The buzzword this election season seems to be change. As the Heart of Illinois United Way recently wrapped up another successful fundraising campaign, it’s time for our organization to focus on strengthening our role as a driver and partner of change for our community.
The primary tool our United Way uses to drive community change is the allocation process. To provide stability and continuity, and to maximize the long-term impact we make on the community, the Heart of Illinois United Way utilizes a multi-year grant process that allows allocation volunteers the opportunity to spend more time evaluating and measuring community outcomes during a three-year funding cycle.
Multi-year grants are approved when the program’s goals and objectives align with the strategic goals of the Heart of Illinois United Way and when they address needs identified in our community assessment. Additionally, allocation volunteers review programs to assess whether or not they reach targeted demographics and to ensure the United Way is funding efficiently and effectively. Annual funding is awarded based on the availability of funds, outcome achievement and output projections. Funding recommendations are then presented to the board of directors for approval.
Performance measurement is an integral part of the allocation review process as it systematically evaluates whether or not a program is making an impact on the clients being served. The building blocks of performance measurement, which can be applied to non-profits and for-profits alike, include inputs (resources dedicated to the program such as money, staff, facilities, supplies, etc.), activities (what the program does with the inputs, such as providing shelter, feeding the homeless, etc.), outputs (direct products of the program activities, such as number of clients served) and lastly, outcomes (the benefits and changes clients obtained during or after participating in the program).
Outcomes are not just visions or goals; they are specific changes or benefits that include changes in knowledge, attitudes, values, skills, behaviors or conditions. Establishing community-wide outcomes involves focusing on many factors, such as economic conditions, historical trends, neighborhood conditions, private and public sector practices, and education and healthcare systems.
For our partner agencies to achieve these outcomes, it must be a part of an ongoing system of progression that requires data collection at multiple intervals, including short-term outcomes that change the client experience within a month of his/her involvement in the program, intermediate outcomes that will change the client’s experience within a year of being involved in the program and long-term outcomes that create a lasting, sustainable impact on the client’s quality of life.
The United Way’s efforts to achieve community change require more than just funding programs. Building collaborations, developing resources and supporting public policy are also part of our overall strategic efforts. We place high importance on evaluation as it is an opportunity to receive, and then share with our contributors, outcomes that help the community assess the extent of change our local health and social service programs provide. IBI