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United Way proposes changes in community investments


BOSTON -- The Executive Committee of United Way of Massachusetts Bay’s (UWMB) Board of Directors is recommending that UWMB transition eight agencies that receive general operating support and donor designations to an affiliation status where they receive donor designations only. The recommendation is part of an overall allocations strategy projected to invest $36.5 million in the community. This is the first year that UWMB’s community investments will reflect the organization’s new strategic focus, which calls for providing operating support to agencies best aligned with the goals and strategies of its four impact areas. The allocations strategy will be considered by the full Board in June and if approved would go into effect July 1, 2004. These are the first allocations that are guided by the new strategic plan.

“The stagnant economy and significant job loss in Massachusetts has made it more difficult over the past several years for UWMB to raise unrestricted, allocable revenue,” said Marian L. Heard, president and chief executive officer at United Way of Massachusetts Bay. “While we have been able to keep our bottom line stable by dipping into reserves and by diversifying funding sources, we are forced to focus our limited resources in the areas in which we can have the most impact.” The trend of decreasing allocable revenue and the commitment to remaining an effective private funding source for the community drove United Way to undergo a rigorous strategic planning process in 2002.

The strategic plan adopted in 2002 calls for UWMB to make investments that will achieve focused measurable impact in the community. The plan calls for UWMB to focus investments in four areas: Child Development, Youth Opportunities, Sustainable Employment and Affordable Housing. The four areas are dependent on one another and, when working seamlessly together, offer children and families the best chance of reaching their full potential.

The public played a strong role in shaping this direction. Beginning in the Fall of 2002, UWMB informed its affiliate agencies of its intent to create greater community impact by sharpening the areas of focus, and, queried them about what they deemed to be community needs requiring the most attention. Additionally, over 1,000 individuals from a broad spectrum of the public, private and academic sectors identified community issues where they thought UWMB could have the greatest impact.

UWMB established four impact councils with high-profile community members to develop impact strategies. With limited dollars, UWMB has to prioritize and fund those agencies whose overall work is best aligned with those strategies for the impact areas.

“This process involved conducting a thorough review of United Way’s affiliate agencies to determine whether their overall work – not just some of their programs – are aligned with these impact strategies,” said Ronald Homer, Chief Executive Officer at Access Capital Strategies. Homer is a UWMB Board member who chairs the Community Impact Committee, the volunteer committee comprised of business and community leaders that guide UWMB’s investments. “We found that the overall work of eight agencies is not as aligned as the remaining 132. This was a very difficult decision because all of the affected agencies provide critical services for populations of great need and are serving individuals very well.”

The Executive Committee is recommending to the full Board that it move eight agencies from UWMB’s Community Care affiliate agency portfolio to its Specific Care agency portfolio. Community Care affiliate agencies receive unrestricted operating support and donor-designated contributions from UWMB. Specific care affiliate agencies receive only donor-designated contributions from UWMB.

The agencies being recommended for this transition include Visiting Nurse Association of Boston, Triangle, North Shore ARC, South Shore ARC, Massachusetts Association for the Blind, Hallmark Health Visiting Nurse Association, D.E.A.F. Inc. and VNA Care Network. All of the agencies being recommended for transition will continue to receive reduced UWMB funding through June 30, 2005.

Last year, these eight agencies received $1,105,000 from UWMB; this year UWMB is recommending they receive $905,000, a $200,000 decrease spread over the eight agencies. After July 1, 2005 the agencies will continue to be promoted for donor designations by UWMB. Last year these eight agencies received donor designations totaling $64,342. This amount could, in fact, be higher.

UWMB conducted meetings with each agency well in advance of the June Board of Directors meeting and 14 months prior to the full transition to specific care affiliation, so that affected agencies could plan accordingly.

“We understand that any reduction in funding will be difficult for agencies,” said Marilyn Anderson Chase, UWMB Senior Vice President for Community Impact. “In most cases, UWMB total funding makes up less than 2 percent of the agencies’ budgets. Our hope is that by giving the agencies one year's notice, they will be able to plan for the loss.”

UWMB understands the fragile nature of agency finances. The adoption of a new strategic plan was to a large degree born out of the difficult nature of raising money in the current economic climate and the realization that, without greater focus, its investments would simply not be sufficient to create the impact needed to produce real change. Due to budget constraints, UWMB recently took $1 million out of its operating budget and restructured its staff, eliminating 14% of its positions. UWMB's Executive Committee has also recommended dipping into UWMB's reserves -- for the third straight year -- to minimize the cuts that UWMB's affiliate agencies are expected to sustain this year.

Pending Board approval in June, UWMB is projecting it will invest $36.5 million in the community.These investments include allocations to all affiliate agencies as well as innovative grant-based programs to non-affiliate agencies. For example,UWMB recently launcheda $1.6 million campaign to promote nutrition and physical fitness resources for Boston-area children. And using resources from a four-year, $1.4 million grant from The Wallace Foundation, UWMB has created the Engaging Families Initiative, a program designed to actively involve parents in supporting their children’s learning.