Making a community impact

A challenge to every nonprofit is to communicate in clear terms its mission and then to demonstrate how that mission is relevant. The better job the organization does at this, the more likely it will be to attract volunteers and donors who will bring that mission to life. At United Way, we are introduced to the work of dozens of our community’s non-profit partners and see how their work impacts thousands of lives in Greater Nashua. Hearing their stories first hand about the difference that they are making is a unique kind of blessing which makes our work at United Way also feel worth the doing as well. Last month, in this space, you heard about the wrapping up of our community investment process, and this month as a follow-up I would like to shed some more light on the results, hopefully giving the reader an idea how to help us to make a difference.

When we began our community investment journey some 12 months ago, we actually started with a simple question which we ask ourselves every couple of years: What are the needs? This process of assessing the needs of a community at United Way is a deep dive into the health, education, and economic mobility of the 11 communities of Greater Nashua we serve. The result of this process, the "Community Needs Assessment" leads us to draw conclusions about what types of work we will be investing in. Seen as a "pie chart" we used this assessment to determine that we would be investing 25 percent of our resources in education, 30 percent in economic mobility, and 45 percent in health. Making this determination is, in and of itself, a tough process. On the one hand, you have statistics, such as the rate of childhood obesity, the number of people with access to affordable housing, the rates of graduation or children who can read at grade level, or the percentage of people living in isolation and developing depression. These are all things that can be quantified. On the other hand, it’s not as clear-cut identifying which are more important and deserve more funding, and ultimately, it’s only through a process of ranking, rating, and community discussion that finally you can decide how to proceed. The result is a roadmap which is ultimately much better than throwing money at a problem and simply hoping that something sticks.

The next step in our process was to take the United Way needs assessment out to our community and find partners to invest in who could help us to make a difference. After the dust settled and all of the proposals were heard, we ended up with 17 community partners running 29 different programs that will be utilizing United Way funding to help impact change. These included investments as diverse as a new mobile health clinic which will give access to healthcare across our entire region, a transitional housing shelter for women escaping abusive situations, nutrition and visitation services for homebound seniors, daytime caregiving for adults with dementia, and multiple investments in early childhood development. The interesting thing about this process was to hear how each of our non-profit partners articulated their own missions and vision of a better Greater Nashua.

They were each compelling in their stories, but only when woven together into a United Way tapestry do they become a picture of what can be a truly great community, because on their own, none of them sees the complete landscape. So when people ask me why they should invest their hard-earned resources in our community impact fund instead of investing directly with a specific non-profit, what comes to mind for me is all of the incredible work which will not be done by the others that aren’t the recipient of that donation. Ultimately, if your goal is to fight for the health, education, and economic mobility of every person, then we would say that by becoming a partner with your local United Way, you can do that in a way which leverages your investment of time and money across the entirety of our community.

So, how can you help? There are three different ways, and these fall into the categories of giving, advocating, and volunteering. If your desire is to give, then we would encourage you to consider partnering with United Way to run a workplace campaign. That’s a way for all of a company’s employees to donate, through payroll deductions of any mount, to the much larger pool of our community impact fund. Employees in a workplace campaign can also donate to specific nonprofits of their choosing, if so desired, or to designate their donations for one of the larger investment buckets. It’s easy to set up and run a workplace campaign and a great way for a company to engage its entire workforce in giving back to the community, but without picking a specific "cause" which might not appeal to many. If you want to advocate, there are many different things you can do.

You can use our community needs assessment when talking with elected representatives about how they make their decisions. Do they consider the community impacts of those decisions holistically, or are they listening only to narrowly defined constituencies? Our needs assessment can be a tool you can use to help them to think broadly about issues and to help de-politicize some of that thinking. We are non-partisan and our decisions are based on an objective assessment of the community… perhaps you would like your political representatives to think the same way? Finally, there is volunteering. If you are interested in one specific area, give us a call and we would be glad to introduce you to one of our partners doing work in that field. If you are a data wonk, then get involved with our need assessment process. If you want to help influence how work gets done, then volunteer in our investment process. If you like talking with people about how they can make a difference, then join us as a campaign volunteer. Those are just a few of the opportunities available for somebody looking to spend some hours doing good in our great community.

We are proud at United Way of our unique assessment-investment process and feel that it is a great approach to making lasting change, unlike any other approach out there. Please consider spending some time with us and getting involved … I promise you a rewarding and community-changing experience.

Mike Apfelberg is president of United Way of Greater Nashua.