Group hopes to bring United Way to Iqaluit

Illitiit Society hosts meeting to gauge support for charity umbrella



Iqaluit’s Illitiit Society is meeting with business leaders in the community next week to decide whether there is enough support to open a branch of the United Way in the territorial capital.

The United Way is an umbrella organization that raises money on behalf of member charities during a well-publicized annual drive.

“The United Way makes giving a lot of fun, you know,” said Lee Smith, a member of the Illitiit Society’s board. The society advises and represents charities in Iqaluit, but does not raise funds.

“Instead of having 37 small organizations out there beating the same bush trying to get money, more of it can be done through a central campaign and distributed back to them in a more effective manner,” Smith said. “And you’ll have someone who tracks who’s giving what and appropriate thank you letters go out.”

Business people and representatives from several organizations in the city have been invited to the meeting, which is taking place on Jan. 23. The gathering is a way to disseminate information about the United Way. Smith hopes attendees will take the information back to their colleagues and discuss whether to support the effort.

“I know there are a lot of misconceptions here among some people,” he said. “They hear stories and they think the United Way keeps a whole bunch of money when they raise it and it’s better off to give directly to people. That’s not true, I’ve been going through the statistics and out of the campaigns they have every fall, about 97 per cent gets into the hands of member agencies.”

There are about 125 local United Way organizations in Canada, each with its own board of directors and allocations committee to decide how funds should be doled out. They collectively support 5,350 agencies and fund about 10,000 more through donor-directed giving.

The only local United Way in the Canadian North is in Whitehorse. Its 2000 campaign brought in almost $73,000.

Having such an organization here only makes sense, Smith said, as the United Way has fundraising capabilities many smaller charities don’t have. “If you’re running a small charity and you can’t issue tax receipts, you might lose some donors. If they donate to the United Way, they can earmark it to you,” he said.

Iqaluit has a number of charity organizations that could be considered by the United Way, including the Nunavut Food bank and the John Howard Society. But the possibility of opening a branch here hinges on community support. The United Way has few full-time staff members and is dependent on volunteers.

“They collect funds, but volunteers sign up to do so many hours. Sometimes employers will pay people while they volunteer two hours a week for the United Way,” Smith said.

He has participated in campaigns in other cities and recalls the excitement of watching the numbers on fundraising charts rise during drives. “They have contests and events and you sponsor people and they even have pancake breakfasts,” he said.

But the concept doesn’t work for everyone, Smith said, and people have to be willing to accept that. “The Catholic Church will not become involved in United Way campaigns in Canada because the United Way disseminated money to Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Church said either stop it or we won’t be supporting you,” Smith said.

The United Way said it couldn’t rule out any legitimate charities.

After this week’s meeting, Smith said, the Illitiit Society hopes to distribute a short survey to all post office boxes in the city with general questions about whether the United Way could work here.

If there’s a good response, he said, the next step would be to establish a committee to begin a United Way campaign, and contact the national office for assistance.

He said ideally he would like to see a campaign by the fall.

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