Valley of the Sun United Way is working to raise its profile in the East Valley — at the same time Gilbert leaders are exploring the idea of breaking away from the Valleywide agency and joining its Mesa counterpart.
The two United Way agencies represent large- and small-scale approaches to identifying and meeting community needs.
As both turn their focuses to the East Valley's fastest-growing area, the town in the middle only stands to gain, said Denny Barney, Mesa United Way's campaign vice chairman and a Gilbert resident for 22 years. "The worst thing that can happen is that we'll get improved social services," he said. As it stands now, both already fund programs that help residents of Gilbert and other municipalities; their "territories" define which workplaces they can run their campaigns in, but not who they help.
This overlap of Valley communities where people work, live and seek help means the series of mergers that created Valley of the Sun United Way only made sense, said Nicole Magnuson, its vice president of marketing and communications.
"From an efficiency standpoint, it doesn't make sense to have multiple organizations doing the exact same thing," she said. In the 1990s, it appeared that Mesa United Way might be on the same path, as it contracted with its Valleywide counterpart to run a single campaign.
The boards of the two agencies voted not to renew the contract in 1999, amid questions over whether Mesa was getting more or less money out of the deal than its fund raising warranted.
"It's a huge amount of land to cover, and the people of Mesa felt they would do a better job of raising money and meeting the needs by keeping management of the United Way within the community," said Mesa United Way president Carol McCormack.
Valley of the Sun United Way has had a south East Valley office since 1989, when Chandler-Gilbert United Way merged with the Phoenix/Scottsdale United Way. But both jobs in that office are currently open, and whoever is hired to lead the office, probably in the next month, will have a vice president's title and additional outreach responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman has sent a letter to Mesa United Way inquiring about the possibility of having Gilbert join forces with its agency, at the request of several town business leaders. He said nobody has any complaints about Valley of the Sun United Way, but there is a sense that Gilbert residents would be more active if they were convinced that more of their donated dollars would stay near town residents. McCormack would not comment on the possibility of Gilbert coming under the Mesa United Way umbrella.
"It's really up to Gilbert and what the community wants to do," she said.