United Way reworks how it distributes funds to agencies

Exchange Club Immediate Past President Charles Norris (from left) presents United Way of Rome & Floyd County Board President Bryan Shealy and United Way Executive Director Alli Michell with a check for $4,000 at the Exchange Club meeting Aug. 9 at the Floyd County Fairgrounds.

United Way of Rome & Floyd County has announced a major refocus in how they will partner with area nonprofits from now on.

“We are not a giant thermometer on the side of the road anymore,” Alli Mitchell, executive director of United Way of Rome & Floyd County, said Thursday after sending out an official press release about the changes being made in grants to local agencies. “We really want to shift the focus from being about money to how agencies are actually impacting the local community.”

Instead of focusing on the approximately $325,000 that has been distributed to many of the same 18 community agencies for the past couple of years without requiring measurable results, United Way has retooled its efforts toward opening up grant applications to agencies that may not have applied in the past, Mitchell said.

Those agencies that have consistently received funding throughout the year will now be considered a “new applicant” and put on the same footing as those applying for the first time.

“We have traditionally funded reputable nonprofit missions who were doing great work in our community, but the focus on measurable outcomes and defining impact is new,” Mitchell said after emerging from a series of meetings Thursday. “In recent years, funds have been awarded to the same agencies with very little change. The application process (through the website) is new and was accessible to agencies not traditionally funded by UWRF.”

The UWRF press release explained that the organization is focused on doing more to proactively address root causes of complex community challenges such as poverty, hunger and homelessness.

The full transition to a community impact model, which began in January, will take three years, according to the release.

The release goes on to explain that agencies submitted interest letters and those that qualified have been invited to apply for grants. A Community Investment Team made up of local community volunteers will determine funding amounts based on availability and prioritized need.

“People often ask who decides what agencies are awarded funding and at what levels,” Mitchell said of the CIT. “The answer is now, definitely: ‘You do!’”

The Exchange Club Family Resource Center is one of the local agencies that has been part of the 18 funded partners in the past who found out Thursday they were approved to submit a formal application for 2020 funding.

They are confident their request will be granted.

“We’re working on our proposal and expect to complete it over the next week or two,” Exchange Club Family Resource Center Executive Director Tina Bartleson said, adding they will be asking for more than the $12,000 they received this year to help fund important programs to reduce family violence caused by the stress of poverty. “We have around 25% of the total population in poverty and United Way, with its new focus on education being used to reduce poverty, we feel our model fits perfectly with that mission.”

The redesigned United Way website explains that a Community Impact Grant is funding directed toward “quality local nonprofit organization programs that align with our strategies for our three focus areas” of education, health and financial stability. Funding will not exceed 25% of an organization’s overall annual budget.

A Venture Grant is funding designed to support specific priority impact areas, new programs or innovations to an existing program. That one-time source also cannot exceed 25% of an organization’s overall annual budget.

United Way’s 2020 Strategic Plan includes developing and leveraging a plan to increase giving of “high worth individuals” who provide gifts of at least $10,000, implementing an online community resource information listing and hosting an online nonprofit events calendar inclusive of all nonprofits in the county.

Bartleson said she has been impressed with the United Way’s renewed energy toward serving the community in a more proactive manner.

“I think they have a lot of renewed energy,” Bartleson said. “I think there’s wisdom in the path they’ve selected here.”