United Way for Hampshire, Franklin counties to merge



Staff Writer
Published: 7/9/2020 6:44:33 PM

By the middle of next year, the beginning of fiscal year 2022 for many, the United Way of Franklin County and United Way of Hampshire County are hoping to have merged to become one agency serving two counties and beyond.

“It might just make sense for there to be one entity moving forward,” United Way of Franklin County Interim Executive Director Sarah Tanner said.

“We’ve been working in unison for decades,” United Way of Hampshire County Executive Director John Bidwell agreed. “We’ve already started merging some things like grant writing and applications.”

The two agencies have started a “trial” of just how a merger can be done by combining efforts for the diaper bank, which will serve both counties now with a grant from the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund being administered by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, Tanner said. The diaper bank will now provide diapers to low-income families each month, distributing directly to a network of more than 15 sites, including family support programs, food pantries and more, many of which are in Franklin County and Athol, with three more sites in Hampshire County.

The joint venture is a way to make everything more efficient, Tanner and Bidwell say. The two have been exploring opportunities to work more closely over the past several months to enhance community impact, too.

Tanner said United Way of Franklin County currently provides 6,000 to 8,000 diapers each month and that is expected to increase. United Way of Hampshire County doesn’t have a diaper bank, so this will be a first-time effort for it, but it does hold a diaper drive once a year.

“Our partner organizations love the changes we’re making,” Bidwell said.

The Hampshire County chapter is the larger of the two charities, with a budget of $1.25 million; the Franklin County chapter’s budget is about $750,000. The two will share technologies, marketing and messaging, Bidwell and Tanner say. Both of their boards have endorsed the move and additional collaborations will happen over the next six months or so as the trial runs for a more complete collaboration. During that time, community meetings will be held to gauge feedback and provide grassroots education about the merits of the collaboration.

“We started by talking with our boards and the agencies we work with,” Tanner said. “We’re doing this in layers. We also want to hear from the public. We want to make sure we’re filling gaps with things like the diaper bank and other services, not replicating or duplicating them.”

 Tanner said United Way of Franklin County is planning its own annual campaign for the fall, which she expects will be “big, as usual” while the two look ahead.

“We’re trying to make the biggest impact as possible in the area,” she said. “We’ll be looking at other agencies we can work with on different projects.”

Tanner said the exploration of how a merger might happen will take anywhere from six months to a year.

“Everything has changed, especially with the pandemic,” she said. “This is a chance for a clean slate that would allow us to work together as one.”

Bidwell said the two nonprofits will continue to share data and other information. He said because both are doing well, now is the time to merge, not when or if they aren’t doing so well and are forced into a merger.

“This is worth exploring, and it makes sense,” he said. “We want to be as efficient as possible. Everyone seems very excited. This is a perfect example of how things should be done. The stars have aligned. We’ll see what happens.”

People can reach Tanner and Bidwell at their respective United Way offices in Greenfield and Northampton to share comments, suggestions and concerns. Eventually, members of the public will have the opportunity to do so during public meetings.

Call Tanner at the United Way of Franklin County at 413-772-2168 or reach Bidwell at the United Way of Hampshire County at 413-584-3962.

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