When corporate charitable giving campaigns kick into gear this fall, Central Iowa businesses and their employees will have a new option for designating contributions to some popular health-oriented charities. 

It’s called Community Health Charities of Iowa.     

For the past 26 years, Community Health Charities of Iowa has conducted a joint workplace giving campaign with United Way of Central Iowa. Beginning this year, however, Community Health Charities will conduct its own campaign in Central Iowa for the 32 nonprofit health agencies it represents, the same as it currently does in eastern Iowa. In the past, groups such as the American Lung Association and the March of Dimes have benefited from United Way campaigns. Now those groups, which typically send money for research out of Central Iowa, will have to raise money from employee giving campaigns as an entity separate from United Way. 

The change presents a unique marketing challenge for Jim Swanstrom, who has led Community Health Charities of Iowa as its president and CEO for nearly 15 years. 

“We’re very active in the eastern part of the state, but here in Central Iowa we’re not very well-known,” Swanstrom said. “Our member charities are very well-known, but we as an organization are not.” 

An affiliate of Community Health Charities of America, the Iowa organization’s primary purpose is to raise money for health-related nonprofits through employee payroll deductions and special events. The 501(c)(3) organization is governed by a 13-member board and operates from two small offices, one in Des Moines and one in the Quad Cities.   

Of the record-breaking $27.5 million raised during United Way of Central Iowa’s 2013 campaign, Community Health Charities received approximately $695,000 for its 32 health-oriented member nonprofits last year. That amount represented 4 percent of United Way contributions after donor designations, campaign expenses and administrative fees are taken out by United Way. By comparison, Community Health Charities’ eastern Iowa campaign raised just under $200,000 directly from employers last year. 

Changes at both United Way of Central Iowa and Community Health Charities led to the reassessment of the longtime revenue-sharing arrangement. 

About five years ago, Community Health Charities rolled out a new employee engagement model in which it offers services through an online portal called Health Matters at Work. The website provides resources for employers to help workers connect with services provided by its member charities as well as to volunteer for those organizations. 

At about the same time, United Way of Central Iowa developed a new strategy in which the organizations it supports have to meet measurable goals in three “pillar” areas of education, income and health. As part of that strategy, each of the programs that United Way funds must demonstrate measurable results in addressing those issues. 

“We have a different model these days, and United Way is going in a different direction as well, so it seemed like a good time to separate,” Swanstrom said. “In the end, employees in the workplace will be given more opportunity, more choices in which to direct their charitable dollars in the workplace.” 

Mary Sellers, president of United Way of Central Iowa, said her organization wants to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible for the health charities. 

“The work that these health charities do is critical, and where we can find alignment with them, we want to,” she said. Sellers said United Way has already had discussions with some of the agencies about applying for direct funding. “And if donors still want to designate to any of these health charities, they can. That isn’t going to change at all,” she said. 

Although Community Health Charities’ contract with United Way was scheduled to expire June 30, 2013, United Way’s board decided to extend the contract for another year, Sellers said. Because the funds are paid out on a two-year cycle based on pledges from the previous year, the extension means Community Health Charities will get funding through June 2015 in addition to being able to raise funds independently this year, she said. 

Swanstrom said he anticipates his organization’s fundraising revenue could dip in the next couple of years while it gains better name recognition in Central Iowa. However, he said it stands to raise more than ever as it spreads its wings to fly on its own. 

“We are all about building on existing relationships that we have in corporate Central Iowa and developing many new relationships,” he said. “Our member charities have really impressive boards; they are community leaders at all levels. So we’ll be working with our member charities to help develop those relationships where we don’t have them.”

About Community Health Charities of Iowa

The organization is led by Jim Swanstrom, an Illinois State University alumnus who has worked for several nonprofit organizations in his career. He initially worked for the March of Dimes with its Illinois and Wisconsin chapters before moving to Des Moines to work for the Iowa chapter in 1988. He subsequently represented Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa and then the American Lung Association of Iowa before joining Community Health Partners of Iowa in 1999. The organization’s Des Moines office is located at United Way of Central Iowa’s Human Services Campus at 1111 Ninth St.; it also has an office in the Quad Cities. As an affiliate of Community Health Charities of America, it shares 2 percent of its revenue with the national organization. The Iowa organization’s administrative costs average about 15 to 16 percent per year, Swanstrom said. “We’re pretty proud of that,” he said.

32 Member charities: 

- Alzheimer’s Association - East Central Iowa Chapter 
- Alzheimer’s Association - Greater Iowa Chapter 
- American Diabetes Association - Iowa Area 
- American Lung Association in Iowa
- Arthritis Foundation - Heartland Region 
- Camp Hertko Hollow Inc. 
- Camp Tanager/Tanager Place 
- CaringBridge
- Children’s Tumor Foundation 
- Chrohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America - Iowa Chapter 
- Cystic Fibrosis Foundation - Iowa 
- Easter Seals Iowa 
- Epilepsy Foundation of North/Central Illinois, Iowa & Nebraska
- Healthy Birth Day 
- Huntington’s Disease Society - Iowa Chapter
- Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International - Eastern Iowa Chapter 
- Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International - Greater Iowa Chapter 
- Leukemia & Lymphoma Society - Iowa Chapter 
- Lupus Foundation of America - Iowa Chapter 
- March of Dimes Foundation - Iowa 
- Muscular Dystrophy Association - Iowa Area 
- NAMI IOWA (National Alliance on Mental Illness) 
- National Kidney Foundation 
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society - Upper Midwest Chapter 
- Prevent Blindness Iowa 
- Rick’s House of Hope 
- St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital - Midwest Affiliate 
- Susan G. Komen for the Cure - Iowa Affiliate 
- Susan G. Komen for the Cure - Quad Cities Affiliate 
- Susan G. Komen for the Cure - Siouxland Affiliate 
- The Arc of Iowa 
- Vera French Foundation

Board members:

Doug Bickford, American Diabetes Association 
Melanie Brown, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – Iowa Chapter 
Amy Busack, National Kidney Foundation 
Juan Cadenillas, Polk County Health Department 
Sondy Daggett, Rockwell Collins Inc.
Dan D’Alessandro, Deere & Co. 
Dan Kueter, at-large 
Deborah Long-Hatz, Coralville Public Library board of trustees 
Matt McGarvey, The Wellmark Foundation 
Lezlie Mestdagh, Healthy Birth Day 
Caroline Peterson, U.S. Department of Agriculture 
Claire Scholl, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation – Iowa Chapter 
Carol Sipfle, Alzheimer’s Association – Greater Iowa Chapter