While many were enjoying the fabulous late-summer evenings of August, more than 20 United Way volunteers explored the numerous ways our community is served by non-profit agencies. These reviews included online reading and research as well as one-on-one meetings with every local agency that had applied for funding. It meant a number of long nights for the volunteers, meals of deli sandwiches and pizza, and a fair number of tough decisions as to how best to allocate Greater Nashua United Way resources over the next three years.
Although this may sound like an unwelcome task for this time of year, the volunteers themselves would strongly disagree. More than half have done this before, and they all willingly invested their time to make sure the funds are targeted to provide the greatest community impact. Not only do they feel the satisfaction of knowing that the money is going to well-deserving organizations, they leave these meetings with a better understanding of how our safety net operates in the region.
Each year, United Way recruits volunteers to help make important decisions about how best to invest donations made to the Community Investment Fund. Stewardship of donor investments is a driving force for United Way and something that the Board of Directors and investment volunteers take very seriously. The investment process requires a substantial commitment of time and attention to detail and these volunteers generously met this challenge.
When the call went out to United Way donors to join the investment review panel, more than 20 volunteers quickly stepped up to the challenge. Panels were made up of a broad cross section of the community at large: business leaders, consultants, government officials, attorneys, MDs, engineers, bankers, students and retirees, as well as some other non-profit managers whose agencies did not have proposals pending. This resulted in a range of questions that covered everything from budget detail to specific delivery of services. The group included representatives from Nashua as well as the surrounding communities in order to ensure all our regions’ needs were being addressed.
United Way of Greater Nashua invests in programs that advance the common good by creating opportunities for all. United Way’s focus is on education, income and health—the building blocks for a good quality of life. Nonprofit organizations interested in partnering with United Way submit detailed proposals describing how their program impacts both the lives of their clients and improves our community. Each program must be able to demonstrate measurable results in one of the three focus areas. This year, panels reviewed some 45 proposals across the three impact areas. These reviews included online reading and research as well as one-on-one meetings with every local agency that had applied for funding.
Through the review process it became clear to the volunteers that our community is fortunate to have such dedicated leaders in many of our community non-profits. The panel volunteers continually marveled at how creatively and efficiently these organizations meet their constituents’ needs every day of the year. Often a small donation can have an outsized impact due to this commitment. The other common theme emerged as how collaboratively these agencies work with each other. From years of experience, they know each other’s strengths and willingly work amongst themselves to ensure people in need get the best services available. This kind of community collaboration is challenging when resources are limited. Here in Greater Nashua, it is evident that our nonprofit partners work hard and often join forces to provide better care for our neighbors in need.
With so many impressive proposals and valuable programs to choose from, the committee took great effort to probe the demographic profile of each agency’s recipients. They compared the proposed outcomes of each program against the findings of the United Way community needs assessment. This detailed analysis helps to ensure that United Way dollars are helping our community address the areas of the greatest need and services reach our most vulnerable neighbors.
Next, the difficult task of recommending the investment dollars began. As there were no undeserving requests, the panels struggled with providing allocations that would serve the community in the best way. Every member left these meetings knowing they had recommended the best investments they could, and with an increased sense of the importance of raising even more funds wherever possible to meet our communities’ needs.
Over the past few years, the concept of United Way has been challenged as an unnecessary level of administration, which can be bypassed in today’s world of online payments and direct donor outreach. However, this Community Investment process proved just the opposite: there is NO WAY a single agency or program can meet all of the needs of an individual trying to turn their life around. Through the United Way’s Community Impact Fund, an individual donor can make the most impactful use of their charitable dollars by joining with other donors. Through collaboration and shared goals in each of the impact areas, donors can be assured that every dollar invested in the United Way of Greater Nashua is put to the best use possible and that each investment strengthens our community in ways that we all benefit. One of our panelists even remarked that he used to specifically designate funds to agencies with which he was familiar, but now realizes the full breadth of United Way’s impact and will make sure to donate in the future with no limitations.
The efforts of United Way volunteers and the contributions of loyal donors to the Community Impact Fund offer our community a value that cannot underestimated. United Way remains a vital and relevant partner in meeting our community needs and creating lasting change in the lives of people in our community that need us most. You can support our community by joining United Way as a volunteer and making a pledge in the upcoming campaign. Great things happen when we LIVE UNITED.
Jay Dinkel is SVP Enterprise Bank and Chair of the United Way Community Investment Committee
Liz Fitzgerald is Director of Community Impact, United Way of Greater Nashua