How United Way equips nonprofits to serve our region

 

Our region is only as strong as our local nonprofits. These organizations feed, shelter, educate, inspire and engage 1 in 5 people each year. They lay a strong foundation for all of us to meet our everyday needs, as well as recover from crises.

 

That’s why United Way is committed to helping nonprofits continue their important work not only through funding, but also through opportunities to learn and grow, says Julie Simon, director of agency capacity building initiatives.

 

“Just like people, organizations always have areas to improve, whether driven by environmental changes, or changes in services, clients or needs,” Simon explains.

 

Here are three ways United Way invests in local nonprofits to help them continue to meet the evolving needs of our community.

 

Sharing expertise

With nearly a century of helping people in the St. Louis region, United Way has roots woven deep into the community. By collecting and providing unique insights into the region and its needs, United Way helps local nonprofits be better equipped to help meet those challenges.

 

In 2019, in partnership with a group of volunteer leaders, United Way conducted a comprehensive Community Needs Assessment to understand what services and resources were most needed across its 16-county service area.

 

“The Community Needs Assessment utilized community voice and data-driven insights to provide a snapshot of the most prevalent needs to serve as a guide for understanding our region,” said Regina Greer, chief impact officer. “The information is invaluable in making strategic investments into programs and services that achieve outcomes and helping our community be its best.”

 

Building up volunteer leaders

United Way’s Volunteer Center serves as a resource in the St. Louis region for all things volunteerism and provides a variety of volunteer management resources to local nonprofits.

 

The Volunteer Management Training Series is a comprehensive training available to nonprofit management staff across the St. Louis region. It offers actionable insights into volunteer programs, including program planning and evaluation and volunteer recruitment and training, in a fun and innovative format.

 

Nonprofits also have the opportunity to gain Certified Volunteer Program status through United Way to recruit and retain well-equipped, energized and committed volunteers.

 

Since the program began, 146 organizations have become a Certified Volunteer Program through United Way, including health and human service agencies, arts and cultural organizations, municipalities, government offices, hospitals and health care facilities.

 

“We appreciate United Way’s time and commitment to the training opportunities. They really have made a difference for our volunteer program,” said Mary Hilmes, volunteer coordinator at Community Link. “It’s a blessing to know there are so many amazing people out there doing this great work.”

 

Training and learning opportunities

United Way also works directly with local nonprofits through capacity building trainings, workshops and other opportunities. In 2019, 180 individuals from 124 local agencies participated in trainings hosted or sponsored by United Way.

 

“Meaningful capacity building involves helping agencies assess current core competencies, along with performance and impact, then introducing or revisiting best practices and finally providing real-time opportunities that guide agencies through filling in the gaps,” Simon said.

 

Topics range from board governance and leadership, financial oversight and program performance management to scenario and contingency planning, strategic alliances and advancing racial equity. United Way regularly updates its offerings and content, adding new trainings to meet agencies’ needs and changes in the region.

 

“We are intentional in our approach, in terms of selecting relevant subject matter, creating a variety of learning experiences and being conscientious in sharing practices, tools and resources that meet agencies where they are,” Simon added. “With agencies at various stages in lifecycle and diverse in fields of service, geography, race, expertise, readiness and capacity, we are always looking for more effective ways to help and support the vast network of agencies delivering critical services to our community.”

 

For example, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, United Way has transitioned to virtual trainings and added content specifically about the impacts of the crisis – best practices for keeping employees and clients safe, change management, scenario training and more.

 

Agency capacity building trainings are facilitated by nonprofit consultants, subject matter experts, regional leaders and United Way staff. In addition, there are trainings offered in collaboration with partners like Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work and Olin Business School.

 

As many nonprofits work to keep their overhead costs low, United Way trainings provide valuable opportunities for agencies to grow their knowledge and apply skills at heavily reduced or no cost.

 

“We participated in a United Way training series, which became the impetus for our Board to develop our first strategic plan,” said Tammy Iskarous, executive director at Riverbend Families Ministries. “This, along with our first development plan, also informed by training, guided us in achieving an ultimate goal:  moving into a new building, currently underway! We are thankful for United Way trainings that truly help small agencies like ours build an infrastructure to help more people in need.”

 

 

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Emily (Becherer) Gearhart
Emily (Becherer) Gearhart

Emily (Becherer) Gearhart is a proud native St. Louisan, writer and lover of stories in all their forms. Faced with a captivating question, she will research her way down a rabbit hole and emerge with words that educate and inspire. You can probably find her taking in a musical, bingeing through a new podcast series, exploring the trails at local parks or curating her extensive library of Spotify playlists.