After six exciting but grueling months of events, meetings, phone calls, and presentations, the UWAC 2016-2017 campaign finally closed January 31, 2017. But our office wasn’t the only one hustling during the last months of 2016 – twenty-four area nonprofits were working to submit grant applications in the hopes of securing United Way funding for their programs. All of that effort finally concluded this past week in the last step of our ‘Community Impact’ process: agency panel reviews.
Fund distribution has always been decided by objective third parties, our community volunteers, However, Executive Director Naomi Asher introduced a modified grant cycle and funding process in 2015 that asks more of both our volunteers and prospective agencies. These changes ensure that community dollars are going where they are needed most and where they will be most effective, enabling each agency to create lasting change in the community.
In 2016, we continued the three-year funding process begun the previous year by accepting the second round of three-year grant applications for Self-Sufficiency programs. Programs categorized as Youth Development or Senior & Health Services were still eligible to apply but completed a one-year grant application. This grant cycle allows United Way to fund programs for multiple years at a time, decreasing the number of applications that volunteers review each year while encouraging agencies to develop programs that have strong management, effective outcomes, and competent staff and volunteers.
Panel Reviews, the final step in the grant application process, are one of the most exciting pieces for United Way, because they a true intersection of our community, our agencies, and our office. The thirty two community volunteers first attended a mandatory training led by John Garrity, VP of Fund Distribution, who emphasized the importance of the work they were all doing. “We’re making a difference and we’re making it matter,” he said.
Then, from February 7-14, the volunteers were divided into groups led by a Panel Chair and devoted a full day to visiting and interviewing the agencies requesting funding. These visits allow the volunteers to delve deeper into each application and agency, asking questions and meeting the staff and volunteers that are central to each organization. Agencies are able to offer tours, answer questions, and share stories of their clients’ success.
After these visits, the panelists sit down and unanimously decide how much to allocate to each program. These conversations can sometimes become quite heated, simply because the agencies all make an impact on the volunteers and there isn’t enough money to fully fund every program. This year, for example, we received funding requests that totaled $988,200; the allocation budget is up by $50,000 from last year, but still only $750,000.
Once the panelists make their final recommendations, the allocation amounts will be presented for approval to the United Way Board of Directors. Agencies will be notified of their allocations in March, and the final numbers will be presented at the Annual Meeting on April 20, 2017.
The whole process, which starts in October and doesn’t end until March of the following year, is long, involved, and time-consuming for our agencies, our volunteers, and our staff. It is nevertheless essential to ensure that the money the community entrusted to United Way is being allocated responsibly and fairly to the agencies and programs that will make the most impact in Anderson County. One of our panelists, Eric, shared his thoughts with us after the reviews were over. He said, “This experience confirmed all the good things I already thought about United Way and gave me new insight to not just the great work being done in the community, but also the great work United Way of Anderson County does to take good care of our dollars and ensure they’re funding only the most effective, accountable programs.”
So many individuals and agencies have contributed to the success of this process over the last two years, but we would especially like to thank this year’s incredible volunteers for donating their time and expertise to benefit their community.
John Garrity – VP of Fund Distribution