By Dan Duncan, Senior Consultant, Clear Impact
Our United Way system is embarking on a bold journey to transform communities across the country (and now the world) by setting goals that are focused on education, income and health; the building blocks of a good life. To be successful, this journey requires local United Ways to transform from primarily fundraising and allocating agencies to community building and engagement organizations, bringing the community together to act collectively for the common good, through giving, advocating and volunteering.
There are two complementary approaches that can provide the necessary framework to help local United Ways complete this transformation and achieve real long-term results: 1) Results-Based Accountability (RBA) to focus United Way’s work on achieving measurable improvements in the quality of life in communities (“population results”); and, 2) Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) to guide effective engagement of communities in the development of strategies to achieve population results. Together, these theories of change provide the promise of measurable change through community engagement – to truly LIVE UNITED.
RBA enables a United Way to identify population results and the corresponding measures necessary to track the achievement of those population results (“indicators”), as well as the performance measures to track and improve the performance of agencies and programs.
RBA introduces the power of the concept of “turning the curve” to drive long-term action, the concept of improving a trend line of an indicator rather than setting arbitrary numerical goals, which in even the best cases, usually set unrealistic or minimal results that often do not lead to sustainable long-term change.
Asset-Based Community Development
ABCD can help United Ways enhance their community engagement strategies and provide an effective framework to answer:
- Who are the partners that have a role to play in doing better?
- What works to do better, including no-cost and low-cost solutions?
- What do we propose to do?
To begin this process, we need to ask three questions:
- What are the things that only residents can do?
- What are the things that residents and institutions can accomplish together, as co-producers?
- What are the things that only institutions can do?
If we are going to unlock the power of resident engagement, institutions must lead by stepping back, creating space for residents to be involved as producers of their own and their community’s well-being.
To unlock the power of community, we need to utilize the skills and resources of the people we serve. We must expand their roles beyond that of a client. They also may be an advisor, providing input to help institutions provide a better level of service directed towards individuals in the community.
However, there is a third role (and the most valuable): that of a co-producer of their own and their community’s well-being. We need residents to become involved and provide input so that we can improve services and policies. More importantly, we need to ask residents, “What can they contribute? How can they use what they already have to achieve what they need?
United Ways’ Role
Two key roles that United Ways can play to achieve their long-term goals are to 1) support the increased engagement of residents by encouraging the work of neighborhood grassroots leaders and 2) to collaborate with institutions to recognize and more effectively utilize the power and resources of resident engagement.
The work of the grassroots leaders/organizers is to mobilize the residents of a neighborhood or community to share their individual gifts through the simple acts of identifying, asking and connecting.
Their role should be to:
- Identify individuals in their neighborhood or community and the skills (gifts) they possess
- Ask them to share their individual gifts, and
- Encourage them to connect with other individuals who have the same passions to work collectively for the common good.
The intersection of RBA and ABCD has the potential to assist large and small United Ways to “turn the curve” and achieve measurable results in the areas of education, income and health. RBA provides a simple understandable framework to identify population results and their related indicators to drive collective action and the performance measures to track and improve individual programs and strategies. ABCD unlocks the resources in communities that are often neglected while providing direction for more effective institutional action.
If your United Way has begun the journey to align your resources around education, income and health, the building blocks of a good life you may want to explore, as a growing number of United Ways have, the power of “turning the curve” and increased community engagement through the intersection of RBA and ABCD. This intersection has the potential to unlock an abundance of resources to truly make a difference and change community conditions for all.