Forsyth United Way focuses on collaboration

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In 2007, when the high school graduation rate in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools was only 70 percent, a community-wide collaborative effort was launched to increase it to 90 percent by 2018. In the school year that ended June 30, the graduation rate had grown to 83.5 percent.

And in 2006, a separate community-wide collaborative effort was formed to reduce chronic homelessness. Last year, chronic homelessness had been reduced by 58 percent.

A key leader in both efforts has been United Way of Forsyth County, which increasingly is looking for collaborative solutions to address urgent and often intertwined problems involving health, education and financial stability.

“Those three things are interconnected in people’s lives,” says Cindy Gordineer, United Way president and CEO. “For us to try to address them in isolation doesn’t really get to the level of the kinds of breaking down of those barriers that people in challenged circumstances need.”

As it begins its annual fall fundraising campaign, Gordineer says, United Way’s overall strategy is to “become more focused and targeted with investments we’re making to get deeper and look more comprehensively at those within the community who face the kinds of barriers our donors are expecting us to address.”

Chaired by Cantey Alexander, regional president for BB&T, the campaign is part of a larger year-round fundraising effort that also includes grants and major gifts and aims this year to generate about $20 million, roughly the total it raised last year.

A key focus of this year’s campaign will be to reach new contributors, including retirees and people who do not work in large, traditional workplaces such entrepreneurs, small business owners and people who work remotely.

The campaign, which last year received contributions from over 30,000 donors, also will be targeting “leadership” donors who give $1,000 or more, and “Tocqueville” donors who give $10,000 or more.

Last year, the campaign generated support from 261 Tocqueville donors.

For the second straight year, BB&T has pledged $100,000 to match gifts by women who give at least $500 and agree to increase their annual gift to $1,000 over five years.

That Women’s Leadership Circle matching program, launched six years ago and previously supported by Reynolds American, last year had 1,150 members.

United Way also has four individual “Cornerstone” donors who each gives at least $100,000 a year.

And over the last three to five years, grants and major gifts outside the annual campaign from individuals and institutions have accounted for 15 percent to 20 percent of the total resources that United Way raises throughout the year. Those gifts include a 10-year, $2 million pledge in 2013 from Andy Brown, former chair of United Way’s board and owner of COR365, a data-storage company.

“We know there are other individuals like Andy, and corporations, that want to invest more deeply in some outcomes they’d like to see that align with United Way’s mission,” Gordineer says. “We’ve been able to demonstrate progress and outcomes, and measure them in a way that individual donors and corporations and foundations want to see.”

An emerging effort in United Way’s larger strategy involves early discussions with neighborhoods that face “more barriers to success” and “need more partnerships to help remove those barriers,” Gordineer says.

“We are looking at how we work with neighborhoods, potential partners and other community organizations to pilot more comprehensive solutions in those neighborhoods or areas that really do face more obstacles,” she says.

The first pilots, likely to involve a “continuum of services” that are “place-based,”  could begin in 2015.

They will be part of United Way’s larger and ongoing community-wide strategy to address critical needs, Gordineer says.

“We are able to look at those community-level issues that face our community,” she says, “and bring resources and partners and strategies, and align all of those to address the kinds of issues that no one agency can address.”

Forsyth United Way focuses on return on investment

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Since 2008, when United Way of Forsyth County launched a program at Parkland Magnet High School designed to help more students graduate, the graduation rate at the low-income school has grown to 74.3 percent from 65.8 percent, and the graduation rate for all county high schools has grown to 80.9 percent from 70.1 percent.

The effort at Parkland, along with similar initiatives at Carver High School and North Forsyth High School that also have helped boost graduation rates at those schools, reflects a larger shift in focus at United Way.

Long known for the effectiveness of its annual effort to raise money for its partner agencies that provide health and human services, United Way has retooled itself as an organization that invests the dollars it raises in strategies that it believes, based on evidence,  will fix some of the communities’ most urgent needs in the areas of financial stability, health and education.

To boost the annual campaign, which this year aims to raise just over $17.3 million, or roughly the total it raised each of the last two years, United Way is counting on engaging donors in the programs it supports and helping them understand the difference their dollars make.

“Our focus is on getting donors out to see these programs and what their dollars are doing and the value that United Way adds,” says Mamie Sutphin, vice president for resource development at United Way.

Chaired by Leslie Hayes, regional president of the Triad West Region for Wells Fargo, the campaign is counting on donors who give $1,000 or more, a group that last year contributed $8.3 million, or roughly half the total raised.

As part of that effort, BB&T this year agreed to give $100,000 a year for five years to match gifts by women who agreed to join United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council by pledging to make an initial gift of $500 and increase that gift annually until it reaches $1,000, with BB&T making up the difference between the annual gift and $1,000.

In addition to the initiative to boost the graduation rate, United Way works with partner agencies to address other education needs.

It teams with Catholic Social Services on a program designed to provide the support that teenage mothers need to stay in school, for example, and it works with the YWCA of Winston-Salem, YMCA of Northwest North Carolina and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Salvation Army on after-school programs based at schools.

In the area of financial stability, United Way has helped establish two “prosperity” centers that serve as one-stop financial shops for lower-income individuals and families.

Led by Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina, the centers offer job training, job searches, credit and budget counseling, and financial literacy training.

Since the first center was launched on Winston-Salem’s south side in mid-2008, it has helped roughly 620 people find jobs, and helped over 860 individuals and families reduce their personal debt, including 565 who now are paying their bills on time, says John Conrad, communications director  at United Way.

And in the fiscal year ended June 30, United Way partnered with four local consumer credit counseling services that prevented nearly 600 foreclosures, reflecting a 96 percent success rate in preventing foreclosures.

In the area of health, United Way partners with the Community Care Clinic, which last year provided over 21,000 patient visits for medical and dental care, a huge need in a county in which 61,000 people do not have health insurance.

Med-Aid, another program of the Community Care Clinic that opened in 2008, has helped low-income people get free prescription medications valued at over $15 million from pharmaceutical companies.

Volunteer leaders at United Way set a flat goal for this year’s campaign despite caution signs from corporate leaders that even raising the same amount as last year could be tough in the current unsettled economy, Sutphin says.

But United Way volunteer leaders “say investment in our community is so invaluable,” she says, “that we have to continue our support at that level.”

Partnerships fight dropout rate

By Todd Cohen

Every 26 seconds, a child in the U.S. drops out of high school.

Marvin, a Forsyth County student, is not one of them, although he could have been.

In the 2009-10 school year, he was struggling through his second year of ninth grade at Glenn High School.

That year, through “Graduate. It Pays.”, a collaborative program that aims to improve the graduation rate for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, two corporate executives teamed up to provide Marvin with mentoring, guidance and support.

In addition to taking turns meeting with him at school for an hour a week, First Tennessee executive Duane Davis and former Wachovia executive Walter McDowell talked regularly with Marvin’s mother, teacher, principal and assistant principal to better track his progress and any problems he might be facing.

This year, Marvin was on track to receive a diploma along with fellow students who were in his original ninth-grade class.

“He most likely would have dropped out,” says Amy R. Mack, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Services, a partner agency in the dropout-prevention program. “But he’s on track to graduate.”

“Graduate. It Pays.” is one of several collaborative programs that are part of a larger effort known as the Community Education Collaborative that aims to increase the graduation rate in local schools to 90 percent in 2018 from 70.7 percent in 2007.

Among others, partners in the Community Education Collaborative the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, United Way of Forsyth County, Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, Winston-Salem Foundation, and Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

“Graduate. It pays.”, which pairs repeat and struggling ninth-graders with one-on-one mentors, is an umbrella effort that includes three programs.

Those include one-on-one mentoring for struggling or repeat, ninth-graders; graduation coaching for 10th and11th graders through Communities in Schools; and senior-academy mentoring for 12th graders coordinated by the Chamber.

Winston-Salem is one of a handful of communities in which local affiliates of United Way and Big Brothers Big Sisters have teamed up to focus on dropout prevention and high school graduation programming.

One of those efforts is Graduating Our Futures, which provides year-long, one-to-one mentoring for students in middle schools with high dropout rates.

Other partners in that effort are Family Services, YMCA of Northwest North Carolina and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.

“We know that a community working together is much more effective than working in silos,” Mack says. “Together, our networks can galvanize more of our local citizens to give, advocate and volunteer to make sure every child has a caring adult supporting his or her educational success in addition to other services the child may need to be successful in school.”

And to track the impact and effectiveness of the partnerships and other student-mentoring programs, United Way, Forsyth Futures and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools are coordinating a project, funded by United Way and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, in which Big Brothers Big Sisters and four other agencies will share and have access to data on the services students are receiving, and on their academic performance.

“Through this project, we will be able to easily link a child’s academic data to the services they are receiving,” Mack says, “and, more importantly, we can use that data to inform mentors and other service providers about where a student is struggling, and help identify additional resources necessary for the child to be successful in school.”

The various collaborations seem to be paying off: At the end of the 2010-11 school year, the graduation rate had grown to nearly 79 percent.

And at Parkland High School, where the graduation rate was 65.8 percent in 2007, it had grown to 74.1 percent by the end of the last school year.

“The ability to have an adult in their life to help them sort through the challenges, to help them find opportunities, to believe in them, and to just care about them, helps them continue to move in the right direction,” says Cindy Gordineer, president and CEO of United Way of Forsyth County.