Alison Munson, chief executive officer of the local United Way

Alison Munson, chief executive officer of the local United Way, presents the nonprofit's new approach Thursday morning at Hometown Helena. Through its new Collective Impact model, United Way is bringing together nonprofits, governments, businesses, funders, educators and religious organizations to address four specific goals: alleviating poverty, increasing prosperity, enhancing education and bolstering health.

Though its new approach has caused some friction with at least one Helena nonprofit, United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area expects to grow its impact by investing more in collaborative solutions to specific goals and less in organizations working independently.

“Other communities have gone to this, and it’s been very effective,” said Alison Munson, chief executive officer of the local United Way.

Through its new Collective Impact approach, United Way is bringing together nonprofits, governments, businesses, funders, educators and religious organizations to address four specific goals: alleviating poverty, increasing prosperity, enhancing education and bolstering health.

“We’re aligning with all the different coalitions across the community,” Munson said.

Any nonprofits applying for United Way funding are now required to explain how they would help meet one or more of those goals, and acknowledge that “the community’s interest is best served by working together to develop and maintain a system of effective, efficient and needed human services.” Munson said the organizations that could “write to what we asked for” were awarded United Way grants, and those that couldn’t were not.

“It’s not all about funding,” she said. “It’s about us collaborating.”

Munson said she believes most of United Way’s 39 nonprofit partners are optimistic about the new approach, but not all of them appear to feel that way.

God’s Love homeless shelter in Helena decided to withdraw as a United Way agency after its grant application was denied, founder Wayne Miller said.

Donations to United Way can be designated to either a donor’s choice fund to benefit a specific nonprofit, or a community fund that is used at United Way’s discretion.

In 2017, God’s Love received $24,494 from the donor’s choice fund and a $7,200 grant from the community fund. In 2018, it was awarded $17,224 from the donor’s choice fund but was not selected to receive additional money from the community fund.

United Way helps fight homelessness by collaborating with other agencies on programs such as the Housing First initiative, which aims to connect those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless with housing and other resources. The service is available by visiting Good Samaritan Ministries, PureView/Healthcare for the Homeless, PureView Health Center, Volunteers of America and The Salvation Army, or by calling 211 and requesting the front door connections for Helena.  

United Way also plans to invest in efforts to help prevent people from becoming homeless to begin with, Munson said. 

For example, she said United Way would like to find ways to engage with landlords who haven’t been renting homes to people using a Housing Choice Voucher.

“If they’re getting kicked out because they didn’t pay their electricity bill, how do we make sure that’s covered?” she said. “How do we make sure that a car repair doesn’t make them homeless? How do we prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place? There’s a lot of directions we can go, but we just have to figure them out.”

Theresa Ortega, Good Samaritan Ministries executive director, said she supports the new Collective Impact approach even though her organization was also denied a grant from United Way’s community fund this year.

“I do think it will be an effective approach,” she said. “I think it’s going to pinpoint where the need areas in the community are. Not that we’re not all needy."

Good Samaritan is a social services organization that provides emergency and basic needs, including clothing, furniture and financial assistance. Though the nonprofit has relied on the United Way grant for many years, Ortega said, “Let’s look at where the need is.”

“I do have concerns about what I’m going to do for this needy population, but I’m working on it,” she said, adding that the organization is also struggling to fill several full-time and part-time positions.

Good Samaritan will continue to be a United Way agency even without the grant, she said.

“There’s no use in getting angry,” she said. “We have to get together and figure out how to make this work for all the needs of the community.”

Barb Burton, executive director of Florence Crittenton Home and Services, said in an email that her organization also supports the Community Impact model and believes "partnerships, collaborations and strategic alliances are critical to furthering the work of the Nonprofit community." Florence Crittenton offers trauma-responsive, relationship based programs that provide family-centered support during critical times. 

"While we were disappointed to not receive Community funds through the United Way grant process this year, we understand that that is the way the grants work, you are not always funded," she said, adding that she was also saddened that the latest grant review process did not include site visits. 

United Way’s transition to the Collective Impact approach is not the only reason its partner organizations may see a drop in grant funding this year.

Munson said United Way has fewer donations to work with in 2018, partly because more people have been donating to disaster relief instead.

“With the fires and all the hurricanes last year, people were helping other people,” she said. “Everybody saw a drop in fundraising last year.”

Munson said United Way has also started making funding decisions based on its cash on hand instead of the amount people have pledged to give in the future, as about 4 to 6 percent of pledged donations never materialize. United Way can access only half of its annual donations as a result of this change, she said, though she expects to have much more funding available beginning next year.

“The first year was significant because we only had six months’ worth of funds,” she said.

Whether people like the changes or not, Munson said she wants to hear from them.

“We’re going to make mistakes along the way, and we’re going to listen and get feedback from our partners and our community,” she said. “We want to know what we’re doing well and what we can change.”

The community is invited to the United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area’s 2018 Kickoff Breakfast slated for 7 to 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel, 835 Great Northern Boulevard. The meal is free, and people can RSVP by emailing dana@unitedwaylca.org or by calling (406) 442-4360.

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