United Way’s purpose is much more than just fundraising

At a laundromat, people wash laundry, at a grocery store, people buy groceries and at United Way of Southwest Colorado, we unite. What do we mean by that? The word sounds great, but let me share some of the inner details of how we bring people, organizations and community efforts together.

The purpose of United Way is to mobilize people to work together to strengthen the community and solve problems related to three impact areas: education, health care and self-reliance. Many people think of it as a fundraiser, but there is a lot more to what we do. We rely on a systematic and strategic community-oriented process to allocate money, designed to maximize the positive effect we have in our communities. We identify community needs, collaborate with nonprofit partners that can help fulfill the needs, provide money and other support to those partners, and follow up to look at the results of their work. Currently, we repeat this cycle every two years.

We recently identified our nonprofit partners for 2014-15. This last spring, we engaged dozens of community volunteers to evaluate applications from potential nonprofit partners. Across the region, about 50 people spent many hours studying the nonprofit applicants in terms of the programs they offer, the populations they serve, the problems they solve, the progress they have demonstrated, the strength of their financial positions, the extent to which they collaborate instead of duplicate services and more. Then, these volunteers came together in groups for several hours to discuss what they had learned about the applicants and made funding recommendations to the United Way Board of Directors. We are grateful for the hard work generously given by these volunteers.

Through that process, 43 nonprofit partners have been chosen in Southwest Colorado, the names of which will announced soon. In order to support these partners, we will run our fundraising campaign this fall. We will unite with businesses and individuals in the community to meet our goal of $756,000. Ninety-nine percent of this money stays in our local communities. We will raise that amount through the collective efforts of thousands of people in the community. A small deduction from a paycheck helps to make a big difference when there are many people participating. Similarly, $1 dropped in a United Way jar makes a big difference when combined with other dollars and other jars. Every bit counts, and the united effort works.

Finally, the money raised is distributed to the nonprofits, and they perform the work necessary to move our community forward. They help homeless veterans get back on their feet; they help families to obtain affordable health care; they care for our community’s youngest and oldest members; they provide treatment for trauma and services for addiction, and so much more. United Way supports them through our funding, our training opportunities and our advocate voice.

Hopefully, you can see the good that happens when the volunteers, donors, partners and community unite. Join us and Live United, too.

Lynn Urban is president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Colorado.

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