Live United: United Way staff actively looking for grant funding 

Published 8:45 pm Friday, June 3, 2022

Live United by Erin Haag

The kids are out of school, ball games are happening every night and the tractors are out in the fields. It’s finally summer, even if the temperature doesn’t always reflect it. Along with that, my weekly articles are back, here to tell you what’s happening in the United Way world. I’m happy to be writing again, an obligation to slow myself down and think about the work we’re doing, why we’re doing it and the stories we need to share with our community. I have good intentions to do this year around, but it’s not until I’m staring down a publishing deadline that I make the time to sit down in the silence and pull together my reflections.

Erin Haag

My reflections this week are about grants. When I first started, it wasn’t always clear what grants United Way of Freeborn County had received in the past. Sometimes grants were for specific things, and sometimes they were classified as campaign, meaning they were reallocated out to our nonprofits in our yearly grant process. This wasn’t wrong or deceitful, it just was sometimes confusing for someone coming in without that historical knowledge. After a while, I came to realize that the grant income that was classified as “campaigns” were sometimes hurting the community’s perception of how much support was coming from the community. Our campaign dollars raised didn’t always tell the whole story, and the whole story was a little complicated. The impact UWFC staff has in the grant writing wasn’t being shared.

So we set out to measure that impact of grant writing. A few guidelines were established and changes were made in the accounting and database system. Grant income is separated out into its own line item, and a goal was set for how much revenue we want to bring in for grant income. Goals are good, right? It is when you blow it out of the water.

In 2021 we set a goal for $40,000 in grant income. We secured $84,000. This year, I waffled, wondering if it was a fluke. Budgets are often set on historical data, but I didn’t have enough data points. We doubled it, setting the goal at $80,000. As of today’s writing, less than halfway through the year, we have secured $81,822 in grant revenue. 

We’re proud to be a first-time recipient of grant funding from the Otto Bremer Trust, having been awarded $50,000. This process began in January and we were notified of the grant award last week. 

Don’t start rethinking your pledge just yet though! These grants are tied to specific purposes, and won’t be used for Community Impact Grants. Funding for the Community Impact Grants come straight from those workplace campaigns and individual giving pledges — you, your co-workers, your neighbors, your friends — working together to live united for others in need. These grants are important, and I’m darned proud of the success we’ve had in this area, but they won’t tell the whole story. United Way has a broad impact, much broader than the majority of nonprofits. 

Just like last year, when I waffled on what to put for our goal, I’ll do the same this year. Some grants secured are tied to the American Rescue Plan Act. What happens next year, when that type of federal funding isn’t available? Will I be able to find and secure other grants? Ultimately, it’s about having a diverse funding stream. We want a healthy mix of income from a variety of sources to ensure a healthy nonprofit organization. Many of our conditions around Community Impact grant funding are centered around helping other nonprofits do the same. 

When I think about this, I often think about a teenager asking for money. “Earn it!” I imagine that many of you would say. Mow lawns, rake leaves, babysit — show us that you’re working hard. Well, this is my earning it. My commitment to you is that we’ll actively pursue different ways to earn revenue, to reduce our overhead and keep the focus on programming. When I’m standing there asking for a pledge for the 2022 campaign, you’ll know that we put in the work to earn it. We’re working to match your investment, leverage these dollars into a higher rate of return for our community — to make lasting, meaningful change. Ready to make your pledge now? We’re ready when you are! Donations may be mailed to PO Box 686, Albert Lea, MN 56007. To make an appointment to drop off in person, give us a call at 507-373-8670. Want to hear more stories? We gladly will come to your group and speak on a variety of topics such as volunteerism, food insecurity and more. We thank you for living united and hope you’ll check the paper weekly for the latest updates on what’s happening.

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