Community Impact: Re-inventing the United Way

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Greenville, S.C. Carolina United Way realized it had a problem in 2002.

Over the previous 10 years, the organization had allocated more than $90 million with donations up more than 60 percent. Despite this, all the same problems continued to plague the community -illiteracy, high dropout rates, the lack of marketable employment skills.

While this certainly concerned officials, they were seeing other, more ominous, indicators that things were headed in the wrong direction.

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While &uot;leadership giving&uot; to United Way was up, the Greenville organization had lost some 7,000 workplace givers over the period. Further, corporations were looking elsewhere to make charitable donations.

According to Dr. Susan Shi, an official with the Greenville United Way, nationally, the organization’s share of corporate giving has gone from 13 to 7 percent, a 50 percent loss.

&uot;One CEO told me ‘United Way does good work, but it is just not relevant to our charitable priorities,&uot; Shi said.

On Tuesday, Shi and Ted Hendry, also of the Greenville United Way, told a local United Way gathering how they were able to reposition their organization and generally breathe new life into it, as well as their community.

The event, held at the Suffolk Conference Center, was one of the first steps by the United Way of Southampton Roads in formulating its own strategic plan.

According to Angela Scott, vice president for resource development, the United Way here faces many of the same obstacles and challenges as those faced in Greenville-the Suffolk campaign has fallen short of goal two years in a row. Local corporate and business people as well as United Way agency representatives were invited to the event to hear how one community addressed its problems.

&uot;From my perspective, today is a beginning because we’re looking outside ourselves,&uot; Scott said. &uot;These agencies have raised millions of dollars, yet the social indicators aren’t moving. We’re trying to see what we need to do to get them moving.&uot;

She noted that prior to 2002, she was not a &uot;United Way insider,&uot; her only association with it being from an agency standpoint.

&uot;From an agency perspective, I was disappointed in our United Way,&uot; she said. &uot;It had money, it had influence, it had the right people involved, but United Way wasn’t really leading us anywhere.&uot;

Shi was asked to join in 2002 and head up the committee charged with creating a &uot;community impact agenda.&uot;

She said the group adopted a mission, &uot;to be the most vital, caring community in America.&uot;

Up until then, the Greenville United Way, like many others, did little other than raise and allocate money and they wanted that to change.

&uot;Community impact means leading the way, not just funding programs,&uot; she said. It doesn’t mean just funding basic services as we’ve done in the past, but creating positive change around the issues that impact the community most.&uot;

&uot;We wanted to move from being a community chest to being a community treasure.&uot;

Through focus group research and actively involving all United Way &uot;stakeholders,&uot; major donors, agencies, etc., Greenville United Way identified five areas of focus:

-Nurturing young children

-Helping youth succeed

-Strengthening families and neighborhoods

-Building a healthy community

-And caring for neighbors in crisis.

Community task forces were appointed for each of the above &uot;community impact agenda&uot; items. Planning was redesigned, the funding process was aligned with the agenda and resources were shifted to the agenda.

Shi said that meant the United Way in Greenville was going to begin putting their money into programs that attained measurable results.

&uot;We’re shaping a system of caring that is more responsive and it’s focused on the issues our community said mattered the most.,&uot; she said. &uot;In Greenville, we’re creating a new reality.&uot;

Dr. Milton Liverman, Suffolk superintendent of schools and a member of Suffolk United Way’s Community Funding Panel, was enthusiastic about Shi’s presentation and noted that the Suffolk United Way is already working toward Greenville’s measurable results-oriented funding.

&uot;This is really not a new concept for us,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ve been trying to do this since I’ve been a part of the community funding panel. We haven’t gone to the extent of formalizing this, but we are looking at outcomes.&uot;