Community impact is not only about improving the lives of people served by Heart of Illinois United Way funded programs; it’s about improving the lives of people affected by vital community issues—whether they directly receive services from United Way agencies or not. It’s also about changing community conditions so those issues affect fewer people.
As our United Way strives to deliver our mission to increase the organized capacity of the people of central Illinois to care for one another, program outcome measurement has become an invaluable tool to engage agencies and community stakeholders into efforts that will shape community change. Our United Way is focused on youth and families, self-reliance, and healthy lifestyles.
Outcomes are changes sought in the knowledge, attitudes, motivation, skills, behavior, or condition of a specific group. Community outcomes aren’t just visions or goals; they’re specific changes or benefits the involved organizations hold themselves accountable for influencing. So the appropriate question to ask is whether it’s reasonable to believe the desired outcome can be achieved.
There are many factors influencing pressing community issues such as economic conditions, historical trends, media messages, neighborhood conditions, private and public sector practices, education and health care systems, and public attitudes.
Selection of community outcomes involves narrowing the focus from a vision or goal to a more specific change or benefit, perhaps focusing on particular geographic areas or population groups within the community. The Heart of Illinois United Way has recently partnered with the Community Foundation of Central Illinois to commission Bradley University to conduct a community assessment to see what our community’s future initiatives should entail.
Once critical needs and issues are identified in the community, action plans are created and measurement tools are put into place. But the most important step is the last, and that’s linking our United Way agency’s program outcomes to community outcomes. Our efforts to achieve community change require more than just funding programs. All areas of United Way activity—including collaborative relationships, partnerships, resource development, and public policy—become part of a strategic effort to improve the community.
We use the terms “measurable results,” “outcomes,” and “community impact” when we communicate the human needs we’re filling through the Untied Way, but the bottom line of these efforts also includes increased accountability to donors and the community, as well as strengthened success in retaining, maintaining, and increasing their donations.
Through 101 locally funded United Way programs, more than 1,000 people receive United Way assistance every day. The strength of this community impact rests in the continued strength of the Heart of Illinois United Way to unite a network of businesses, labor organizations, government offices, and health and human service agencies to work together towards a community where children are reaching their full learning potential, where people are healthy and fed, where seniors remain independent, and where families can function successfully. IBI