Strengthening Our Equity Muscle to Accelerate Impact
Part One of a Four Part Community Investments Series
A core part of United Way’s work is fundraising and distributing resources back into the community to create positive change. Historically, most United Ways (United Way of Greater Chattanooga included) accomplish this through a traditional allocations process that distributes money to community-based organizations that provide direct services and support to residents that address community needs. In the past two decades, many United Ways have shifted to an impact model to achieve greater impact than could be realized through direct services alone. In a community impact-driven model, United Ways strategically distribute resources in the community based on established shared community (or United Way) goals, issue priorities, and specific strategies. Also, funded entities are increasingly expected to report on results, often against common impact measures developed by the local United Way with community partners. In addition to making more strategic investments in the community, impact-oriented United Ways employ additional strategies to accomplish goals, including policy and advocacy, convening, community engagement, local capacity building, and leading cross-sector partnerships.
A market-driven impact model builds on this evolution by acknowledging the importance of engaging donors at every step of this process, so that they have opportunities to help shape the work, are invested in the solutions, and are willing to devote resources to support them. United Ways vary in the extent to which they are implementing a market-driven impact model, often based on local relationships, internal capacity, and buy-in needed to make this shift, and the support/ willingness of funded partners to envision a different relationship with their United Way. Yet, United Ways that are making this shift are in a strong position to leverage their fundraising and strategic investments as levers for increasing equity. Ensuring that the intent to address inequities within the community informs your United Way’s financial decisions, is critical to advancing equity. Examining (and adjusting as needed) internal financial processes, focusing on equity-centered grantmaking and community capacity-building to improve the readiness of partner organizations, are ways that United Ways can model best practices and lead on this issue.
When we discuss fundraising, resource allocation, and grantmaking as it relates to equity it is important to articulate how power dynamics interact within and across funder relationships and partnerships. The definition of power is the capacity of an individual or group to influence the behavior of others. One of the hallmarks of power is access or control of resources. Therefore, knowing the ways that power can enhance or undermine relationships, strategies, and ultimately outcomes, is an equity imperative when committing to centering equity in fundraising, resource allocation, and grantmaking. By adopting an equity frame in the distribution of resources, United Ways everywhere can demonstrate a deep commitment to dismantling one of the most significant impediments to collective prosperity.
Knowing the ways that power can enhance or undermine relationships, strategies, and ultimately outcomes, is an equity imperative when committing to centering equity in fundraising, resource allocation, and grantmaking.
There are several layers to consider as it relates to fundraising, resource allocation and grantmaking for United Way undertaking equity efforts:
Fundraising and Donor Engagement
While leaning into equity might be viewed as a risky proposition in terms of losing existing donors who have no interest in this issue, it is also an opportunity to engage new donors for whom the United Way is not seen as relevant. There also exists the chance to bring along existing donors, if you can make a compelling case in a way that connects to their stated interests. United Ways also have an opportunity, because of our relationships with donors, to build their awareness of inequities of which they may be unaware of and/or inadvertently contributing.
United Ways have perhaps the greatest opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to equity in our role as grantmakers. Equity should be intentional in all aspects of your grantmaking, including the design and execution of your processes, the type of community investments you prioritize, and the specific data your United Way tracks over time. This includes taking equity into account when making decisions about providing operational and/or programmatic funding, determining the level of flexibility in the use of funds, and the duration of grants.
Examining your United Way’s resource allocation patterns presents an opportunity to consider how your operational budgets align with your commitment to equity. This includes determining the extent to which the value and practice of equity are visible in your organizational funding practices. Examples of this include allocating internal resources for certain aspects of programmatic work such as data gathering and analysis, staffing strategies, internal staff development or technology that improves community engagement.