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January 02. 2013 11:48PM

State agency gives OK to United Way merger

MANCHESTER - New Hampshire's largest chapter of the United Way is expanding again, adding the Lakes Region chapter to Granite United Way.

The merger was approved by the state Division of Charitable Trusts on Monday and took effect Tuesday.

"By coming together we're maximizing the staff talent," said Patrick Tufts, president and CEO of Granite United Way. "We've been able to build a fantastic board of directors - very strong people from all over the state."

Granite United Way formed in 2010 with the merger of Manchester-based Heritage United Way and three other New Hampshire units. Last year, the former United Way of Northern New Hampshire joined and the addition of the Lakes Region chapter will increase the nonprofit organization's coverage to 80 percent of the state as well as Windsor County, Vermont, just west of Lebanon.

While the allocation of funds remains local, Tufts said Wednesday that joining the formerly independent branches allows Granite United Way to streamline operations and costs.

Tufts said the organization has gone from having $3.8 million in assets in 2010 to $8.7 million with the addition of the Lakes Region chapter, which has offices in Plymouth, Tamworth and Laconia.

"Those dollars are available to 200 not-for-profit programs all across the state of New Hampshire," Tufts said. "We have been able to maximize the dollars that we have through business efficiencies."

Instead of running six different audits annually, Granite United Way now will pay for only one. The mergers also mean large-scale buying power, which reduces costs for things like office supplies and other items purchased in greater quantities.

Tufts said the merger will not affect United Way assistance in individual communities.

"As we've gotten bigger, the one thing we haven't left is local decision making," Tufts said. "In all six regions, all money raised is distributed locally. We have 250 volunteers who make all of the funding decisions on behalf of the United Way."

Tufts said talks with the Lakes Region chapter had been going on for about five months before the merger became official.

"While we could have remained a stand-alone organization, the board of directors of the Lakes Region United Way felt we could have a greater impact in central New Hampshire and be an even better steward of our donors' funds by merging," said Mark Primeau, chairman of the Lakes Region board.

A study last summer ranked New Hampshire last in charitable giving, but the numbers changed considerably when faith-based donations were removed from the equation.

Richard Ober, president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, said it's very difficult to get an accurate measurement on where states rank when it comes to giving, especially in New England, where religious-based donations are not as prevalent as in other areas of the country.

Ober said charitable organizations in the state are careful not to interfere with each other's efforts.

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Doug Alden may be reached at dalden@unionleader.com.


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