Live United: It’s a time of reinvigorating, inspiring for the United Way

Published 8:45 pm Friday, January 14, 2022

Live United by Erin Haag

The office is so very quiet these days. Before Christmas, our phones were ringing off the hook, people stopped by and it was just generally a little nuts each day. These days, we’re still busy as all get out, but less interaction with people. We still have some fun moments though. Last week, Nikolle got a phone call to express appreciation for these weekly articles. The caller told her how he had a foot injury and that our articles were “better than medicine.” That’s some high praise right there! New York Todd, I hope you are recovering nicely, and thank you so much for calling!

Erin Haag

Ideally, the beginning of the year is the time to set new goals, new expectations and start dreaming and planning. Reality is that we’re catching up from all the things that had to go on the back burner in the last couple of months, and frantically trying to get to a place where we feel we can carve out some time for good old-fashioned dreaming. 

Several years ago, a policy at Google became popular, making headlines across the nation and hopefully inspiring companies to adopt it. It’s known as the 20% rule, where employees are encouraged to dedicate 20% of their week to work on a project that would be most beneficial to Google. I ran across an old article about this recently, and started thinking about it in terms of UWFC. Uffda, that’s a rabbit hole to go down. 

First off, a large portion of my job is development. Developing programs, processes and even policies to meet the needs of our community. Except I have to wonder — am I spending the majority of my time on this? Or am I spending my time putting out fires and dealing with computer issues, phone issues and getting caught up in the mundane tasks of keeping an office running? Currently, we are in the final stages of completing our financial review for 2019 and 2020. Typically, we do this every year, but we received special permission to do this for a two-year time period due to some changes in bookkeeping, etc. 

The IRS requires that all nonprofits categorize the time for each staff member. We’re asked how much of our time is spent on fundraising, programming or administrative work. Given the many hats that each of the three of us wear each day, it can be challenging to slow down enough to truly assess the time spent and decide how much time we’re going to dedicate to specific things. Here’s the thing though. The IRS doesn’t say what an appropriate allocation of each category would be. There’s no standard to go by — it truly is dependent on your specific job position, your specific mission of your organization. There are some loose guidelines when it comes to how much you spend on overhead — which is not the same as these IRS categories. Overhead is another rabbit hole we’ll go into another time. (I’m also suddenly feeling an impulse to pull up old articles and count up how many times I say “rabbit hole.”)  

After considering all of this, what really stood out to me is that we need to hold some spots sacred. I can hear Nikolle in my mind, cheering for this, saying, “Vision Board!” 

We might not be able to adopt 20% of our own projects, but the lesson to be learned is to specifically classify how much of our time for each of our projects we’re willing to spend. It’s important to be flexible but consistent — I might need to shift some of that time to the following week, but we need to take it. Otherwise, it’s equivalent to spending all of our time doing the dishes, but not cleaning out the kitchen junk drawer. 

Next week, we’ll be spending a full day in our conference room, attending a virtual conference with the United Ways of Minnesota — all of the local United Ways gathering for a full day of sharing ideas, brainstorming, listening to what works and what challenges we face. Heidi, Nikolle and I have plans for utilizing a big TV in the conference room and stocking up on snacks and drinks. Then in March, we hope to attend another conference that will inspire, reinvigorate us and help us build connections for that important work of programming. Programming is where the magic lies — the connections we build and the impact that is felt. The other categories are essential to making the programming magic happens. 

As always, thanks for reading along with us as we work to make an impact in our community. Thank you for showing up united, and offering feedback, donations and commentary. We couldn’t do the work without you, and we thank you every day. You can reach us at 507-373-8670. 

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.