Understanding the United Way Allocations Process

Every year in our region something remarkable happens – thousands of individuals and companies donate millions of dollars to help through United Way. These dollars make a real impact in the lives of one in three local people through programs and services administered through this United Way and United Way partner agencies.

United Way works closely with its partner agencies to ensure that your generous donations are carefully and thoughtfully put to good use to help the most people. This hard work is done by hundreds of dedicated individuals who volunteer their time to make these important decisions that impact us all.

1.  Volunteer Recruitment
The United Way allocations process starts by bringing together nearly 400 individuals who live and work in our 16-county region in Illinois and Missouri.  These volunteers serve as the eyes and ears of the more than 200,00 donors.  Volunteers participate in a 7-month process to ensure that funds are distributed fairly, objectively, and with great consideration for their best use.

2. Volunteer Education
Volunteers learn about the importance of building a stronger community by investing in a system of quality agencies that help people in need.  Training includes an overview of key issues in the nonprofit community, the allocations process, and the United Way’s Quality Standards- a best practices tool developed by volunteers and experts.  Each non-profit is required to meet the standards to maintain United Way membership and receive funding.

3. On-Site Visits
Armed with the Quality Standards, volunteer groups are dispatched to visit United Way member agencies.  They conduct an annual in-depth review of the agencies through site visits, community impact presentations, and reviews of reporting submitted by the agencies.  All told, each of the more than 170 member agencies are visited by small teams of volunteers.

4. Debriefing
Following the site visits, volunteers meet to discuss their findings about each agency.  They also develop specific recommendations for improvement to help agencies stay stable and strong.

5. Allocations
Agencies request funding based on their particular needs and programs. Funding requests can be as basic as operating costs to as advanced as developing a new program.  Based on the knowledge gained through the allocations process, volunteers now must come to consensus about how much money each agency will receive in the coming year.  Volunteers determine funding needs based on the merits of the requests and the capacity of the agencies.  While allocations vary greatly depending on agency size and impact, United Way volunteers invest more than $1 million in our region each week.

6. Approval and Distribution
Once all of the allocations recommendations are compiled, they are vetted through a three-part approval process, ending with a final decision by the United Way Executive Committee.  Following approval, funds are distributed to the agencies in the next fiscal year.

Interested in volunteering? You can become an allocations panel volunteer.

Learn more:

Adopted from the United Way of Greater St. Louis website.

2 thoughts on “Understanding the United Way Allocations Process

  1. Years ago, while working for United Way recipient agencies, I was always perplexed that donors were told they could designate their gifts to a specific agency, when in reality the allocations had already been decided and individual designations would have to exceed the previously determined allocation amount in order to actually make a direct impact upon the agency. It seemed misleading. (Even if final designations are not guaranteed until after the campaign goal is met, there were consistent dollar allocations from year to year for most of the smaller agencies.)

    In this age of transparency I assume this has been rectified, but it would be enlightening and donor-building to have assurance that a dollar given to a specific purpose means an additional dollar received by the agency.

  2. Many United Ways have stepped away from designations. United Way’s efforts are focused on accomplishing results together – not just achieving a dollar goal. While we will always strive to meet certain internal budgetary goals, community goals are now based on the measured results of funded programs and Partner Agencies achieve each year. As always, United Way’s strive to maintain financial transparency and details of finances and allocations are published in annual reports, which typically are posted on their websites along with their 990s.

    This change to “Community Impact” is a slow process. Each United Way handles designations differently – First Dollar In or Steaming Process. What is important is that agency’s communicate clearly with their donors what their process is and how those dollars are allocated. Greater Gallatin United Way located in Bozeman, MT has a minimal number of designations because we our role is to listen and assess the community needs, convene organizations to share resources in order to deliver the greatest results. Designated funds are outside of allocation process. What is important is that your local United Way is transparent and accountable, which builds community trust. This trust allows us, through community-based volunteers; determine where the money is most needed through needs assessment, understanding each agency’s financial needs, examining cost per service, reviewing impact measurements, etc.

    I hope this helps. 🙂

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