The Ottumwa Courier

March 25, 2014

Focused funding

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Donors to the United Way want their dollars to make a difference.

To do that, the United Way will give more help to a smaller quantity of proposals.

“This is the first time since I’ve been here that the board has made the strategic decision to focus on [one subject like] education,” said Executive Director Desiree Johnson of the United Way of Wapello County. "Research shows if kids have access to a good education, they can get vocational training or go to college; it improves their ability to get a job and make more money."

Therefore, groups that are helping further the goal of educating kids will be more likely to receive United Way funding this year.

"The board felt choosing education as our number-one priority impacts so many things, including income and health," Johnson said.

Income and health, however, are on the priority list by themselves — just not as high up on the list as education.

"It's unfortunate, but our resources are limited, too," said Johnson. "When we spread ourselves so thin, it’s hard to see measurable results. We want to demonstrate to our supporters there is progress. Donors have told us they want to see changes [in the community]."

Though the UW voted on the plan, they didn't do so in isolation, Johnson said. It's not good enough, she's been hearing, to just say, "We help people.

"We set these goals by engaging the community. We’ve been looking at programs where we could see some results in our area."

Though not easy to measure, these are topics, she said, where an assessment can show improvement.

"We have documented evidence that if certain things are addressed along a child’s education, results can be better. For example, if a child can read at the end of third grade, they tend to be much more likely to graduate with their class."

Now they'll be looking for organizations with the abilities to implement some winning programs. These 501C3 groups can get support as they work toward those goals.

"We're asking organizations to write us a proposal to say, 'This is what my organization does, and this is what we’d do with United Way money to deliver on those focus areas'," said Johnson. "In our request for our grant applications, we’re being pretty specific on what we are looking for."

— News reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark