The Case for Change – United Way Looks Forward


We at United Way of Summit County believe that a community thrives when its members invest their talent, their resources and their energy within it. That is the heart of our mission – to mobilize the caring power of our community to advance the common good through Education, Income and Health, because they are the ingredients of a fulfilling life.
But what do we mean when we talk about Education, Income and Health? All three play a critical role in the success of our community, but at the same time, they encompass a wide range of issues. To ensure that Greater Akron is a place where every child and every family can prosper, United Way looks to improve four specific impact areas:
Bringing our community together to advance these issues – that is the mission of United Way.
Over time, of course, the way we have worked toward our mission has changed. That’s no surprise. A nearly 100-year-old institution like United Way of Summit County must adapt to the evolving needs of our community. We must continually find new ways to refocus and strengthen our impact.
For the past year, we at United Way of Summit County have been hard at work reexamining our strategies, our practices and our policies, making sure that all are in alignment with our mission. Months of discussion between staff, donors, volunteer leaders and community partners have led us to identify a number of obstacles we must overcome in order to best serve our community.
One of our most pressing obstacles relates to how we are able to invest in our community. Between 2009 and 2015, United Way’s revenue remained largely consistent. However, as you can clearly see below, the way we invest our funds has changed dramatically.
Though our overall spending has remained nearly the same, the amount United Way distributes as designations nearly doubled, while the amount spent on allocations was nearly halved.
To get a better sense of what this means, let’s take a step back and talk about what we mean by “allocations” and “designations.”
Allocations are distributed according to United Way’s mission and impact strategies. When you contribute directly to United Way, your gift is invested in the local community, and our Community Impact team works hard to ensure that every dollar United Way spends is leveraged for maximum return on investment. This ensures that your gift will go a very long way toward improving the lives of others here in Akron and Summit County.
Designated donations are gifts made to United Way, but are earmarked by the donor for distribution to a specific third-party nonprofit organization. Like all gifts to United Way, they are a generous expression of the great spirit of philanthropy that exists throughout our community. However, because United Way does not direct how these donations are spent, they may not always drive our mission.

For example, let’s look at how designations were distributed in 2015.

As you can see above, in 2015, nearly 60 percent of designations went to foundations, religious organizations, schools – generally college alumni funds – and other agencies that do not align with United Way of Summit County’s local mission. Of even bigger concern, nearly half of designations leave Summit County.

As we work to step up our impact efforts to better serve the people of our local community, this is an obstacle. For that reason, we have implemented policies that will help bring our investments better in line with our mission. This will allow us to better leverage our resources to create change of the magnitude Akron and Summit County needs.

You can learn more about our new donor policy here.

Of course, the changes we will be implementing go way beyond policy. As United Way looks forward to the future, we are adopting a new business model – one that prioritizes the hard work of creating a meaningful, measurable impact.

This model will ensure that United Way’s focus remains on its mission, so that, together, we can ensure that Akron is a place where education and job opportunities abound, where children and families are healthy and secure and where everyone has a fair shot at a prosperous life.