Leaders share how United Way serves Coweta

by Sarah Fay Campbell

Several Coweta nonprofits may have decided not to seek funds from United Way, but the fundraising and grant making organization still has an important role to play in Coweta County, say area United Way leaders.

United Way "gives me the best opportunity to be efficient with my time and treasure," said Andy Dunn, a member of the Coweta County advisory board for the United Way of Greater Atlanta. "For the nonprofit world it's a one stop shop… I can donate my money to one place and know it is going to a lot of good organizations."

Dunn said he was recently talking to someone about a talk given by a man who had retired after years with the United Way in Detroit. "He was talking about what he thought a community would look like without United Way — because a lot of times people take it for granted. United Way doesn't do a great job of promoting" all it does, Dunn said.

United Way funds organizations as different as the Red Cross and CLICK, Coweta's adult literacy program.

"United Way does so many different things it is impossible to tell the story eloquently, let alone get people to really understand what the story is," Dunn said.

Dunn thought about what Coweta would be like without United Way. "What would happen here if United Way didn't do all the good things they did? What would happen if 211 didn't exist and agencies that have problems couldn't call and get assistance? What would happen to the families participating in the PACE program, which is helping with their finances, life skills. What would happen if those things aren't around anymore?"

"It's a pretty bleak picture when you really start to think about it," Dunn said. "I think it's telling and it is something that people should consider."

Each year, Coweta receives more than it gives, when all is said and done, he said.

The "impact fund," which awards grants to organizations that apply, is just a portion of the money that is invested in Coweta.

There is also more than $200,000 each year for the PACE program, which operates in Ruth Hill and Jefferson Parkway elementary schools. And the Coweta Samaritan Clinic last year received a $21,000 "healthy communities" grant, the result of a partnership between United Way and Kaiser Permanente.

When it comes to the impact fund, however, a good bit of the $125,099 allocated for Coweta residents doesn't actually go to agencies based in Coweta. Instead, it goes to agencies outside Coweta that provide services to Coweta residents, according to United Way officials.

Organizations receiving the United Way funds have to track where their clients live. The list of the 2013 impact fund investments includes a large number of organizations, with funding broken down to as little as $32.

Though there are more outside organizations listed than ones in Coweta, the local groups did receive a larger portion of the total impact fee funding.

There's also the county pool. This year, the county pool was $40,000, and the local advisory board can award that money however it likes, in accordance with county priorities.

There are county pools in each of the 13 counties in the United Way of Greater Atlanta. This is the first year for the system-wide county pools, but the idea started in Coweta.

In 2011, United Way of Greater Atlanta made some big changes. It tightened up its focus areas, introduced a lengthy application, and increased tracking.

The focus areas are education, health, homelessness and income. There is also the "basic needs" category. Education and Health are further broken down into: children enter school ready to learn and graduate prepared for careers; young people avoid risky behaviors; babies are born healthy; and people have access to primary health care. To receive impact fee funding, organizations had to align with those priorities, or fit in the basic needs category.

That meant that many organizations that had long gotten United Way funds no longer qualified. Some likely would have qualified, but the application was so onerous they had trouble quantifying the good they were doing. The changes also allowed United Way to do the more detailed tracking so it could tell how much funding was going to residents in various counties who were participating organizations.

That year, the local Coweta County board took action to try and help the agencies that were denied funding. The county board was given some money it was able to give out as it felt best.

That idea grew into the county pool, and United Way of Greater Atlanta has now committed to three years of county pools in all 13 counties.

This year, the local board actually had a hard time giving out all the county pool money. First, they decided to "make whole" local agencies that had gotten impact pool funding, but not as much as they asked for, the United Way leaders.

Then, they wanted to fund other local agencies. There is a separate — and much simpler — application for county pool funds.

"We looked at all the agencies we traditionally funded, whether they applied for the impact fund or not," Dunn said.

There were several local agencies that were asked to apply. "They did apply, we conducted site visits… and we let them know we were going to fund them," said Jennifer Young, regional director for United Way of Greater Atlanta. But then, five agencies declined the funding.

Since those agencies declined funding and others didn't even apply, some of the local agencies that did apply were "rewarded to a degree that they never had been before," Dunn said.

The local board was also able to give some funding to the newly relaunched Communities in Schools program. The organization didn't apply for the impact fund grants because it wasn't even launched when the application process began in January.

"I'm fairly certain we were their first donor," Dunn said.

The local board was also able to fund CLICK - Certified Literate is Coweta’s Key, which wouldn't qualify for impact funding because adult literacy is not one of the areas on which United Way focuses.

Going forward, Dunn said his goal is to "bring everybody back into the fold. There were a lot of good agencies that we had every intent of funding and helping this year that, for whatever reason, didn't apply," he said.

"We can't force people to apply" but "we're not going to give up on them. We want them back in the fold. We want them to be part of United Way," he said.

And if there are other organizations out there that "need help and want to apply we need them to apply too," Dunn said.

The impact fund application process begins in January, and includes training on how to deal with the application. Awards are made in June, and the county pool application process begins once the impact fund awards are announced.

Dunn has served on many nonprofit boards, he said. "There are plenty of ways I can spend my volunteer time. Why do I spend my volunteer time with United Way? The bottom line for me is they are just the most effective in finding problems, finding solutions to those problems and helping the people," he said. "For all the good work in the world, there is no one else that does what United Way does."

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