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United Way wraps up first year of new funding model

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United Way of the Ozarks changed its investment formula in 2022, and the first 21 programs funded through the new model have just completed the first of two years in the grant cycle, with $1.9 million reinvested into the community.

United Way President and CEO Greg Burris calls it the 60-30-10 formula. Under the new model, 60% of funding goes to programs focused on working upstream – at the root of problems – to reduce need long term. Another 30% goes to crisis response – downstream needs, like housing and feeding people. The final 10% goes toward innovative nonprofit programs. Burris compares it to the TV show “Shark Tank,” where inventors promote brand new ideas in front of a team of investors.

The United Way “investors” are called community investment panelists. For each of the three funding components, 20-member community investment panels considered applications and heard agency itches, and together they chose 21 programs provided by 14 nonprofits to receive funding, Burris said.

Recipients were Community Partnership of the Ozarks Inc., Developmental Center of the Ozarks, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri, Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks, Betty and Bobby Allison Ozarks Counseling Center, Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, Missouri Inc., KVC Missouri’s Ozark Family Resource Center, Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield Inc., The Victim Center Inc., New Pathways for Good Dads, Council of Churches of the Ozarks Inc., Harmony House, Ozarks Literacy Council and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks Inc.

“For a number of years, we funded the same programs over and over each year,” Burris said.

Organizations received two years’ notice that United Way was moving to a competitive process, he said.

“We literally had partners that were probably funded by United Way for 40 years or so that didn’t get funded in this round,” he said. “Those were hard decisions.”

Successful organizations focused on the United Way of the Ozarks’ two newly defined focus areas: championing children and pathways out of poverty. Organizations whose applications didn’t fit the focus self-selected themselves out of the running, he noted.

Burris called the 60-30-10 plan a long-term play.

“It’s not going to change our community overnight, but it is going to change our community over the next decade,” Burris said. “That’s what you have to do.”

The 21 programs reported some big metrics in 2022. They helped 658 unhoused people move to stable housing, piloted 3,155 families to mental health counseling regardless of ability to pay, coached 429 youth to measurable gains in reading and math skills, and provided 727 children with safe haven from abuse or neglect, among other gains.

United Way of the Ozarks has an annual campaign in which area businesses ask workers to support the mission through payroll deductions, and that is happening now at 192 companies. But the organization also has three programs aimed at helping businesses to make connections through volunteerism.

Burris said the goal is to provide on-ramps for engagement.

The Day of Caring, held in June, has teams of volunteers unite to complete hundreds of projects at nonprofit agencies across the Ozarks. This was the 31st year for the program, according to Amber Alcorn, United Way’s director of communication and volunteerism, and 1,300 volunteers participated – 400 more than the previous year. Alcorn said the total value of volunteer contributions was $167,000.

United for Greatness is another program that brings community members and agencies together. This year, 50 skilled volunteers spent a seven-hour day with 10 agencies, and their total contribution was valued at $76,000, Alcorn said.

“One goal that United for Greatness achieves is that it encourages nonprofit agencies to think outside of the box in the way they use volunteers,” she said.

The Community Field Trip is another engagement opportunity. So far, two businesses – Paddio and KPM CPAs & Advisors – have participated, taking a bus tour to visit four service agencies and spending time before and after to talk about community needs.

As a final activity of the field trip, teams are given $100,000 in play money to decide how to distribute it among the agencies they just met. This gives them an appreciation of the challenges of divvying up limited resources among agencies that do vital work.

“They understand very quickly that there aren’t enough resources to go around, and they see the impact they could have on any of these programs if they wanted to,” Burris said.

Vicki MacDonald, talent acquisition and retention specialist with KPM, said the firm team members include a lot of younger staff, many of whom are parents, and they chose to visit charities that serve children. Fourteen people, including senior supervisors and managers, participated, visiting the O’Reilly Center for Hope, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Southwest Missouri, the Ozarks Literacy Council and Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield Inc.

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