United Way of Southwestern Indiana is in the middle of an exciting journey! That journey includes a shift from Partner Agency allocations to grant style, merit-based funding though Requests for Proposals (RFP’s). This is not to say Partner Agencies aren’t doing good work. As matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite! United Way of Southwestern Indiana’s Legacy Partner Agencies are providing a valuable and needed service to the community. That said, the community has spoken to United Way through their voices and resources, asking us to change our model from an organization that spreads funding across the community to an organization focused on solving a critical issue that plagues our community. In Southwestern Indiana, that issue happens to be poverty.
As part of this shift in focus, United Way is now able to channel funding through its Pathways to Potential. These pathways are uniquely designed to address poverty in our community. This focused approach also allows United Way to provide larger amounts of funding to fewer programs, giving them a greater chance of success.
This brings us to the development and evaluation of the RFP’s. I’m a member of the Community Impact Cabinet, a group of community volunteers from many different industries with different experiences. While we are tasked with governance of the grant awards and provide guidance to the United Way Board, in many cases we are not the experts in poverty. This is why we developed a best in industry practice of using an expert task force to both develop RFP’s and evaluate the agency proposals. Utilizing an expert task force enables the Cabinet to make informed funding recommendations to the United Way Board. For instance, when we released the Mental Health grant opportunity, we recruited community volunteers who worked in the mental health industry. Mental health professionals thoroughly reviewed the effectiveness of the agency programs, rating highly those that are viable, reasonable from a cost aspect, and -most importantly- address poverty in our community.
While we believe we have developed an industry best practice, we continue to listen to our donors, agencies, and the community in order to adjust our process so we can evolve as our community evolves.