Local Capacity Building
Driving equitable outcomes in a community requires a shared commitment to closing disparities and inequities, collaboration across organizations, and the strategic alignment of efforts. Local United Ways can play a unique role in building the capacity of community partners to engage in deeper equity work to drive community-level equity outcomes. United Ways already have a history of investing in the capacity of programs and funded agencies to deliver high-quality programs. This often includes investing in staff development and training, nonprofit operational capacity including financial and IT processes, and strengthening the ability of funded programs and agencies to fundraise. Also, United Ways already leading coalitions and collective impact efforts in their communities have credibility, positioning, and experience working cross-sector with diverse organizations to align partner goals, programmatic efforts, and results.
Community-based nonprofit leadership and staffing can suffer from the same lack of diversity, inclusion, and bias that challenges other sectors. Leadership and staff may not reflect or reside in the communities they serve. Investing in, or directly providing training to uncover implicit bias is a way to increase awareness and the potential adoption of strategies that address community needs.
Given the Many Competing Priorities Within and Across Organizations, Ensuring That Individual Organizations can Focus Explicitly on Equity as a Core Strategy. United Way’s History of Capacity Investments and Coalition Leadership can be Directed Towards Equity in Specific Ways:
- Leveling the playing field between community-based nonprofits - Directing capacity-building investments intentionally towards small and/or organizations led by people of color. United Ways, like Metropolitan Dallas, are investing in increasing the financial and marketing acumen of grassroots organizations, especially those with leaders and owners/operators who are women, people of color, or both (see case study below). This can help these organizations compete in a more level playing field with larger, longstanding, and well-resourced organizations for foundation and government grants and contracts, many of whom require stringent financial practices.
- Investing and facilitating opportunities for funded partners and agencies to increase their equity “muscle.” Community-based nonprofit leadership and staffing can suffer from the same lack of diversity, inclusion, and bias that challenges other sectors. Leadership and staff may not reflect or reside in the communities they serve. Investing in, or directly providing training to uncover implicit bias is a way to increase awareness and the potential adoption of strategies that address community needs. This can help staff to better understand the histories of the communities they serve, and how they can institute more equitable practices in their community-facing work.
- Democratizing the grantmaking process. Some United Ways have decided to create more “ground-up” grant-making processes that empower residents to drive how United Way’s resources will be invested to meet priorities as identified by the neighborhoods themselves. A good example of this is United Way of Metropolitan Chicago’s Neighborhood Networks Program.
- Building the capacity of individuals, especially women and/or people of color, who are leading small organizations. United Ways can invest in leaders themselves, including providing professional development opportunities and connecting leaders of color to networks and opportunities that they might not be aware of or have access to. A good example of this is United Way of the Research Triangle’s 10 to Watch Program.
- Engaging this process across partners creates the ability to drive an equity agenda towards creating multi-level change in all the work impacting communities, partners, and staff. Because the United Way operates as a network of individual organizations, efforts to build skills across the network and within community partnerships will be essential to the success of this effort.