United Way’s Impact
work focuses on advancing education, economic mobility, and health as a means of ensuring that community residents can live a “good life.” Our common approach has been to engage sectors to work together to come up with holistic, integrated solutions that reflect the complexity of how the issues of education, economic mobility, and health interact to shape individual lives and community conditions. At the national level, United Way has established 2028 Goals in education, economic mobility, and health intended for local customization, to help frame the priority issues of greatest concern and center community engagement as a way to help address these challenges.
Specific goals and related strategies advanced by individual United Ways reflect local needs, priorities, capacity, and public will. Whatever the specific community impact priorities, equity has often been an embedded principle in how many United Ways have approached their impact work. This is especially true in relation to the process of developing impact priorities.
Collect And Analyze Diverse Data
At the outset of refining or developing priority issues United Ways usually collect and analyze diverse data. For many United Ways, this includes collecting disaggregated data that shows the prevalence and scope of an issue (e.g. access to nutritious foods, reading proficiency, employment) and its impact on community residents based on SES, race/ethnicity, gender, or other identities. United Ways that are intentionally analyzing the data to identify gaps (especially those borne out of historic and systemic patterns of discrimination), to understand what entities are already addressing the issue (including community-based nonprofits that might already be serving traditionally under-served residents), and to consider how different constituents might have a vested interest in working on the issue, are already employing an equity lens.
Understanding that equity is already implicit in our existing approach to community impact gives United Way a solid foundation on which to deepen and strengthen equity as a process and an outcome. Equity then becomes part of the DNA of who we are and how we work with communities to create positive change.
Listen To Community Residents
While aggregated data helps United Ways understand the scope of an issue, listening to community residents presents an opportunity to understand how those issues play out in the lives of specific individuals. United Ways that intentionally engage the voices of historically marginalized community residents, who might be deeply impacted by issues but left out of decisionmaking, are integrating equity in the process of developing an impact agenda.
Identify Priority Issues
United Ways take the information gathered (data and input from community residents, donors, and organizations) to identify priority issues. What United Ways prioritize is most often a reflection of multiple factors including, what donors and community residents care about and will devote resources to, United Way leadership commitment and organizational capacity (ability to fundraise to support), and what your United Way can make a meaningful difference on. United Way’s priorities are a signal to community residents and other constituents about what matters most. United Ways whose priorities (and related strategies) reflect, at least in part, the intent to close persistent gaps and disparities, to ensure a more equitable distribution of opportunities and resources, and who employ strategies that go beyond direct services to address the root causes of inequality are embedding equity in the work.