Guest Column: How are United Way dollars allocated?

Published 7:24 pm Friday, July 20, 2018

Live United by Ann Austin

Ann Austin


United Way has been known since its beginning as a locally focused organization that convenes or gathers individuals to address community needs and financially supports vital community programs.

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Most people are aware that we run an annual fundraising drive. Many community members have served in a volunteer capacity with us, either through the fundraising drive or with local initiatives that we’ve focused on throughout the years.

However, unless people have served on our Allocations Committee — now called the Community Investment Committee (CIC) — they are not aware of the significant process we use to determine funding amounts.

Our United Way awards grants on an annual basis, following an online application process, site visits and a scoring rubric that covers everything from following good governance, achieving program outcomes and engaging in collaborative efforts to address community needs.

The process flows in this manner:

• Letters of intent: In December, we send out letters of intent to programs we have funded in the past, or new programs that were approved in September by the Community Investment Committee and operate based on our agency admission guidelines. These guidelines may be found on our website,, under the “Resources” tab.

Grant applications are due March 31 — every year. Program funding follows an annual process and is determined based on actual projected need for the funding year, which is the year after the grant has been submitted. For example, applications submitted in 2018 are for 2019 funding. These requests determine our need for the campaign and will be part of our 2019 budget, depending on final approval in early 2019, after the close of the campaign on Dec. 31.

Community Investment Committee volunteers are recruited throughout the year to serve on the committee, and participate throughout April and May in reviewing the online applications, performing site visits and following up with questions about program outcomes or operations from previous years, if applicable. Programs that have a similar goal or clients are assigned to volunteer panels, who determine if there is duplication of services, or are opportunities for collaboration. Volunteers typically review four to six applications during this process.

Funding recommendations for programs happen at a Community Investment Committee meeting in early June. Volunteers take into account a scoring rubric they use when reviewing applications, as well as any opportunities or concerns with local program service delivery, or issues that weren’t addressed from the previous grant cycle. These recommendations are presented to the United Way board of directors, who make final approval and set the campaign need for the year. The campaign need includes program funding, uncollectible allowance and operating expenses for our United Way.

The United Way campaign closes Dec. 31 and staff work throughout January to finalize entries in our donation tracker system, double-check entries and ensure our records are accurate. Our United Way receives funding from community members and local businesses, but we also receive donations from around the country, from other United Ways that work with businesses with national or international headquarters. More and more, the giving occurs online with third-party processors, which are not connected to United Ways. This can complicate our process; when we receive information and if we are given details, such as designations to issue areas or programs.

Annual funding is finalized in February when the United Way board finalizes our budget for the year and determines how much funding we can invest in local programs. The Community Investment Committee meets again to make final recommendations to the board and letters are sent out to programs at the end of February, announcing the decisions.

Because of recent challenges with workplace giving (businesses moving, closing, employee turnover, etc.), we have had to make cuts to programs over the past several years. This is never an easy process, and volunteers take into account many factors with making their decisions.

United Way staff members do not have a vote. Our role is to create an efficient process for all parties involved, which include our volunteers and the organizations applying for funds.

The process functions well for our purposes and has engaged volunteers and program leadership in healthy conversations about how local services are delivered.

As always, we are stronger because of the many ways our community members give, advocate and volunteer.

If you are interested in getting involved in our Community Investment Committee or any other volunteer opportunity, please give us a call at 507-373-8670.

Ann Austin is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.