Valley’s United Way agencies revive talk of merger

By William K. Alcorn


Discussion of an alliance of United Way agencies in Mahoning and Trumbull counties has been revived.

The last formal talks of a merger between the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and the United Way of Trumbull County in 1999 ended with the Mahoning agency’s board voting to form an alliance and the Trumbull United Way directors nixing a partnership.

After an eight-month study, for which the agencies each paid $15,000, the Trumbull United Way Board of Directors voted down any merger even though the Trumbull research committee recommended more study of a 100-page report prepared by the Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Case Western Reserve University before a decision was made.

Now, once again, the neighboring United Way agencies have hired an organization, the Cheshire Consulting Group LLC of Maryland, “to facilitate the exploration of potential partnering opportunities.”

Robert Hannon and Thomas Krysiek, heads of the Mahoning and Trumbull United Way agencies, respectively, would not comment on the issue. They said the agencies agreed that all comments would come from Laurie Reuben, Cheshire spokeswoman.

Reuben recently said: “Over the years, many opportunities for increased collaborative efforts have come along, and the boards of each organization recently made the decision to more formally explore the possibilities that working together might offer.

“This is an exploratory process, with no predetermined outcome in mind. To date, a survey of local stakeholders has been conducted, and one meeting has been held to review the results of that survey. The decision was made at that meeting to have a second discussion, tentatively scheduled for later this summer.”

Reuben declined to comment further Tuesday.

The impetus for previous consolidation efforts, in 1987 and 1994, when both agencies fell short of their fundraising goals, and in 1999, were the possibility of saving money by sharing services and having more success raising money working together, according to reports.

If the United Way agencies had achieved a merger in 1994, it would have followed a trend at the time, which, in 1993, included the merging of the Boy Scouts of America organizations in the two counties and the merging of the Warren, Youngstown and Niles chambers of commerce into the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Inter-county mergers continued in 2010, when the Mahoning and Trumbull County American Red Cross organizations joined to become the American Red Cross of the Mahoning Valley with locations in Boardman and Warren.

What derailed a merger in 1999, according to Strategic Alliance Feasibility Study commissioned by the two agencies, were, among other things: territorialism, cultural differences between the two organizations that included the way money was distributed, and rivalry between Mahoning and Trumbull, which was seen as the “deepest among all counties in Northeast Ohio.”

In 1994, the Trumbull United Way and Mahoning United Way, while they did not meet their goals, each raised about $3.1 million.

But economic times have changed, and with the loss of many thousands of good-paying jobs in the Mahoning Valley, raising money has become more challenging, United Way volunteers and officials have said.

For instance, for the fall campaign of 2010 the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley raised slightly more than $2.5 million and its goal for the upcoming 2011 campaign is $2.6 million. Meanwhile, the 2010 fall fundraising campaign of the United Way of Trumbull County raised about $1.12 million.

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