Five years ago, the local United Way leadership began seriously discussing disrupting their own organization.
Despite their own 60-plus years of work and that of the good organizations they funded, local United Way leaders knew many of the city’s problems remained entrenched. They saw how stressed nonprofit staff had become, struggling to plug the same holes and achieve their goals with reduced resources, and having little ability to go beyond meeting day-to-day responsibilities.
How, the Greater New Bedford United Way asked itself, could it change its own thinking about providing community solutions and also provide support for nonprofits to do the same with their own missions?
Their answer began with the creation of the Innovation Fund.
Announced in October, the strategy was to offer nonprofits an opportunity to be innovative and receive the financial support to see the innovation realized.
The new fund offers that opportunity through a competitive proposal process that will give at least one awardee up to $100,000 over a one-to-three year period. Five finalists are being announced in January with winners to be named in a Jan. 23 event at the Whaling Museum.
The program is exciting and, in a perfect world, each of the finalists would receive funding for their impressive innovations.
The United Way too deserves recognition.
Its innovation lies in its willingness to turn its gaze inward first, and shift its traditional funding models.
As president and CEO Michelle Hantman put it,“So many things are happening in the community that are great, but at the same time, … we have more programs today than we ever had, yet there are still things that the needle isn’t moving. As a provider we had to ask what are we doing wrong, and as a funder, are we enabling this to happen?”
Their answers led them to create the Innovation Fund, and, after examining long-standing, annual funding practices, implement change that will broaden its applicant pool.
For the first time, this spring United Way’s request for proposals will be open to anyone who fits its criteria. No longer will applicants be by invitation only and limited to a specific number of organizations, 18 in recent years.
Funding categories are limited to three areas — health, financial stability, and education — but nonprofits will self-select which category they will pursue funding for.
As Michelle Hantman noted, “In order to give folks the opportunity to think differently, you’ve got to show that you’re willing to take that risk and jump with them in a leap of faith.”
By starting with themselves, the United Way sets a model for more innovative thinking in meeting the region’s community needs and hopefully continued support for those who do it.
Article written by the Standard Times: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/opinion/20171221/our-view-rethinking-funding-nonprofits