United Way tries a new approach

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm

The United Way in Waukesha County is implementing a pilot program named Community Impact this year, a step in the direction that the United Way wants to move on a nation-wide basis.
Jayne Thoma, executive director of the Waukesha County branch of the agency, said Community Impact is different than some of the results-based measurement United Way does now.
The new program looks to measure results on entire communities, not just programs serving those communities.
"It looks to measure the success in changing community conditions at the community level, not just a program or an individual," Thoma said.
United Way in Waukesha County will still serve the organizations and segments of the population it has historically worked with, Thoma said. However, Community Impact also will focus on specific population segments, finding ways to impact the lives of those within it.
The agency decided to first focus on the welfare of children.
"The overwhelming answer from our donors and community leaders was that kids matter," Thoma said. "We have a core group of volunteers studying issues that kids face in this community – and we’ve found that parenting and positive role models (assist) children’s lives."
The new focus in the Community Impact program isn’t a huge departure from what the United Way in Waukesha County has been doing in recent years, Thoma said. The agency moved toward a results-based model to track the programs it donates money to in 1997.
"We have more than 80 programs we give to, and we are able to track how lives are impacted through United Way-funded programs," Thoma said. "What matters is tangible results."
She pointed to numbers from 2004, which indicated that 79 percent of homeless people in shelters funded with United Way in Waukesha County dollars were able to find permanent housing through the agency.
Having such numbers enables the United Way to show that programs it gives money to have positive results in the community, Thoma said.
Nationally and in Waukesha County, the United Way also is changing the way it raises money. Historically, United Way has been known for holding fall fund-raising drives that have been characterized by oversized thermometers showing how many dollars have been donated and whether a fundraising goal has been met.
United Way will take more of an ongoing fundraising approach, Thoma said.
"This fall, we didn’t set a community goal," she said. "We intend to say our ultimate successes are being able to demonstrate value and build a stronger community. We see in the future (fundraising) is more of a strategic effort. We won’t just focus on the annual campaign."
Instead, Thoma said the agency she leads will work to have more long-term revenue streams, because United Way views its work in the community as a long-term investment.
"We need to diversify our revenue base, and not just result on the annual campaign," Thoma said. "You’ll see us speaking more about long term investments to create long-term change. There will need to be a reflection from multi-year commitments to get the change we need."
January 21, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Andrew Weiland
Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, Weiland is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, and son, Zachary. He is an avid sports fan and enjoys coaching his son’s youth baseball and basketball teams.