By Colette Jenkins
Beacon Journal staff writer
United Way of Summit County is on a mission to help donors follow the dollars that they contribute to the charitable organization.
This week, United Way announced its goal to move 5,000 Summit County residents to financial independence over the next four years with a new strategy for funding programs in its income impact area. The two-year funding cycle for the programs will begin in 2016.
“We want our donors to understand that once you give that dollar, it has a long range impact of helping to move these 5,000 residents from financial dependence on entitlement programs to financial independence,” said Jim Mullen, United Way president and CEO. “This is the first time ever that we are putting a goal on ourselves to show our donors a tangible return on their dollar and to show them how we leverage a dollar 10 to 20 times to make a positive impact on the community.”
United Way, which is currently engaged in its annual campaign to raise $13.5 million, is accepting proposals from agencies and organizations that provide services in Summit County that enhance financial stability.
The income impact area is one of three areas that United Way funds. The other two areas are education and health. In recent years, the nonprofit has funded each area on a three-year cycle, but that is changing.
“We plan to have all three on the same cycle for the 2017-2018 allocations year. They are three independent pillars, but they are connected. Funding them in a vacuum doesn’t make sense,” Mullen said. “We need to fund them collectively to have the biggest impact for making our community a better place. If we’re asking the community to invest $13 million, the community has a right to come back to us and ask what we are doing.”
Mullen said United Way’s new income strategy will allow the nonprofit to move more aggressively in funding programs that provide measurable outcomes in helping people become financially independent. Those outcomes will be tangible evidence of how donations are being used.
United Way’s income strategy has a three-prong focus: building up individuals via personal empowerment, financial education and workforce development; building up families through programs like the Summit County Fatherhood Initiative, Bridges Summit County and the Summit County Reentry Network and building up community via education, economic development, entrepreneurship, neighborhood revitalization and transportation.
“Everyday life is challenging for thousands of Summit County citizens,” said David Jennings, director of Akron-Summit County Public Library and United Way’s chairman of community impact. “This new strategy will align community efforts to help lower-income individuals and families, and empower them with the skills needed to maximize employment and grow a better financial future.”
Fellow United Way board member and Summit County Executive, Russ Pry, agreed with Jennings that a cooperative effort is needed to better the quality of life for local residents.
“The work to move people to financial independence requires collaboration across all sectors,” Pry said, “With United Way as a key partner, we can accomplish things no organization, no individual and no government can accomplish on its own.”
United Way is a charitable organization that partners with local nonprofits, businesses, social service agencies and governmental entities to address the needs of the community. Its primary mission is to help people find ways out of poverty.
For more information or to donate or volunteer, go to www.uwsummit.org.