United Way plans community conversation

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

In response to fundraising decline, the United Way of Greater Williamsburg plans to conduct a "community conversation" in hopes of focusing the organization's impact.

Founded in 1949, Williamsburg's United Way has long campaigned in the community, raising and disseminating funds to local agencies, said board president Sam Poole.

In 2016, the organization awarded more than $400,000 to 24 programs across 16 agencies.

But Larry Foster, interim executive director, estimated the local United Way has seen a 5 to 7 percent per year reduction in revenue since 2011. Poole said the decline reflects a national trend.

"There's so many competing priorities that people have," Poole said. "The point of this community conversation is: we've got to remain relevant."

In 2002, Poole said, United Way Worldwide president Brian Gallagher began pushing towards a focus on community impact.

Williamsburg's United Way can, in several ways, measure its community impact. Its Community Resource Center, an "aggregator of service" as Poole described, serves around 200 households each month. The Home for Good program, a permanent housing program, serves 19 families, and United for Food helps feed more than 500 people each month.

But the organization hopes to continue moving towards that community impact model.

"The timing was right for us to look at this and say: okay, what do we need to do?" Poole said. "What's going to ensure that we can continue to create an impact, but how can we increase that impact while maybe dollars do decrease?"

Thus, the need for a community conversation.

"We have ideas, but we don't pretend to have all the answers," Foster said. "That's what this is, it's self-assessment. Where do we want to be in five years?"

Foster admitted he's not yet sure what the conversation will look like; he's barely two weeks into the interim director position, having taken over from Liz Parman. But he envisions forming a small steering committee, five or so community members, that will define the conversation's questions, process and participants.

"Whatever comes out of the steering committee will begin as a public process sometime in the spring of 2017, and I'm hoping by April," he said.

Poole said the hope is to "take the temperature of the community."

"What does the community see as need?" he said.

How the community answers will help narrow the United Way's focus, essentially shaping the organization for the future.

"Whatever comes out as the common thread in the community, we want to move the needle on it," Poole said. "Whatever that common thread is, you want to be able to say this impact has been made, as opposed to these dollars were raised and these dollars were given out."

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

Any feedback?

Email communityimpact@uwgw.org or larry.foster@uwgw.org.

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