The New United Way Investment Focus

by | Apr 13, 2022 | Capacity Building, Community Research | 0 comments

Open. Competitive. Inclusive. This is the new United Way investment focus. 

Beginning in 2017, United Way’s historical allocations process underwent an innovative process to move from transactional to transformational investments. Working alongside historically funded partners and community advocates, United Way embarked on a design journey to reimagine resource investment. We worked closely with historically funded partners to ensure a gradual change that maintained the trust established throughout the years, while also preparing to build new bridges of trust with future partnering organizations! 

This change hoped to move United Way from incremental impact to community transformation; from static allocations to increased flexibility for partners; from general support to empowering innovation and risk-taking; from investing in programs to investing in performance and shared learning; from writing the check to empowering partner agencies beyond the dollar; and from siloed efforts to encouraging greater cross-sector collaboration.  

And now, after 5 years of transition, United Way successfully launched the open, competitive, and inclusive grant application process to all 501(c)3 organizations in our 6-county footprint! 

At the core of this new process are the values adopted and learned through the Trust Based Philanthropy Project values, which center sharing power, mutual accountability for grantors and grantees, and building bridges of trust: 

“As grantmakers, we have a responsibility to confront the ways our sector has contributed to systemic inequities, both in the ways wealth is accumulated and in the ways its dissemination is controlled. This history is entrenched in racism, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression, which are at the root of every social issue nonprofits seek to address. As funders, we must recognize how these norms have shaped, informed, and influenced our entire sector—including who is deemed trustworthy, and who is not.” – Trust Based Philanthropy Project 

After reimagining the applications and Steps to Success measurement framework to increase accessibility, countless office hours meetings for new and returning applicants to help answer questions and calm any uncertainties, and recruiting 66 locally representative volunteer reviewers, we are excited to share the current status of applicant requests! 

  • 140 applications from 106 different organizations at over $12.2 million. $10.9 million was for 81 Impact requests. $1.3 million was for 59 Catalyst requests. 
  • 86 applications came from Hamilton County alone, and 55 serve in one or more of the surrounding 5 counties: Catoosa, Dade, Marion, Sequatchie, and/or Walker County. 

Following the application period, all submissions move to a completely volunteer-driven review process. For years, United Way has relied on community volunteers to lead and drive decisions about the strategic investment of resources in the community. Using the values from Trust-Based Philanthropy and participatory grantmaking, Community Volunteers representing the scope of our 6-county region judge, score, and recommend how much money is invested in the organizations and programs we fund. Donors entrust United Way’s volunteer review process to make the best use of their money. United Way staff guide, facilitate, share data and community need, and help frame the process based on best practices, but funding decisions are ultimately directed by community volunteers representing the community itself.  

Although we are immensely grateful for over $12 million in requests, we recognize the challenge and meaning behind so many requests: our local nonprofits NEED greater resource investment. That is why United Way is asking YOU to find at least one way to help MAXIMIZE the investments already being made, as well as those with the potential to grow! Whether engagement looks like: 

  • Volunteering your time and talent through our engagement groups or on ihelpchattanooga  
  • Advocating for your neighbors by connecting them to 211  
  • Connecting your favorite nonprofit with Venture Forward to help invest in nonprofit capacity 
  • Multiplying the impact of your dollar by giving to United Way for future grant cycles to be able to fund MORE organizations doing great work in our community  

Any way you can engage with United Way ensures a united Chattanooga!