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Douglas County’s United Way to merge with Topeka’s

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The United Way organizations representing Douglas County and Topeka announced plans Wednesday for a merger that will create a significant regional charitable organization.

The new United Way of Kaw Valley expects to be in operation by early next year, with combined assets of more than $3 million, based on the two groups’ most recent tax filings. The current United Way of Greater Topeka is about five times larger than the United Way of Douglas County, according to the filings.

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“We are confident that joining forces with United Way of Greater Topeka makes sense on every front — for those we serve, for those who receive our grants, and for those who trust United Way to invest their donations,” Kurt Schueler, president of the Douglas County United Way board, said in a statement.

The organizations will vote to approve the merger next month and then will file paperwork with the Kansas Secretary of State. The two staffs will begin collaborating immediately, and events planned for this fall — typically the major season for United Way fundraising — will go on as scheduled. 

The combined organization will serve Douglas, Shawnee, Jackson and Jefferson counties. Jessica Lehnherr, CEO of United Way of Greater Topeka, will lead the combined entity.

“Even though we’ll be hitting our busiest time of the year, we’ll be learning how things work in all four counties and deciding together what United Way of Kaw Valley becomes in its first phase,” Lehnherr said in a statement.

The organizations said that, despite the merger, donations would continue to be earmarked for the counties in which they were given. “Donations given in one county stay with that county unless a donor specifies otherwise, and donors always have a choice,” they said in a statement.

United Way of Douglas County, founded in 1956, had net assets of $572,034 in 2020, the most recent year for which its tax filings are available. That was a drop of about half from the previous year’s assets, as the COVID pandemic affected the organization’s operations. The group brought in nearly $1.3 million in contributions and grants in 2020, a slight increase over the previous year, and paid out about $1.1 million in contributions to local groups, also a slight increase. Total expenses for the year were about $1.6 million.

United Way of Greater Topeka, founded in 1958, ended its 2021 fiscal year with nearly $2.7 million in assets, a slight increase from the previous year, according to its tax filings. It raised $4.8 million, a slight decline from the previous year, and gave out $4.2 million in donations.

Matt All, chair of the United Way of Greater Topeka board, said in a statement that the United Way of Douglas County is part of the fabric of all the communities it serves. 

“We are excited to combine our talented staffs and share the best each organization has to offer and to be a leader among Kansas United Ways,” All said. 

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