Why is United Way of Lancaster County changing the way it awards grants?

To have even greater community impact! Beginning in 2004, United Way of Lancaster County began working with other United Ways, national consultants and community partners to evolve from an organization that funds agencies to a community leader that fosters change. Today’s problems are too big, and resources are too limited and precious to continue to bandage chronic problems. It’s time to dig deep and address their root causes: lack of education, poverty and inadequate access to healthcare. And we needed to work better together to prioritize and embrace common goals.

Over the last 25 years, the number of nonprofit organizations has doubled across the country. This proliferation of agencies often worked in isolation and had fragmented results. Here in Lancaster County, community problems couldn't be solved by spending investor gifts an inch deep and a mile wide. As stewards of the community’s benevolence, it was imperative that our community and your United Way found a better way to invest donors’ gifts to yield transformational results.

What are the four Bold Goals to be achieved by 2025?

In 10 years, imagine a Lancaster County where:

  • 100% of Lancaster County children will enter kindergarten ready to learn;

  • 100% of students and adults will have post-secondary credentials;

  • Decrease individuals and families living in poverty by 50%;

  • 100% of individuals, children, and families will have a medical home

Those are lofty goals. How are you going to achieve 100%?

These aspirational goals will enable United Way of Lancaster County—with the support of the community— to achieve the hopes and dreams of our community. To address the increasing needs of our neighbors means that we must address the underlying causes and stop bandaging problems they create. As for the 100%, who is the child that you leave out? Who doesn’t need to have the educational credentials to get a job with a livable wage? Who should be left without reliable, consistent, and quality health and wellness care? And while we wish it would be possible to raise 100% of Lancaster County residents out of poverty, the state of poverty is complicated—with many moving parts—so our goal of reducing the number of Lancaster County residents living in poverty by 50% is, indeed, lofty.

Why these “Bold Goals”?

United Way of Lancaster County is responding to the data. These four bold goals focus on achieving what Lancaster County residents said were the most important. Our professionally researched Needs Assessment (see FAQ below) showed that education, financial stability, and health are the largest categories of concern that county residents have about themselves and their community.

Further data revealed exactly where to focus. Years of social science research indicates that improving educational preparation and attainment, reducing poverty, and enjoying better physical and mental health are areas where change needs to take place in Lancaster County:

  • Only 10% of 3-4 year olds are enrolled in publicly funded Pre-K.

  • One in 10 students do not graduate from high school.

  • Only one quarter of Lancaster adults have a bachelor's degree or higher.

  • One in 10 do not have health insurance.

  • One in 10 skipped medical treatment because of cost.

  • More than one in 10 live in poverty.

These statistics all support the Bold Goals established.

How will United Way of Lancaster County achieve these Bold Goals? How will we know if they are successful?

United Way of Lancaster County is investing in Community Impact Partnerships—groups of nonprofit organizations, schools, school districts, educational foundations, faith-based groups, businesses, and government—who have developed strategies to help us achieve our Bold Goals. United Way of Lancaster County will be monitoring their progress with the support of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College. This ongoing evaluation will:

  • Determine whether services of each Community Impact Partnership are deployed well and achieving results;

  • Identify gaps in the services of each Community Impact Partnership and their collective work;

  • Help improve programs;

  • Show investors and the broader community that their money is being well spent.

Where did these Bold Goals come from?

Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research, local nonprofit colleagues, United Way investors, and our greater community.

Will I still be able to designate during the United Way of Lancaster County campaign to my favorite charity?

United Way of Lancaster County turned to the experts: national leaders on community impact, local leaders, Yes. We will continue to welcome designations to specific nonprofit organizations. As before, they must be IRS 501(c)(3) organizations engaged in health and human service work.

I have heard the term “collective impact”? What is that?

"Collective impact" is the means in which to achieve community impact. Through the power of working together, organizations:

  • Agree to a common goal;

  • Agree to track progress in the same way;

  • Bring their expertise and skills together while identifying new ways to work together;

  • Have skilled and dedicated resources to support ongoing efforts.

In some ways this concept is nothing new. Organizations have been working collectively for years. In fact, there is an excellent example of this work here in Lancaster County in “Heading Home: The Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness in Lancaster County.” A challenge too big for one organization to solve, 12 organizations, government entities, and dedicated volunteers joined forces in 2008. The power of this coalition produced results which attracted a $2.5 million federal grant.

What is unique about "collective impact" is the discipline required to achieve social change. Solutions to complex social problems will come from interaction of many organizations within a larger system. "Collective impact" requires investors, volunteers, nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, businesses, and government to come together in different ways.

Did the agencies United Way has long supported know this change was coming?

Yes. In fact, many nonprofit agencies worked with us over this 12 year journey. In 2012, the Board of Directors publicly released a Strategic Direction which solidified that United Way of Lancaster County would move ahead without delay to a community level focus.  It was understood that this new grant process would include long-standing agency partners as well as new ones. United Way met with agencies quarterly to keep them updated on the progress of the transition. They also engaged consultants to support agencies’ transitions to the new funding model. In addition, United Way of Lancaster County had agencies involved in the design of the Request for Proposal (RFP) process itself.

How were the Community Impact Partnerships chosen?

A team of community and professional volunteers reviewed 40 proposals that were submitted in response to our Request for Proposal. Each proposal was evaluated, and those achieving scores of 50 and higher were invited to meet with members of this Community Impact Evaluation Committee.

These interviews were then scored; each proposal was also scored based on the community populations and the regions of Lancaster County they served.

How did United Way of Lancaster County move to Community Impact?

This journey began more than a decade ago when United Way of Lancaster County zeroed in on the unmet needs of our young children. Knowing 90% of our brains are developed before we’re six years old, our Success By Six® focus initiative was born. With passionate educators, child care providers, healthcare professionals, librarians, parents and grandparents around the table, attention was focused on these critical years, and major advances were made.

Our eye for bold change next turned to issues community members faced because of financial instability. This focus led to the launch of our ever-expanding Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. It also formed the beginnings of the “10-Year Plan to End Homelessness,” which spun off to a community-wide coalition of many nonprofit agencies, United Way’s 2-1-1 service, Lancaster City and County government and caring volunteers.

Big change was happening in Lancaster County through these bold ventures! We knew we could do more.

In 2010 United Way of Lancaster County engaged the respected Harwood Institute to develop a plan to expand on these community successes. Seeking to engage the community around community needs beyond United Way’s ongoing Needs Assessment studies, they hosted hundreds of community conversations around Lancaster County. Thousands of residents shared their dreams for their Lancaster County.

In addition, United Way increased the depth and breadth of volunteer Solution Councils who were diving deeper into the focus areas of education, financial stability and health. These subject matter experts and community representatives identified community indicators and data to be tracked over the long term.

In 2014, this group expanded their work by helping United Way develop a pilot Request for Proposal (RFP) for future funding. Solution Councils included many agencies—the Spanish American Civic Association (SACA), Community Action Program of Lancaster County (CAP), SouthEast Lancaster Health Services, Catholic Health Initiatives, The Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon, Tabor Community Services, Lancaster County Council of Churches, Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership (LHOP)—as well as business representatives and a variety of community volunteers.

How does United Way of Lancaster County identify our community’s needs?

Historically, the dozens of community volunteers making United Way of Lancaster County’s funding decisions were guided by a Community Needs Assessment that we conducted every five years. With the availability of real-time data, this information is now collected from more accurate, timely resources. This enhanced, redesigned information gathering enabled us to create Strategy Maps which pinpointed overlaying focus areas affording efficient, effective change.

This past year United Way has been engaged in five endeavors to form a coherent, comprehensive, and on-going assessment of community impact and need. Visit www.UWLanc.org/CommunityData for more details. The work defines where to direct resources to a distinct number of critical issues to achieve the greatest level of community impact.

  • A life events survey collected data in March/April of 2014 from a representative sample of Lancaster County adults. It identified negative life events and issue priorities and had the capability to identify demographic and geographic pockets of need. The survey provided opportunities for community members to identify the key issues they face. Survey results were compared to 2009 United Way of Lancaster County baseline data and will be tracked in future surveys.

  • A social media “listening” service identifies conversations happening within the local community that include references to important community issues. Conversations and news stories are tracked to provide real-time measurement of issues that are important to county residents.

  • The cornerstone of United Way of Lancaster County’s community impact model is evaluating community-level changes that result from the programs in which they invest. The strategies are founded on indicators developed by United Way of Lancaster County’s Solution Councils. These indicators can be updated regularly and are central to understanding community impact.

  • United Way of Lancaster County developed a Community Impact Agenda— a plan to achieve results on specific issues. It included desired outcomes, objectives, strategies, action steps, roles, and resources needed. The Community Impact Agenda determined the four Bold Goals by 2025.

  • Community Conversations were conducted monthly to encourage Lancaster County residents to share their aspirations for their community. Community members involved in these conversations contributed toward developing and achieving a shared vision for Lancaster County’s future.

What is the evaluation framework of United Way of Lancaster County to monitor this work with the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College?

United Way’s evaluation framework is intended to monitor community needs and assess progress toward addressing them at the community level. The framework includes various types of data to assess both need and progress using varying time frames. The framework recognizes that community needs arise from multiple and inter-related causes. This recognition drives demand for programming that can address multiple needs.

Some organizations say they are collaborating already. Why wasn’t this considered “collective impact”?

Kania & Kramer’s 2012 study explains it best:

Funders select individual grantees that offer the most promising solutions.
Evaluation attempts to isolate a particular organization’s impact.
Large scale change is assumed to depend on scaling a single organization.
Corporate and government sectors are often disconnected from the efforts of foundations and nonprofits.
Nonprofits work separately and compete to produce the greatest independent impact.

Funders and implementers understand that social problems and their solutions arise from the interaction of many organizations within a larger system.
Progress depends on working toward the same goal and measuring the same things.
Large scale impact depends on increasing cross-sector alignment and learning among many organizations.
Corporate and government sectors are essential partners.
Organizations actively coordinate their action and share lessons learned.

What supports were put in place to help the agencies during this transition?

United Way provided various training opportunities throughout the years for their agency partners. However, more recently United Way committed to providing them with professional support to help them understand the new process and determine how they would best fit in the new funding model. Three "Collective Impact Forums" were held on October 24, 2014, November 25, 2014, and January 29, 2015. The day-long October and November sessions outlined the five key steps in collaborative work. “Hands-on labs” at both sessions offered participants an opportunity to apply the five conditions of "collective impact," identify prospective partners, and begin to develop proposals.

United Way also offered agencies a chance to submit their ideas for feedback before their final applications were due. All agencies that completed a Letter of Intent were offered a 30 minute, one-on-one review of their preliminary proposals with a professional community impact consultant. United Way also developed a comprehensive website with support tools for those applying for grants.

The October and January sessions were led by The OMG Center for Collaborative Learning/Equal Measure. The November session and the one-on-one meetings were led by Dan Jurman, formerly with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and now CEO of the Community Action Program of Lancaster County. The Center for Opinion Research led by Berwood Yost provided evaluation and outcomes measurement support throughout this process.

For agencies that didn’t receive funding for the next 3 years, will this make them go out of business?

We certainly hope not. United Way of Lancaster County funding in the past has only represented a single digit of an agency’s budget, so hopefully they can raise additional funds to cover lost United Way of Lancaster County dollars. Should United Way be able to raise significantly more money this year or next year, our Community Impact Partnerships may be in the position to invite in more Community Impact Partners.

Remember, too, that United Way continues to welcome gifts designated to individual IRS 501(c)(3) agencies providing health and human services. We also offer the free services of our Volunteer Center and United Way’s 2-1-1 information and referral services to any nonprofit agency. Plus, United Way’s free tax preparation services for taxpayers earning $50,000 or less welcomes referrals.

I see that some of the Community Impact Partnerships include a few companies and other non-agency organizations as their Community Impact Partners. Are they receiving money?

In this work, multiple players will be working together to address the complex issues being tackled by the four Bold Goals. This requires cross-sector alignment with government, nonprofits, other philanthropic organizations, as well as the business community. However, direct dollars from investors’ gifts will only go to nonprofit organizations holding IRS 501(c)(3) status. Some Community Impact Partners, either nonprofit or for-profit, may receive funds while others won’t—but all are critical to making bold change happen through the Community Impact Partnerships.