United Way changing funding

Jackson County United Way is changing the way it distributes funds raised during its annual campaign to ensure the money makes the most impact in the community.

United Way leaders say the new process will result in more accountability for how donations are being spent and create stronger programs improving the health, education and financial stability of local residents.

The organizational changes will take place in three phases over the next five years and will make the funding more competitive instead of guaranteed.

Phase I shifts the funding cycle from 12 months to 15 months and takes the guess work out of the process, said Jackson County United Way director Tonja Couch.

Allocations now will be made after the annual fundraising campaign instead of before, she said. In the past, agencies would make their requests and then wait to see if enough money was collected, hoping funding wouldn’t have to be cut.

“It became more aware that the current process was flawed, created more rework and left both our partners and JCUW in a financial state of limbo,” Couch said. “This means within five years, JCUW will be funding partners’ work based on the actual campaign dollar amount raised.”

So, in March 2020, agencies will know what funding they will receive for January 2021 to March 2022, making it easier to plan ahead.

“We’ve made this decision to better support our partners and their work in the community,” said Dr. Nate Otte, JCUW board president. “The shift to the new timeline will be a benefit to all as it ensures funding and requires no rework through the fund distribution process.”

The second phase includes a new certification and review process for agencies to request funds for specific programming in the areas of education, health and financial stability.

All agencies receiving United Way funding must meet non-profit standards and once certified can then request funds for program grants, which are based on measurable outcomes.

The shift to program-based funding comes from the need to answer the question “How are my donor dollars making change?” Couch said.

“Donors want to know, more now than ever, specifics about what work is happening because of their funds and how community conditions have changed,” she said.

This new investment model is being piloted in 2017-18 as a more objective approach in funding, Couch added.

A new Community Partner Development Committee also has been created to work with agencies in order to share best practices and provide training opportunities.

“The work of this committee is to fully develop our partners, ensuring they are as strong as they want to be,” said Talmadge Reasoner, JCUW board vice president. “This coaching opportunity will provide partners more information on where the JCUW Board of Directors is focused and how to help their organization prosper.”

The third and final phase is a complete shift to program and impact funding in order to create measurable and lasting change in the county. It also will help reduce duplication of services and enhance service work to address community needs, Otte added.

Over the next five years, the allocations Jackson County United Way has historically funded to partnering agencies will be reduced by 20 percent each year, until no funding is guaranteed. That money instead will be invested in only those programs making a difference in the areas of education, health and financial stability based on measurable outcomes.

“One of the reasons for this shift was to develop a way for community partners to be invested more equitably, not just based on historic funding patterns,” Couch said.

That means those agencies that show a strong organizational capacity, community need, client identification, program excellence, program outcomes, collective impact and a financial plan, will be most successful in the new funding model.

In fact, it will be possible, through program and impact funding, for agencies to receive more money than they have in the past from Jackson County United Way.

“The question becomes are the services provided creating change around the most pressing and urgent community issues?” Otte said. “If current programming isn’t creating impact and lasting, measurable change with the funds invested, why are we spending the money there?”

Jim Shepard, president of The Arc of Jackson County, one of Jackson County United Way’s partnering agencies said he thinks the public will support the changes being made.

“I think the changes being made better ensure accountability, which is important in today’s climate,” he said. “People want to know where their money is being spent. I think this is a more tangible and objective way of tying the money to specific activities.”

Regarding the opportunity to gain more funds, Shepard said it provides an incentive for agencies to work harder and may result in new and better programs available for people.

“We think that it will allow us to plan more special or unique activities,” he said. The Arc is an organization that supports residents with disabilities.

“When you knew the money was going to be roughly the same each year it tied us to the same activities each year,” Shepard said. “When we wanted to do something special, finding the money has been a barrier. This will allow us to possibly plan for and acquire funding for some different activities.”

Couch said it will take time for partnering agencies and the community to adapt to the new funding framework, but it’s what donors want to see happen.

“As we listened and learned from the community, people shared they want to see more signs of progress with the development of strong partnerships and more collaboration,” she said.

It’s also not a surprise, as those involved with Jackson County United Way have been talking about making changes to how the organization spends money for nearly 15 years.

Over the last two years JCUW has communicated these changes with its partners to ensure the changes were well planned and partners were prepared.

“JCUW cannot change community conditions unless we change how we spend the funds,” Otte said. “We will continue to invest funds with community partners just in a new way. This is a great opportunity for partners to grow programming and gain new support.”

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.