Responding to extensive community input, United Way of Greater Cincinnati announced April 12 nearly $20 million in grants, targeting opportunities and solutions identified by those closest to the challenges.
For United Way, the process of identifying the areas of focus was new, coming after months of interviewing and surveying more than 400 local residents and 200 organizations, including focus groups and discussions with business leaders.
United Way is investing a total of $19.9 million, with $11.4 million being invested in 86 local partners addressing critical needs in our community. Another $8.5 million will be invested in agencies designated by United Way donors.
“This culminates a two-year transformation for United Way of Greater Cincinnati but begins a much larger transformation for the region’s nonprofit ecosystem and our community,” said Moira Weir, United Way’s president and CEO. “Our team spent a great deal of time over the past two years becoming a more family-centered, community-driven organization. We listened to families. We listened to those close to families. We listened to business leaders. We gathered and interpreted data. Now, we are investing to co-create solutions recommended to us to solve challenges revealed to us by those living these realities.”
Most of the money — $11.4 million – will be invested in partners focused on systems change in the following opportunity areas:
- NextGen Success: Financial empowerment for young people;
- Ready Kids, Resilient Families: Transforming the early education system of care;
- Equitable Economic Mobility: Breaking down barriers to employment and equitable wealth building;
- Housing First: Building strong financial foundations through stable housing;
- Improved Prevention, Stronger Communities: Scaling trauma-informed approaches to strengthen well-being; and
- Responding to Community Need: Improving the effectiveness of the nonprofit system of care.
Twenty percent of the nonprofits receiving grants are new to United Way, the largest number of new partners in any single year in recent history.
“Partnering with new organizations increases diversity and inclusion,” Weir said. “We are partnering with those closest to the challenges and those that people know, trust and deliver good services. We learned the effectiveness of this approach during COVID.”
United Way chose organizations doing work in its focus areas that had organization-wide emphasis on the challenge, as opposed to a single, or few programs. This is contrary to its past practice of funding programs.
“We have seen the power of partners aligning to solve bigger, systemic challenges,” Weir said. “That is where true long-term success is possible, but it requires shared vision, coordination and leadership. It will touch exponentially more lives than funding a singular program because it focuses on changing systems that affect all people using those systems.
“We will still provide funding and services to help those in crisis,” she said. “With our systems change partners, we will go deeper, to the rooted, systemic problems holding back families.”
Weir said United Way’s new approach – listening to the community and gathering data and anecdotes from their lived experiences – makes it the right leader to convene others around economic well-being for the region’s families.
“Why us? Our data, our experience, our programming, our work with partners, the lived experiences of the families we support – we have evidence-based understanding of how to change systems,” she said. “We are not passive contributors; we roll up our sleeves and work side-by-side, listening and providing support. We are expert stewards of the region’s investments. Your dollars are invested in solutions based on data and those we support have ownership of those solutions.”
Any organization that did not receive funding can apply again in 2024. United Way also distributes funding through different processes, such as county CARES grants or Black Empowerment Works grants.
Weir said just because an organization wasn’t included in funding “doesn’t mean organizations aren’t delivering great programming.”
“Most are doing fantastic work we need in our community, it just didn’t match our new systems approach, or the focus areas developed from our surveys and interviews,” she said.
Weir said United Way will go beyond investing, also providing direct services and influencing through advocating for better policies that bring systemic change. She pointed to United Way’s work around early childhood education over the past 25 years that laid the groundwork for Preschool Promise as an example of true systems change.
“We believe this is the start of great change in our community, creating a ripple effect across the nonprofit ecosystem,” she said. “We would not be here without the community we serve and those who support us. The community drove this work and donor support will help us execute it. We will all be a movement to break generational poverty and our region will be better for it.”