At breakfast time last Wednesday, there were no spaces left in the parking lot outside Embassy Suites in Cary. Inside the hotel, more than 500 people were sharing bacon and eggs around cloth-covered tables in the ballroom while listening to speakers kick off the Triangle United Way’s annual fundraising drive. Every so often, the growl of a revved-up motor would punctuate a sentence.

The tape loop was in keeping with the campaign theme, “The Road to Success.” Campaign Chair Barry Eveland also stuck with the prevailing metaphor as he unveiled the United Way’s official goal of $26 million–just slightly under the $26.15 million raised last year.

“We are racing today to beat some very tough opponents,” said Eveland, an executive at IBM. “Homelessness, substance abuse, child abuse–and more. Are you up for this race?” The crowd cheered its response.

But not everyone’s feeling totally on board this campaign. Leaders of North Carolina Community Shares, a Durham-based fundraising umbrella for social-justice organizations, are upset that three of their member groups will not appear on the official United Way campaign roster. The North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty and North Carolinians Against Gun Violence were deemed ineligible because they didn’t meet a campaign standard of having 75 percent of their activities devoted to “direct human services.”

While United Way officials say it’s not unusual for local agencies to be left out for failing to meet those rules, Community Shares leaders believe their member organizations are being targeted. Executive Director Brian Lewis notes that NC WARN has been a vocal critic of Carolina Power & Light–one of the United Way’s key corporate contributors. And, he says, other Community Shares members that don’t meet all of the campaign requirements, but have less “controversial” missions, have not been singled out for exclusion.

When the same problem came up last year with NC WARN, the group’s supporters staged a write-in campaign that netted $5,000 (as part of its “Donor Choice” program, the United Way honors write-in contributions to any local nonprofit). Leaders of the environmental group will advance the same initiative this year through a special advertising campaign.

Lewis says the issue has been “extremely divisive” for the Community Shares board. But members have decided to stick with the United Way drive, at least for the short-term, because it guarantees access to needed workplace contributions. “We raised $90,000 from the United Way last year,” he says. “That’s a lot of money for our organizations.”

Benefits flow the other way, too. United Way spokesperson Jill Cox says including Community Shares in the campaign appeases donors’ desire for more choice. “We know they want expanded options,” she says. “And we’re real thrilled to be able to work out an arrangement where we can include a wider list.”

So why weren’t leaders of Community Shares invited to last week’s campaign kickoff?

“I really can’t answer that,” Cox says. “I’ve looked through the invitation list and I don’t see them there, but it’s 2,000 people long. We could easily have missed them.”

For Community Shares leaders, such oversights add insult to the 20 percent administrative fees, advertising restrictions and other red tape they must put up with in order to be part of the United Way drive. “The money we get from them feels good,” Lewis says. “But we’re really treated like stepchildren. “