The United Way of North Central Florida, Inc. (UWNCFL) is a Florida nonprofit corporation organized for the purpose of advancing the common good by focusing on education, income, health and immediate needs. United Way leads the community to focus on issues and build solutions through giving, advocating, and volunteering.
In the early 2000s, United Way Worldwide began to investigate an alternative way of increasing efficiency and maximizing impact as an organization. In 2006, they launched the Impact model – a model aimed at transforming United Ways from a purely fundraising model to an impact-based model, where effectiveness is not measured by fundraised dollars, but by output and effectiveness in the community as a whole. This model is also based in part, on the ever popular Collective Impact model. This change was further catalyzed by the 2008 recession, an economic downturn that greatly affected United Ways and the entire non-profit industry as a whole. Seeking out a new form of efficiency to differentiate the organization and serve as a competitive advantage, UWNCFL began implementation of the Impact model from 2008-2009. To date, only 16% of over 1,200 local United Ways have made the switch to the Impact model, leaving UWNCFL at the forefront of this movement.
In 2011, UWNCFL chose Results-Based Accountability as a framework to help achieve their Collective Impact mission. According to Jennifer Stojkovic, Director of Community Impact at UWNCFL, “the transition to Results-Based Accountability (RBA) to implement Collective Impact was obvious.” Clear Impact’s Senior Consultant, Deitre Epps, worked with Jennifer and others at UWNCFL for 3 years to help them develop methods for measuring their impact on the community, use effective data-driven meetings to drive progress, and implement RBA throughout the organization (specifically in the context of their new 3-year investment cycles).
“Deitre and Clear Impact enabled us to look at our community in a new way and develop specific, focused, strategic tools to address our unique underlying needs. This focus has allowed us to not only concentrate on results for North Central Florida as a whole, but really hone in on the targeted goals of our organization, United Way of North Central Florida, and how we can help make those goals become results through investing in local programs,” says Stojkovic.
Stojkovic has said that transitioning to RBA has helped UWNCFL invest in their communities and grantees with deliverable results. RBA has also helped them develop a collective focus on the “bigger picture” of their efforts with the local community, leading to enhanced communication and cohesion between UWNCFL, service providers, the public, and others.
As part of the transition to RBA, UWNCFL developed a Community Visioning Process to start thinking critically about population accountability, Collective Impact, and to collaborate with partners to strategically “Turn the Curve” on community wellbeing in a positive direction. UWNCFL serves as the backbone support organization in their Collective Impact initiative, along with key partners like the University of Florida, local government and law enforcement, nonprofits, the local school district, and the Department of Children and Families. During the initial Community Vision Process meeting in 2010, UWNCFL hosted more than 50 local partners in a discussion on community issues, which led to focusing in on key areas of need – education, financial stability, safety, and health. Identifying key areas of need has enabled UWNCFL, along with community partners, to focus their time, attention, and resources on helping to “Turn the Curve” on the most important community issues and to deliver more disciplined and effective program and service delivery.
In addition to focusing in on community issues identified by the Community Visioning Process,
UWNCFL has also made two other important organizational transitions, which have been aided by the use of RBA. One, the organization has shifted from annual funding commitments to 3-year commitments. This has helped UWNCFL get a more complete picture of a grantee’s program performance and impact on a chosen area of need, before making any further funding decisions. Additionally, UWNCFL has transitioned from being primarily a funding organization, to developing and delivering internal programs and services to the community, as well as partnering with local nonprofits to deliver services. This decision was made after UWNCFL realized that there were certain needs in the community that were not being met by existing programs. These community needs were illuminated through the development of the “Stories Behind the Curve” (or stories behind the data) that UWNCFL and partners developed for their indicators.
One of the programs that was developed in response to this realization is the Weekend Hunger Backpack Program. This is a program that delivers free food and backpacks to help feed disadvantaged children during the weekend. According to Stojkovic, research indicated that a big reason for “Monday morning fatigue” and lags in academic achievement was chronic hunger among students. In certain schools in the district, nearly 99% of students were receiving free or reduced priced lunch. Children were being fed at school, but when they would go home at the end of the week, there would not be enough food to sustain them through the weekend, leading to fatigue, malnourishment, and academic issues. By securing “start up” funding and building partnerships to create a program addressing these needs, UWNCFL was able to create the Weekend Hunger Backpack Program in 2009. By 2011, the program reached capacity at UWNCFL and was transitioned to a local 501c-3 partner, Catholic Charities of Gainesville, where it remains today. The program is currently funded by UWNCFL’s 3-year investment process.
RBA has been integral to the success of programs like the Weekend Hunger Backpack Program in a number of ways. Without the Community Visioning Process and collective efforts of the partners, UWNCFL would not be able to identify the key issues facing the people of the community and develop key strategies to help Turn the Curve on those issues. Furthermore, by implementing RBA’s performance accountability with the funded programs, UWNCFL is able to focus on achieving outcome-based results for those programs. This past year, the Weekend Hunger Backpack Program provided 98,000 meals to 706 children. By using performance accountability measures, the agency is able to take the next step and not only see that 706 hungry children were provided with food, but of those 706 children, nearly two-thirds improved their health (decrease in fatigue, extreme thin or gaunt appearance, and chronic sickness) and behavior in the classroom. By focusing on performance outcomes, UWNCFL is able to look at the “bigger picture” and demonstrate the true effectiveness of its programs.
“The United Way of North Central Florida has worked diligently since 2011 to implement RBA with community partners, with an intentional focus on shared accountability for improving key indicators. UWNCF is also modeling how to correctly implement program performance accountability, leading their data driven decision-making meetings with a focus on quality improvement of programs using Turn the Curve planning and reporting. These efforts show what it takes to build and sustain a culture of results at both the community and program levels,” says Epps.
All of UWNCFL’s 26 funded programs implement performance accountability to monitor and improve performance. Prior to the initial switch to RBA in 2011, each of UWNCFL’s grantees was measuring performance differently, even though they were delivering many of the same services. In 2011, UWNCFL implemented specific strategies with respective performance measures; each funded program would then choose from these measures. Although programs began to overlap in their performance tracking, a number of programs still reported performance measures in slightly different ways. In an effort to create more cohesion and efficiency for the next investment cycle in 2015, UWNCFL began to host focus group meetings among grantees to develop common performance measures, each related to one of six focus areas: Birth to 5 Success, K-5th Grade Success, Middle-High School Success, Income and Financial Stability, Health, and Immediate Needs and Crisis Assistance.
Now, programs that are addressing the same or similar problems are using common performance measures, so that UWNCFL can compare apples to apples.
Over the 3-year investment cycle, UWNCFL communicates quarterly with each of their 26 partners to monitor program performance, discuss successes, explore the story behind the curve on different measures, and make tweaks or changes to programs to accelerate positive trends in performance. With the help of long-term volunteers and an overseeing advisory council, this data is reviewed in an effort to Turn the Curve on program performance measures. UWNCFL maintains constant communications with their 26 program grantees, throughout the 3-year funding cycle, in order to address problems as they occur and make necessary changes.
According to Stojkovic,“RBA is a competitive advantage,” and it has helped increase transparency and accountability between UWNCFL and its Board of Directors, who appear to be very happy with how the organization is interacting, partnering-with, and funding grantees, and how they are continuously measuring results and community impact.
Stojkovic has also shared that using RBA and Collective Impact has increased trust with local donors. UWNCFL knows that donors want to make a smart investment, and in an effort to foster donations and educate the public on their community impact, UWNCFL now delivers a Yearly RBA Report, in which they include 1 page snapshots and information on each of the focus areas’ progress. These snapshots include the big picture and individual efforts, including human-centered success stories. Instead of just asking for a donation, UWNCFL uses RBA to demonstrate program value and results, which has proven as a more effective method of fostering trust with the public, leading to more donations.
Overall, RBA implementation at UWNCFL and in the surrounding community is still an ongoing process. Stojkovic has shared that many “United Ways are expressing interest in the shift. A lot of people see RBA as a useful, trustworthy, consistent, and transparent approach. They know its time to shift.”
To read more about UWNCFL, visit https://www.unitedwayncfl.org/