Vote to determine fate of United Way of Rome


The United Way of Rome and Western Oneida County may merge with the United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica, according to a release from the Rome chapter of the organization.

A meeting of all Rome members will be held at MVCC on June 3 to vote on the matter. According to Rome chapter president Gene Blackburn, all contributors to United Way who have given a dollar or more in the last two years are considered members — around 940 individuals and organizations, Blackburn said.

Blackburn, who has helmed the Rome chapter for seven years, said the organization’s contributions have continued to fall, to the point where operating costs account for more than half of the campaign funds raised.

“As our campaign shrank, we were able to make grants that were progressively smaller and smaller,” he said Thursday.

“We’re at a point in terms of staffing that we really can’t go much lower, because we can’t get the job done. Despite the fact that the amount of money we’re handling changes, the steps it takes to handle it remain the same. And so we eventually reached a point where I was becoming concerned that our overhead was getting too big a slice of the pie that we had to hand out.”

According to Blackburn, a “substantial amount” of the Rome chapter’s endowment will be transferred to the Rome Community Foundation.

“Our reason for so doing is that that money came from the Rome community in good faith, and we wanted it, in good faith, to stay with the Rome community,” he explained.

Of the “12 or 13” of the Rome chapter’s board members, Blackburn has said “at least four” will join the Utica chapter upon the latter’s dissolution. Discussions about the merger have been going for two years, he said.

His chapter had hired a professional fundraiser to assist in increasing the organization’s campaign receipts, but the effort yielded only “something like” a $20,000 increase — which was used to pay the professional fundraiser. “At that point, we knew we were done,” Blackburn said.

The June 3 vote will require a quorum, or more than half, of the 940 members to vote positively on the dissolution measure. Ironically, Blackburn said, the need for such a vote is enshrined in an organization bylaw designed to stop the chapter from dissolving itself and merging with the Utica chapter.

“In the ‘80s, when we made an all-out attempt to merge with the Utica United Way and it was voted down ... we proceeded on as we had been. (The Rome chapter’s then-president) said as a result of the attempt, (members) reworked the bylaws to make it almost impossible to merge with anybody.”

Nevertheless, Blackburn said he was optimistic members would vote to merge.


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