The United Way of Delaware County has completed a five-year survey of charitable needs, to help its board of directors determine agency priorities.

The United Way of Delaware County has completed a five-year survey of charitable needs, to help its board of directors determine agency priorities.

"Most nonprofits are experts at what they do, but you never want to assume you know everything about everything that's going on," said Tracy Whited, allocations and marketing director for the agency. "About every five years or so, our board mandates that we do some surveys of what is going on."

Drug and alcohol abuse continue to be a top focus.

"Whether you are a 14 -year-old at Buckeye Valley or Olentangy, there are drug issues, whatever the socioeconomics," Whited said. "A lot of research suggests there are issues with unemployment, mental health issues. In some sense, there are not a lot of changes from six years ago (when the previous survey was done). A drug of choice may change, but for United Way the issue is still education and prevention and mental health services."

United Way distributes about $2-million annually to 23 organizations running 35 different programs.

The agency previously hired an independent firm to perform such surveys. To save money, the current survey will be done in-house, with a combination of surveys and local research.

"It can cost thousands of dollars to do these, to get a true random sample and all that," Whited said. "This year, because times have been tough, instead of $20,000 on a community assessment we decided to use existing data and then add some of our own to it.

"We're looking for the input of the average person on the street, business leaders, and people in the social service agencies and nonprofits, because they are on the front lines of service and are seeing what the needs are," Whited said. "That's what we're asking, what they see as the most pressing need. Is it teen pregnancy? Is it smoking? Is it gangs and violence? We take the research we get that is already out there."

Much of the work done by agencies supported by United Way is complementary to government services, Whited said.

"We have social workers ... but there are not enough of them," Whited said. "Maybe some spending can help eliminate waiting lists, or providing counselors in schools. In Delaware County, we're lucky that we're not so large that it's hard to collaborate. The reality is government cannot do everything it wants to do, like any of us, and sometimes their hands are tied by regulatory requirements that (private) nonprofit agencies don't have."

An example of government-to-private charity is services provided to foster care children who turn 18.

"It's one of those unfortunate things where government programs can only support them until they are 18 (by law)," Whited said. "Then what happens? Turn them out and expect them to enter the work force? There is no way they're going to work a minimum wage job and support themselves, so the Salvation Army supports that transition."

In Delaware County, United Way staffers do not make funding decisions. Instead, they recruit and train a team of about 40 volunteers who serve three-year terms. These volunteers review applications each February and make recommendations to United Way's volunteer board of directors.

Further information about the survey can be found at http://www.liveuniteddelawarecounty.org/files/CNA_Appendix_A.pdf.