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LETTER: Sioux Empire United Way responds to claims made by music nonprofit
This letter is in response to the recent article, Youth music nonprofit boycotting United Way funds over diversity reporting requirements, which was published on Nov. 4. Over the course of the last year, Dan Goeller, Executive Director of Harmony South Dakota, has repeatedly made misleading and inaccurate statements regarding Sioux Empire United Way (SEUW). During this time, multiple meetings were held and additional meeting offers were made to clarify this information with Mr. Goeller and members of his Board of Directors. Despite our best efforts to clarify his misunderstandings in private, we are now faced with no other option but to more publicly state the facts as they stand today.
Claims of requirements:
Within the recent article, there were multiple references to SEUW requiring the collection of specific data. Mr. Goeller stated, “I have to collect pronoun information”. The article continues by stating, SEUW “recently began requiring gender and racial identity reporting”. These statements are false. While our application does ask for basic demographic information, as a funder of 75 different programs, we recognize every program is unique and will gather and report on different types of data. To account for this, the demographic section of the application clearly states, “If information is not tracked or is unclear, it should be accounted for under unknown.” No program has ever had their funding reduced nor has a program been denied funding because they did not track a specific demographic data point.
Upon reading the recent article, Julie Becker, Executive Director of the St. Francis House, shared, “I am saddened to learn of the misinformation being promoted regarding the Sioux Empire United Way. The St. Francis House has been a partner agency for the past twelve years and at no time have we, or any other partner agency been required to provide information on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
To further clarify, outside of a non-discrimination policy that directly aligns with federally protected classes, SEUW does not require partner agencies to sign policies related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Use of Data:
With a mission to “Lead, sustain, and nurture a unified and effective response to community needs”, SEUW is always seeking opportunities to have a greater impact on our community. To help identify opportunities to reach additional individuals in need, it is common practice to examine who is being served and who is potentially being missed. Through the process of examining this information, additional community needs often come to light. While having a deeper understanding of who is served by a program helps to provide a clearer picture of the impact SEUW has on our community, funding decisions are primarily based on the following: need in the community, overall management of the agency, a financial need for support of the program and service, and the ability to show strong outputs, outcomes, and impact.
It is important to note that the concept of evaluating who is being served and who is not is not a unique approach to SEUW or the non-profit community. In virtually every sector of the business community, efforts are continuously made to better understand their consumers to make the most educated decisions. This is no different.
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“Volunteers of America, Dakotas has enjoyed and valued the support of the Sioux Empire United Way (SEUW) for many decades as community needs have been addressed in the face of changing opportunities and challenges. Information and data currently requested by the SEUW, although not required, is similar in nature and scope to that requested by other funding sources and our own national organization.” stated Dennis Hoffman, President & CEO of Volunteers of America, Dakotas.
References to Trainings:
As Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion became a greater topic within our community and across the country, SEUW sought feedback from our partner agencies to identify training opportunities they felt would be beneficial to them as employers and service providers. In response to feedback received from our partner agencies in 2021, optional trainings were offered in the spring and summer of 2022. Following these trainings, SEUW again sought feedback from the Executive Directors of our partner agencies. Based on their feedback, quarterly sessions, focused on peer-to-peer learning, began to take place. The agenda for these sessions is based on feedback from our partner agencies, with the planning done by representatives from our partner agencies. Attendance at the trainings and quarterly discussions is optional and is not required to receive SEUW funding. No agency has had their funding decreased nor has any agency been denied funding as a result of not participating in these sessions.
Decision not to apply for funding:
While Harmony South Dakota made the decision last December not to apply for SEUW funding beyond 2023, there are 75 other community programs that are relying on SEUW to raise funds that are critical to their ability to provide services in 2024. Unfortunately, it is those 75 programs and the individuals they serve who will be impacted by Mr. Goeller’s attempt to portray SEUW in a negative light.
SEUW’s partnership with and funding for Harmony South Dakota will end at the end of 2023, but that is not because of “reporting requirements” that do not exist. It is because they elected not to apply for future funding. It is unfortunate that Mr. Goeller is resorting to making inaccurate and often outright false statements about SEUW rather than seek funding based on the merits of his program. In the end, it is the individuals served by our non-profit community who will suffer.
Alan H. Turner II, Sioux Empire United Way, President/CEO
Randy Knecht, Sioux Empire United Way, Board Chair
Miles Beacom, Sioux Empire United Way, Treasurer