Nonprofit organizations must constantly evaluate their fundraising efforts by answering three critical questions: why is a gift to our organization the best investment of a donor’s charitable dollar, how and why is the community benefiting from our efforts and ultimately, are we fixing the right things? Measuring the impact we are making on the community is an ongoing process and assessment tool that we utilize year-round to engage local health and social service agencies and our stakeholders into shaping community change.
In 2006, the Heart of Illinois United Way began phasing in a multi-year funding process as an effective means to provide greater long-term impact in the community. With the new process, allocation volunteers spend more time evaluating and measuring outcomes as agency programs are monitored from year to year during a threeyear funding cycle.
Community-wide outcomes are not just visions or goals; they are specific changes or benefits that are sought in knowledge, attitudes, motivation, skills, behavior or conditions. There are many factors influencing how these outcomes are established, including economic conditions, historical trends, media messages, neighborhood conditions, private and public sector practices, education and healthcare systems and public attitudes.
From the initial assessment of community needs to connecting those needs to agency programs and providing results to our contributors, utilizing a multi-year grant process is essential. With this process, the United Way can provide stability and continuity to our agencies, effectively demonstrate how programs are being managed, maximize community impact and better address community needs.
The Heart of Illinois United Way uses two sets of criteria for evaluating grant requests. In the first set of criteria, programs must be well-managed, have diverse funding sources, seek out opportunities for collaboration and provide successful client-based outcomes. The second set of criteria considers whether or not the program serves at-risk populations, if the program is focused on prevention, if the agency is fiscally sound, if the scholarships and sliding-fee scales are available and lastly, if the agency effectively utilizes volunteers in their programs.
As we continue to phase in three-year outcome funding, program outcome measurement has become integral in benchmarking how United Way is creating lasting changes in issues affecting our youth and families. By moving to a multi-year grant process, the United Way is able to monitor and assist partner agencies in achieving, measuring and reporting improved results while allocation volunteers can closely review agency program performance and outcomes.
Grant evaluation, outcomes and results are not just about improving the lives of people served by Heart of Illinois United Way funded programs, it is also about improving vital community issues and changing community conditions for the future so that we can answer: yes, we are fixing the right things. IBI