Of Change Over Charity – United Way Reimagined
When I came to United Way eight years ago, what attracted me to the organization then could not hold truer today: the fact that United Way has the unique ability to deliver the greatest impact within our local community. Although United Way is an international brand, each local United Way has the independence to reflect the distinct issues and needs of its community, with emphasis on education, health, and financial stability.
What has changed in those eight years, however, is the role United Way plays in the community. I think this was best summarized by one of our board members at the closing of a recent board meeting: “Well, this isn’t my father’s United Way anymore!”
Historically, United Ways have fulfilled the role of serving as an efficient and convenient fundraiser for local nonprofits. A few years ago, our board decided we wanted to be more than a fundraiser – we wanted to be a game changer. So, we set down the path of transformation with our eye on developing solutions that resulted in lasting change, not just short-term charity.
It was no longer enough for us to know that a certain number of children attended one of our sponsored afterschool programs each day; we wanted to know how their grades were improving. And if they weren’t improving, we needed to evaluate and understand why, and correct the course as necessary. We committed to results, not just to activity.
We began to pivot our resources towards prevention-based programs and services and relied more than ever on data to paint a broader picture for our decision making. We’ve engaged subject matter experts that can advise us on complex issues. With regards to crisis and intervention-related services, we needed to understand how individuals reached such a place of crisis, and how we could do better in preventing them from ever needing those crisis-type services.
We also began looking internally; there was certainly an opportunity for better service coordination. We launched programs such as Charity Tracker, which is a platform for local nonprofits, churches, and government agencies to use for real-time communication, shared case management, and making referrals.
Charity is about giving help, which is crucial in our line of work. But for us, the added measure of change is what allows us to deliver on the pursuit of an improved community. While we have made progress, there is still much work to be done. Our work is evolving everyday, but one thing that remains constant is that we need you. Whether you have the ability to devote your time, talent, and/or treasures, we need your support. Change won’t happen without you. Learn more at www.yourlocaluw.org.