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Ray Croft: United Way embraces new way to help

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Ray Croft, Guest Columnist

Recently, I asked a friend of mine, "What does United Way do?"

After an uncomfortable silence (and a bit of pressure on my end), she responded with, "They raise funds and give those funds out to the community."

Ray Croft
Ray Croft

Although that was the response I expected, I was disappointed in myself and in United Way of Denton County for not doing a better job of telling our story.

Well, my friend was correct when she said we raise funds and distribute them to the community.

How do we raise funds?

We do it through events and sponsorships, but most of our dollars are raised through employer-sponsored workplace campaigns.

United Way makes a presentation to the employees explaining what we do and how we do it. The employees are then offered the opportunity to support the community they live and work in with a one-time contribution or payroll deduction.

After conducting an annual fundraising campaign, United Way uses its Needs Assessment to guide the allocations team and board of directors to make informed decisions regarding the most pressing needs of our county's communities.

We then make decisions on funding for our partner agencies.

These 20 partners are expert in their service areas and know best how to spend their United Way funding. You can read about each one at https://www.unitedwaydenton.org/PartnerAgencies

.I believe the most knowledgeable United Way supporters understand our process up to this point. However, there is an area of concentration of United Way that goes largely unnoticed by the public: our Collective Impact Initiatives.

What is Collective Impact and where did it come from?

The Collective Impact model was the result of a study done by the Stanford Innovation Review. If I had to boil down their study in one sentence, I'd say, "Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated intervention of individual organizations."

We've found that the old model is not working.

When serving the homeless, we need to provide a safe place to get a decent night's sleep. Unfortunately, the same people will be back again tomorrow night unless something changes.

In order to tackle these large social problems, we need something more than isolated organizations working independently. We need scalability and most importantly, a collective model rather than a collaborative model.

Imagine a different approach -- multiple players working together to solve complex issues, all working toward the same goal and measuring the same things.

This creates a cross-sector alignment with government, nonprofit, philanthropic and corporate sectors as partners. Organizations would actively coordinate their actions and share lessons learned.

Hmmm, we've heard this before. So why is this different?

According to the Stanford Innovation Review, a backbone organization must exist. This organization is one that keeps all the members on task, collects data, measures and evaluates.

Not having this kind of organization is the biggest reason that large collaborative partnerships fail. Once the partners leave the meeting, they go back to their respective offices, and important details fall through the cracks.

That is where United Way of Denton County has come in.

We serve as the backbone organization for a number of initiatives that are serving our community.

Some of our initiatives include the Homeless Coalition, the Veterans Coalition and the Mental Health Coalition.

All members of the Collective Impact Initiatives are stakeholders from all areas of our community including hospitals, school districts, universities, law enforcement, service providers and community leaders. We all have a stake in addressing these large social issues.

United Way of Denton County President and CEO Gary Henderson said, "It's critical that our community move from only helping people in crisis to one of crisis response and moving people towards self-sufficiency. United Way and our partners do an outstanding job with limited resources yet the growing need in Denton County is simply outpacing our capacity.

"It's imperative that inefficiencies be replaced with improved methods for offering Denton County residents the chance to live up to his or her potential."

So, again what does United Way do? We do ask for money and we use that money -- all for improving lives. We're united in that effort.

For more information about United Way of Denton County, visit www.unitedwaydenton.org.

RAY CROFF is a registered financial consultant and co-chairman of United Way of Denton County.