United Way Looks to Target Critical Problem Areas

(Published in The Times of NWI 5/28/2015) GRIFFITH | The Lake Area United Way is narrowing its focus as it converts from its traditional broad-based approach to dealing with the community's needs though its member agencies.

By taking what it characterizes as a "laser like" approach, the organization hopes to have more of an impact in attacking root issues causing the problems afflicting the community. It is an approach that Lisa Daugherty, president and chief executive officer of the local organization, believes will lead to "sustainable change."

In making the transition, the organization will be gradually moving away from its traditional model in which 90 percent of its money went to local agencies that served recipients of their services.

Daugherty said the long-term sustainability of the organization and community conditions were the two factors driving the agency to change its long-established model.

She said the local organization could not survive long term under its current model or have the type of impact it expects to have under its new format.

Daugherty noted that in the late 1980s, United Way nationwide received nearly 3 percent of all charitable giving. By 2007, that percentage had fallen to 1.2 percent.

Locally, the Lake Area United Way has seen revenue drop by 30 percent since the early 1990s. In addition, the agency cites numerous local indicators that reveal community conditions in Lake County are not improving and in some cases are getting worse.

For instance, officials point to the rise in poverty - with more than 41 percent of individuals and families in Lake County either in poverty or barely having enough assets to keep them from falling into that category.

In transitioning to a community impact model, the agency will ultimately direct most of its funding to organizations that attack what is determined to be a root cause of many of the problems affecting the community. After deciding upon the issue to address, officials will establish specific goals they will use to measure their success in attacking the issue, develop strategies and report out on its results.

The United Way is expected to select one of the following three issues to focus on after consultation with the community and its member agencies:

* The working poor. Known as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, people in this group are making just enough to stay out of poverty, but are not able to afford all the basic necessities when it comes to areas like health care and transportation. At the same time, this group is making too much to be eligible for many social support services.

* The 65 percent of families in poverty that are headed by a single mom.

* Early childhood development, including pre-kindergarten. Daugherty said the focus here would be to try to make sure children are ready for kindergarten and reading at grade level by third grade.

The local chapter will still provide money to agencies that have traditionally relied on it for money, although funding levels will be reduced over time.

Lake Area United Way officials say steps already have been taken to make many of these organizations less dependent on the charity.

Ten years ago, the local chapter said it began helping member agencies improve their individual fundraising efforts. At that time, United Way donations often represented more than 30 percent of a member agency's funding. Now, for the majority of the agencies money provided by the United Way provides less than 9 percent of their overall revenue.

In moving to a Community Impact Model, the agency will be taking a route already undertaken by nearly 50 percent of local chapters. Daugherty pointed to the impact that United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha were able to achieve in the area of teen pregnancy as an example of how successful such a model can be in attacking an issue.

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative led by the Wisconsin group set a goal in 2008 to reduce teen birth rates by 46 percent by 2015. The city saw the teen birth rate actually drop by 56 percent in the intervening years, going from 52 births per 1,000 in 2006 to 22.9 per 1,000 in 2013.