Community Impact is defined as
“Improving lives by mobilizing communities to create lasting changes in community conditions.”
For most of its history, the United Way worked to improve lives by mobilizing the financial resources of businesses, individuals and foundations in support of direct service programs — the foundation of our work, now and into the future. However, despite the money raised and all of the services provided, many problems in our community continue and some have even grown worse.
In order to create positive change in the human condition at the community level, many United Ways are marking significant changes in our approach. Simply moving dollars around between programs — even with the best needs assessment, the best outcomes process and the best agencies is not enough to create the kind of significant, sustained change in conditions that our community and the people in it want to see.
How is this different?
To address these larger, systemic issues, the United Way needs to deal with the conditions that created them in the first place. Doing so calls for a change in how the United Way does its work. We need to focus collective action on establishing goals, identifying strategies and measurements, and mobilizing the resources — people and financial — to find and deliver solutions to the problems hindering our community. This is more difficult and qualitatively different than our work before. For example, it’s the difference between providing quality shelter for 100 homeless people and reducing the rate of homelessness by more than half of five years.
How is this accomplished?
In 2005, United Way Worldwide updated its Standards of Excellence to reflect the organization’s strategic shift from its traditional role as a fundraiser to a new mission focused on identifying and addressing the long-term needs of communities. In 2008, United Way Worldwide introduced the bold goals for the common good focused on education, income and health, and LIVE UNITED, a new call to action for everyone to become a part of the change.
Obviously, we can’t do this alone — it requires significant resources spent in a purposeful way over a long period of time on specific and tested strategies. It requires collaboration that leads to agreement on community priorities, agreement on how the problems will be solved and ultimately alignment of community resources around these problems and strategies. Over the next several years, we will be doing our best to unite and focus the community in order to make lasting changes on these issues. We will use best practices, data and research to evaluate our progress.