United Way expands funding eligibility

By Todd Cohen

MORRISVILLE, N.C. – Starting in 2013, any nonprofit in the four-county Triangle region that addresses priority needs targeted by United Way of the Greater Triangle will have a chance to seek United Way funding.

The change is expected to increase competition for a pool of funds that this year totals $5.23 million and until now has been limited to United Way’s 78 partner agencies.

Driving the change is growing demand from donors to see the impact of their contributions, says Angie Welsh, senior vice president for resource investment at United Way.

United Way wants to “be responsive to that new generation of philanthropists who care that the money and the treasure they’ve shared has really helped change somebody’s  life,” she says.

While United Way is “proud and supportive” of its partner agencies and their 150 programs that it funds, Welsh says, it also recognizes that addressing the region’s most urgent needs in health and human services will require “a more open view of all the nonprofits” providing those services.

The Triangle is home to over 5,000 nonprofits, she says, and many of them provide health and human services.

United Way also wants other nonprofits in Wake, Durham, Orange and Johnston counties to understand that the process for applying for funding will be rigorous.

That funding already is under pressure: Funds available for partner agencies this year are down 10.5 percent from last year as a result of last fall’s annual fundraising campaign.

For the rest of 2012, United Way will evaluate the past performance of agencies that it currently funds, as well as the priority needs their programs address, and how well their proposed services and activities show the impact they will have.

Information sessions

Nonprofits that are not United Way partners and want to apply for funds will be required to attend one of six two-hour information sessions it will hold in March, April and May at its offices in Morrisville.

At the sessions, United Way officials will talk about what United Way requires for agencies to be its partners and to account for their programs that receive its funding.

Agencies with annual revenues of $300,000 or more, for example, must have an annual audit, while those with revenues under $300,000 must have a financial review.

And agencies must provide a “logic model” for their programs that spell out what is needed to support activities and services to achieve the “outcome” the agency is promising in order to address goals from three “action plans” United Way has developed that focus on priority needs in the region.

Those priorities reflect urgent problems in the areas of income, education and health.

Agencies also must show how they will measure the impact of their programs, identify the “indicators” they will use and the systems they have in place to track those indicators, and provide evidence to show why their programs will work, as well as a “theory of change that makes sense,” Welsh says.

“And they have to be accountable for the results they promised they would deliver with the money they’re asking for,” she says.

United Way makes two-year funding commitments, with the second year of funding contingent on agencies delivering the outcomes they promised.

An after-school tutoring program seeking funding, for example, might promise to improve academic performance by increasing the number of students testing at or above grade level on their end-of-year tests in a certain subject area.

At the information sessions, Welsh says, agencies will be “fully informed about how realistic it is” for them to apply for United Way funding.

Letters of intent

Following those sessions, agencies will be able to submit “letters of intent” to seek funding.

After a review of those letters by United Way volunteers, agencies “that seem to fit our vision” will be invited to submit a full program proposal, which is a fairly extensive process,” Welsh says.

Organizations seeking United Way funds will need to define “how they have in the past achieved program outcomes,” she says. “We have specific program outcomes they must address, as well as indicators they must track for those programs.”

She says United Way is not looking for agencies that want to create new programs.

“We want demonstrated success in a program that this organization has been delivering,” she says. “We’re trying to invest in the strongest results possible in the areas of financial stability, opportunities for young children and youth and adults to have successful lives, and in health programs.”

And if in reviewing funding requests it sees agencies that might be offering programs that overlap or duplicate efforts, Welsh says, United Way will look for opportunities to encourage those groups to work together.

“We do see ourselves as growing in our role of collaborator, convener, as someone who has a unique ability to see the big picture as a region,” she says.

As United Way works to develop closer relationships with individual donors in a generation that increasingly cares about the impact of its giving, Welsh says, United Way also will be using social media and other digital technology to keep donors informed about community needs and the impact of the programs their dollars support.

“We understand that loop needs to be closed,” Welsh says, “of helping individual donors understand the power of their contributions.”

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