Community impact is not only about improving the lives of people served by Heart of Illinois United Way funded programs but also about improving the lives of people affected by vital community issues. It is about changing community conditions so those issues affect fewer people.
Our United Way places a high importance on evaluation, particularly in regards to the grant proposals we receive from partner agencies. Evaluation is an opportunity to receive, and then share with our contributors, outcome data that helps the community assess the extent of change our local health and social service programs provide. The Heart of Illinois United Way uses two sets of criteria for evaluating grant requests.
In the first set of criteria, programs must be able to show they are well-managed, have diverse funding sources, seek out opportunities for collaboration and provide successful client-based outcomes. In the second set of criteria, programs are evaluated on whether or not they serve at-risk populations, are focused on prevention, provide scholarships and sliding-fee scales and lastly, if the agency effectively utilizes volunteers in their programs.
As our United Way continues to phase in three-year outcome funding, program outcome measurement has become an invaluable tool to engage agencies and community stakeholders into efforts that will shape community change. By moving to a multi-year grant process, the United Way is able to monitor and assist partner agencies in achieving improved results while allocation volunteers closely review agency program performance and outcomes. Community outcomes are not just visions or goals, but specific changes or benefits that the involved organizations hold themselves accountable for influencing. They are changes sought in the knowledge, attitudes, motivation, skills, behavior or condition of a specific group.
Selection of community outcomes involves focusing on many factors such as economic conditions, historical trends, media messages, neighborhood conditions, private and public sector practices, education and healthcare systems and of course, public attitudes. The United Way’s effort to achieve community change requires more than just funding programs. Building collaborations, resource development and public policy are also part of our overall strategic efforts. We use the terms measurable results, outcomes and community impact when we communicate the human needs we fill through the United Way. 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.
From the initial assessment of community needs to connecting those needs to agency programs, effective evaluation becomes an ongoing occurrence. It demonstrates how United Way funded programs are impacting the community, and ultimately, providing results to our contributors so that they know they have made the best investment with their charitable dollars. IBI