Charlotte United Way investing in collaboration for impact

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One year ago, United Way of Central Carolinas began working with 16 of its partner agencies to provide better data to track their impact on the academic performance of at-risk kids they serve.

This month, in partnership with the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, Foundation for the Carolinas and roughly 40 other nonprofits, United Way began spearheading a new effort to improve service to the homeless by improving the way agencies collect information from them and identify their needs for services when they first seek assistance.

Both efforts, each supported with $200,000 from the Wells Fargo Foundation, are part of United Way’s larger “Collective Impact” strategy of collaborating with a broad range of community partners to improve the delivery of health and human services.

And as it kicks off its annual fundraising campaign, United Way is working to help its supporters better understand its work, and the role and impact in the community of the 83 United Way partner agencies that their dollars support.

United Way is “the easiest, most efficient and best way to give because all the agencies work together,” says Jane McIntyre, executive director of United Way.

Chaired by Ed O’Keefe, legal chief operating officer and deputy general counsel for technology at Bank of America, the campaign likely will set a goal slightly above the $21.2 million it raised last year, the second straight year it exceeded its goal, McIntyre says.

The campaign kicks off today at the Chiquita Classic at River Run Country Club in Davidson, with net proceeds from Chiquita’s sponsorship going to United Way as lead beneficiary of the tournament.

With demand for services from United Way agencies rising in the face of continuing high unemployment and cuts in government funding, McIntyre says, collaboration among those agencies is critical to making sure those services are delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible.

For the initiative it launched a year ago to better serve at-risk children, United Way now has provided each of the 16 agencies in the project with aggregate data on how the children they serve were performing, before the agencies began serving them, on measures such as their grades, attendance and in-school and out-of-school suspensions.

In 18 months, the agencies will get a new report that will let them track the students’ progress in each of those measures.

For the new homeless initiative, United Way and its partners in the project are developing a “coordinated intake” system the agencies will use, when homeless people first approach them for assistance, to help match them with the services they need.

“It will change the ability to move someone who is homeless more quickly into the appropriate service model,” McIntyre says

That new system, scheduled to take effect in August 2014, will replace a fragmented system, with homeless clients “bounced” from agency to agency, based on a variety of factors, such as whether they are male or female, have children, are involved with physical or substance abuse, or are employed or not, McIntyre says.

“When you give to United Way,” she says, “we’re able to help all the different agencies that work together to help an individual work toward a stable life.”

Charlotte United Way investing in impact

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — To meet rising demand fueled in part by the damaged economy, United Family Services in December will open a new 80-bed Shelter for Battered Women, replacing its 29-bed shelter.

To help pay for the new facility, the United Way partner agency eliminated a program that had provided economic-independence counseling, with its former clients now served by Community Link, another United Way agency.

As part of a larger allocation from United Way of Central Carolinas to help cover costs at its shelter, United Family Services received $49,809, up 50 percent from the total United Way gave it last year for shelter programs.

But the agency, which received a total of nearly $1.3 million, did not get another $25,000 it had requested from United Way, which continues to see funding requests outstripping contributions in what has emerged as a year-long fundraising campaign.

Now, as it begins that campaign, United Way is focusing on connecting with donors, and connecting them with its partner agencies so donors can better understand the community needs those agencies address and the impact they have in the five counties United Way serves.

The goal of building a culture of philanthropy has become an ongoing process at United Way, says Jane McIntyre, its executive director.

“It’s connecting with the donor, and connecting the donor with the need,” she says.

Chaired by Jennifer Weber, executive vice president and chief human resources officer at Duke Energy, the campaign aims to raise $21.2 million, up from the $20.9 million raised last year for its general Community Care Fund.

Last year’s campaign, which exceeded its goal by $400,000 and the previous year’s total by $700,000, marked the first campaign since the economy crashed four years ago that grew in both dollars and in the number of donors.

Still, while United Way has allocated $16.5 million to its 87 partner agencies for the fiscal year that began July 1, that total remains flat compared to the fiscal year that just ended and includes $1.2 million from United Way’s reserve fund.

To stimulate more community support, McIntyre says, United Way is counting on a new funding strategy that targets donors’ dollars to agencies such as United Family Services and Community Link that can show they are operating efficiently and making a measurable impact on addressing urgent community needs that United Way and its volunteers leaders have identified as priorities.

One way of measuring the success of that strategy, McIntyre says will be gradual growth in annual contributions to United Way, which posted its best fundraising effort in 2007.

In the new fiscal year, 44 of United Way’s partner agencies will see funding increases totaling $441,527, marking the first time in four years that so many agencies have received more funding than the previous year.

Those increases resulted partly from the fact that some agencies closed and others did not seek funding for programs that did not address priority needs identified in an assessment completed last year by the Urban Institute at UNC-Charlotte.

Bill Norton, vice president of marketing at United Way, says collaboration is key to that strategy.

“These agencies are more effective when they collaborate with one another,” he says. “No one agency can serve all this community’s needs.”

In addition to engaging donors, McIntyre says, United Way has stepped up efforts to better understand what they care about, and to thank them, personally and continually.

This summer, for example, United Way decided to discontinue a bimonthly e-newsletter because it found that over 99 percent of its 60,000 subscribers, mainly donors, were not reading it.

In its place, United Way distributed by email a 90-second video thanking donors for their donations, a video that 10 percent of subscribers viewed.

“The most important thing in giving,” McIntyre says, “you cannot say ‘thank you’ enough.”

United Way aims to spur ‘collective impact’

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Children with economic disadvantages graduate from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at a much lower rate than other children.

With children overall spending only 20 percent of their time in school, United Way of Central Carolinas sees the time that at-risk, low-performing children spend outside the classroom as a great opportunity to work with them in ways designed to increase the chances they will graduate.

As part of a larger “collective impact” strategy it has undertaken to bring together community partners to address urgent health-and-human-service needs, United Way is teaming with 15 of its partner agencies to help at-risk kids perform better in school.

Central to that effort, which is supported by a $200,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation, will be a system to share data on the children’s academic performance, using those metrics to better understand the role the 15 agencies’ programs play in the children’s progress.

“We need a collective data system to show we’re having impact,” says Dennis Marstall, vice president of community investment and impact at United Way. “And then we need a collective reporting system to demonstrate how we’re having the impact.”

Those 15 agencies serve nearly 32,000 children in Mecklenburg County, with 84 percent of them living in households with annual income below $25,000.

United Way also is partnering on the data-sharing project with the Institute for Social Capital, an arm of the Urban Institute at UNC-Charlotte, which will work with the agencies and United Way do a better job collecting and analyzing data from the school system and other government agencies on students served by the 15 partner agencies.

Another partner, the Larry King Center at the Council for Children’s Rights, is helping to coordinate the work of the participating agencies and help them develop metrics to help predict whether students will drop out.

The project also will track student performance against “benchmark” goals.

A goal for pre-school children, for example, is to be ready to enter kindergarten, while a goal for students is to read at grade level by third, fifth and eighth grade.

The idea is to create a “pipeline” of progress from birth to age 18, and “create early success that builds on success,” says Jerri Haigler, vice president of education, engagement and communications at United Way.

In the past, she says, the 15 participating United Way agencies have lacked access to comprehensive data and analysis needed to help show the full impact of their programs on the school performance of the children they serve.

The date-sharing project will change that, says Jane McIntyre, executive director at United Way.

“All the programs do good work, but we don’t know how good and they don’t know how good unless they can really measure the results they’re getting with children,” she says.

By giving all partners access to all the data, she says, individual agencies can see what is working and what can be improved so they can begin to make changes.

Volunteers also will be key to the initiative, Haigler says.

United Way has launched a drive to recruit, place and train 1,000 mentors, tutors and readers to work with children at the 15 partner agencies.

While it will begin in Mecklenburg County, tracking results over 10 years, United Way plans to expand the data-sharing project throughout the five-county region it serves.

United Way also plans to launch collaboratie initiatives to address the issues of housing and homelessness, and health care, the two other priority needs that are the focus of its new overarching strategy of raising awareness and making a bigger impact on the region’s priority needs.

By sharpening its focus and trying to have a greater impact, McIntyre says, United Way can “make a greater difference with the dollars” it raises in the community.