By Aron Wegner
Guest editorial

Recently, United Way of Central Carolinas announced its annual funding for partner agencies across a five-county region, including $925,319 to 13 agencies in Mooresville/Lake Norman.

As a member of United Way’s Mooresville/Lake Norman board and chair of its community investment committee, I wanted to share a behind-the-scenes look at that process.

Overall, there are two key points that I’d like to convey:

• Funding decisions were made not by United Way staff, but by 17 local volunteers – fellow donors representing your voice in your community.

• Funding decisions were data-driven, focused on community needs and agency results, following intense financial vetting of each agency. 

 

An intense volunteer commitment
Across the full United Way region, 164 volunteers in Anson, Cabarrus, Charlotte/Mecklenburg, Mooresville/Lake Norman, and Union donated their time and expertise to serve on community investment councils.

Each county has volunteer councils specifically focused on three priority areas – children and youth, housing and stability, and health and mental health. In many cases, these volunteers are subject-matter experts with a background related to the issues in their focus area – for example, we had hospital staff on our health and mental health committee.

Most importantly, all of our volunteers are passionate about the Lake Norman area and our local neighbors in need.

Their role is an intense, months-long commitment – they spend time training with United Way staff, visit their assigned agencies, pore through numerous funding applications, and listen to presentations by each agency. Then they work as a team to make the really hard recommendations about how limited dollars will be distributed among great agencies addressing huge challenges.

 

Data-driven decisions for those most at-risk
Our volunteers, board and staff know how important it is that we invest donations wisely – there is much more need in the community than there is money to go around. Across the five-county region, United Way received $1.2 million in funding requests that we could not meet.

That’s why every United Way agency must clearly demonstrate concrete results in their funding application – results that help those most at-risk and in poverty. We are fully committed to ensuring that your dollars go to the most effective agencies, with the greatest results, meeting the Lake Norman region’s most pressing needs.

Consider Lifespan, for example, which helps children and adults with disabilities. Its funding was reduced last year when our volunteers told them that better results measurement was needed, and Lifespan responded in strong fashion. In addition, with federal funds for the disabled being reduced, volunteers wanted to help fill the gap. So Lifespan’s funding was not only restored to the level of two years ago, but increased because of clear results combined with increased need.

We also increased funding for Ada Jenkins Center’s LEARN Works program, which expanded from serving 60 at-risk students to 105. And for the first time, United Way allocated funds to YMCA’s innovative Y Readers program in the Mooresville/Lake Norman area – a program that has had phenomenal success at increasing the literacy skills of at-risk students in grades K-2.

It’s worth noting that not every funding reduction meant that the agency failed to produce results. Safe Alliance, for example, saw a funding decrease of $5,288, but it remains our largest recipient, at $200,061 in local funding.

Formerly known as United Family Services, Safe Alliance does incredible work to protect women and children facing abuse. But faced with more needs than donations, our Community Investment volunteers determined that a decrease of a small percentage (2.6 percent) for that agency would enable more substantial program expansions elsewhere.

Our volunteers had to make hard decisions, but that is what donors require of us.

 

Your gifts make this possible
United Way’s Mooresville/Lake Norman board, community investment council volunteers, United Way staff and our strong partner agencies are grateful for the 55,000 generous donors who invest in our community year after year. Because of you, United Way is one of this region’s few funding sources that has not declined since 2009. Such stability is critical when needs are so high.

So now, when you make a gift to United Way, you know that we truly value your contribution – and that funding decisions are made strategically with strong results in mind.

 

Aron Wegner is a vice president in Wells Fargo’s Digital Channels Group. He serves on the Mooresville/Lake Norman board of United Way of Central Carolinas and is chair of the board’s community investment committee of the board.