United Way funding: Inside the allocation process, driven by volunteers

Aug. 3, 2018

By Brenda Kibbe, Sioux Empire United Way volunteer chair

Volunteers are the backbone of many great organizations across the Sioux Empire. People give of their time to deliver meals to older adults, connect with a student they mentor weekly, lead sports teams or deliver gently used furniture to families in need.

Sioux Empire United Way is no different from many nonprofit organizations in our reliance on volunteers to carry out our mission. Nearly 1,000 volunteers handle responsibilities that would be impossible to carry out with just 10 staff members. This includes our annual process of reviewing funding applications and determining funding needs for the coming year.

As chair of the community impact team that handles the allocations process, I can tell you our community impact volunteers have an incredible responsibility of being good stewards of gifts given to Sioux Empire United Way. Our volunteers are United Way givers themselves and want to ensure that funding decisions are given their due diligence.

One hundred community members volunteered more than 1,500 hours in March, April and May for Sioux Empire United Way’s funding application process. This process ensures that gifts to United Way effectively meet the needs of the Sioux Empire.

Here’s how the process works:

  • Application: Each agency requesting funds from Sioux Empire United Way completes an application that includes overall agency information; program details such as what the service is, how many people benefit and long-term outcomes; and financial history and proposed budgets.
  • Volunteer teams: Twelve volunteer teams that are organized by service type review the application and meet face-to-face with the agency requesting funds. Volunteers can serve up to six years in the role, so they become well-versed in the programs they review. Our after-school team has a good understanding of potential gaps in service and outcomes to strive for, while our seniors team has a pulse on understanding future impacts of an aging population. The team meetings often include the agency’s staff and board members, as well as clients who have benefited from the services.
  • Funding recommendations: Following these reviews, volunteers recommend funding for the upcoming year. Recommendations can vary from year to year based on the number of people served, changes in the program and financial needs of the agency.
  • Multiple levels: After the initial 12 teams of volunteers make their funding recommendations, the decisions are reviewed by the 12 volunteer leaders of the teams. These leaders take a wider view of funding recommendations across all teams. At this meeting, volunteers may take a second look at recommendations that have had significant changes over prior years and any new programs. The team leaders then forward their final recommendation to Sioux Empire United Way’s board of directors for review and approval.

My personal takeaway from this role is really understanding how often programs funded by United Way touch the lives of family members, co-workers and neighbors.

The funding decisions for 2019 include funds for 86 programs at 39 local agencies. Each of those 39 agencies provides services right here in the Sioux Empire, overseen by its own board of directors. The end result is that one in three people will be served by programs that provide financial assistance, shelter from domestic violence, mental health counseling, quality and affordable child care and more.

To learn more, visit us at seuw.org.

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United Way funding: Inside the allocation process, driven by volunteers

It takes volunteers 1,500 hours to decide how Sioux Empire United Way funding is allocated. Here’s a look at how it works.

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