Guest column: United Way explains ABC decision
NORTHAMPTON — In 2009, the United Way of Hampshire County (UWHC) began a shift to increase its ability to respond to community needs and advance its three core commitments: building economic security, promoting health and safety and nurturing the healthy development of children and youth in Hampshire County. This shift, which involved extensive community input, included a transition from yearly to three-year grants to agencies and a more open and competitive funding process.
The results have been widely embraced. The local United Way now has more focused investment, benefiting the greater community.
The roll-out of this model was intentionally staggered so that our efforts could focus upon one core program area at a time. With the transition of our economic security and health and safety program areas completed in 2011 and 2012, we were able to welcome new partnerships with additional agencies offering such services as literacy support for adults, outreach to homebound elders and language education for new immigrants.
For our children and youth program area, we conducted focus groups with professionals serving children and youth, including child welfare advocates, clinicians, professors of education, program evaluators and public school personnel from across the county.
These discussions identified areas of ongoing and emerging community need, as well as approaches through which UWHC investment could have the greatest impact and make lasting, positive change. We then produced a public survey seeking to further sharpen our priorities and investment approaches.
Based on this extensive input, we invited local organizations to submit proposals for how they might use United Way support to “nurture the healthy social, emotional and cognitive development of children and youth.” In particular, we prioritized approaches that would be preventative, address needs in early years and engage whole families, as these were the overwhelming priorities of our experts and the community.
The response was impressive: 23 organizations submitted proposals, making it our most competitive review to date.
Consistent with our commitment to a fair, open and competitive process, UWHC’s volunteer-driven review process determined those most aligned with the stated priorities. In addition, factors such as geographic balance, program participation levels and potential for broad community benefit were considered. From this pool, 12 organizations will submit full applications later this year. This selection will allow for expansion of UWHC support to children’s programming in Ware, Easthampton, and the Hilltowns, as well as new investment in countywide support for young children’s social and emotional development.
As reported in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Amherst Bulletin, the Amherst Committee for A Better Chance, along with 10 other organizations, did not move forward. This, however, was never intended to be the end of our collaboration with ABC. A long–time partner and a program of unquestionable value, ABC remains a partner agency through the 2013 fiscal year, and will indefinitely remain a choice for designated donor support. Significantly, donor designations to ABC already constitute the majority of its current UWHC funding award. What’s more, delegates from our United Way board and ABC leaders have been meeting to identify specific ways to continue to support the effectiveness and viability of the program, including ongoing capacity building assistance, event sponsorships and/or technical assistance to ABC in developing a plan for resource development.
As your local United Way, we are privileged to carry out our mission in a community that cares deeply about our common needs and common aspirations and stands behind this passion with a willingness to give, advocate and volunteer on behalf of a stronger community.
Amy Royal is Board of Directors chairwoman and James Ayres is executive director for the United Way of Hampshire County.