise, new ideas and access to additional resources at lower per-unit costs. But they also recognize that communities and their institutions must retain their local character and leadership to function effectively and maintain deep connections with donors and the recipients of assistance.

The United Ways serving mid- and small-population counties can certainly benefit from the lessons learned in the most populated counties and the leaders at Suncoast’s main office. Yet the United Ways and other nonprofit organizations in Sarasota and Manatee counties also have successful strategies to share.

As we wrote in February, the merger appropriately calls for Bronwyn Beightol, who has earned respect in the community, to be area president in charge of Manatee. (In Sarasota, Mireya Eavey, who has both expanded and focused her organization’s mission, has the same role.)

We encourage all of the area presidents and their boards to maximize the value of their common interests, yet recognize the unique characteristics that define the communities they serve and encourage donors to contribute.

The new relationship should be a partnership, not a venture that might be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as being driven by the headquarters in Tampa.

Just like a good, lasting marriage between people, a constructive merger requires not only commitment to the union but mutual respect.

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