United Way of Central Iowa unveiled its new strategic focus today: UNITED to THRIVE. As the principle now guiding the organization’s strategic decisions, United Way of Central Iowa aims to unite central Iowans to foster a thriving community – one that is equitable, engaged, and empowered.

UNITED to THRIVE establishes the new standards by which the organization will set their goals and measure progress in the community. While much of the Collective Impact model of United Way of Central Iowa will remain the same, the new focus has three key differences.

  1. As the organization concludes its efforts toward the Community Goals for 2020, set in 2008, UNITED to THRIVE evolves its focus from one outcome in its three independent focus areas of education, income, and health to five interconnected elements of a thriving community, each with several key indicators of success:
    • Essential Needs: Central Iowans live in stable, healthy places with essential supports they need to thrive.
    • Early Childhood Success: Central Iowa children start out healthy and ready to learn.
    • Education Success: Central Iowa youth are academically successful and have a plan for their future.
    • Economic Opportunity: Central Iowans have sufficient income and opportunities to build wealth.
    • Health & Well-Being: Central Iowans have physical and mental well-being.

These five elements encompass a more holistic definition of what is needed not only to survive, but to thrive in central Iowa.

  1. While addressing inequities and disparities has always been an important focus in United Way of Central Iowa’s work, equity will now be an intentional top priority in every aspect.
    • United Way will seek to be a prominent voice in central Iowa on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion – using the organization’s influence and privilege as a platform for other voices, that have historically been marginalized, to be heard.
    • Equity Principles will be incorporated into the organization’s investment and grant processes.
    • Goals will be established to diversify engagement with volunteer leadership, donors, and corporate and community partnerships.
    • Volunteer opportunities will promote diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
    • The organization will advocate for policies at the local, state, and federal levels to address root causes of disparity and inequity.

Focusing on equity allows United Way to identify specific areas of intense need to more dramatically progress our communities’ overall ability to thrive.

  1. Finally, the new focus will refine the way United Way creates strategies, sets goals, and measures impact. Transparency and accountability are a top priority for United Way of Central Iowa. As the organization focuses on results, the goals set will be well-defined and measurable so our community can clearly see the real and apparent impact of the work they generously support.

    In the past, for each area of work (education, income, and health) one metric was used to measure progress and represent impact. Moving forward, rather than one metric for each of the five elements, United Way will track and report multiple metrics as key indicators of success, creating a dashboard of metrics to set goals, evaluate progress, and distribute resources. Volunteer advisors and subject matter experts have helped identify these key indicators and are now using them to guide the United Way of Central Iowa team to develop specific goals and strategies for each element.

With our Community Goals for 2020 culminating at the end of last year, we set our sights on the future, beyond 2020. Rather than decide our new goals, over the last two years, we went out to the community to ask them where they thought our focus should be. We gathered input through meetings with community leaders and partners, public town halls, mass surveys – hearing from thousands of people and a cross-section of organizations across central Iowa.

We were determined to hear from not just those who have a long history with our organization but also new collaborators, volunteers, and community members whose voices have been marginalized to be sure we had a good sense for what people feel will be the biggest challenges we will face in coming years. We learned a lot about central Iowa, and about our organization. All of that helped us reconfigure our work into the UNITED to THRIVE strategic focus, and we are very excited about implementing this new direction.

This community-wide approach of defining the new strategy is a similar approach in how the organization determines its investments – through the community expert volunteers who make up its cabinets and committees.

“The shift to UNITED to THRIVE includes a number of process improvements, enhancements to the way we organize our work, set goals, measure outcomes, and more,” said Renée Miller, Chief Community Impact Officer at United Way of Central Iowa. “We are still working with our various investment cabinets to redefine how our resources are going to be distributed based on this new strategic focus. We do know, however, our funded partners will re-apply for funding by demonstrating how their various programs align with the new strategies under each of the five elements.

“We believe the changes we are implementing will make us, as an organization, better at what we do. We also feel strongly that our intentional shift to address inequities and disparities more aggressively will make a more significant difference. We recognize that we have the role, responsibility, and opportunity to partner across organizations to close equity gaps. If I had to pick one thing really holding central Iowa back, it is the way some in our community are having a much more difficult time thriving than others. If we can fix that, or even make a significant impact, we will have a central Iowa that is more equitable, engaged, and empowered.”

Find more about UNITED to THRIVE at www.unitedtothrive.org.

TAGS: Beyond 2020

Elisabeth Buck

About The Author: Elisabeth Buck

Elisabeth Buck is the former President of United Way of Central Iowa.