Any business leader will tell you it’s all about results. For a nonprofit, it’s usually all about providing care — something that is a lot more nebulous and harder to measure.
United Way of Greater Cleveland has combined those two concepts with a series of new initiatives under an umbrella program called its Impact Institute. It should provide better care for people in need, while also offering its donors, business leaders and service providers concrete numbers.
August Napoli, CEO of the United Way of Greater Cleveland, is quick to point out that the United Way will continue “funding programs that meet the daily needs of those facing homelessness, financial crisis or hunger.”
“The Impact Institute is where we are putting a lot of new initiatives and energy,” says Nancy Mendez, vice president of Community Impact for United Way of Greater Cleveland. “With the Impact Institute, we are trying to get to the root causes of poverty.”
For decades, a lot of well-intended and honorable organizations addressed the symptoms of poverty; like if someone was hungry or needed shelter, issues that United Way will still support through its programs, says Mendez.
“But we also started to take a really hard look and listen to the community of people in need first, and then our donors and service providers,” she says. “We got involved in a real extensive yearlong community needs assessment. What we heard loud and clear was that people were also very interested in seeing some real movement in the numbers. They were seeing the same stats and hearing about the same poverty rates. If anything, it almost seemed like it was getting worse. So we created the Impact Institute in that vein.”
So far, the results have been exciting. With its first initiative, the well-publicized “Lead Safe Home Summit” held in June, United Way partnered with a coalition of many different foundations to address multiple issues of decades of children getting poisoned by lead, a problem that causes brain damage, behavior health issues and learning disabilities.
In another initiative, United Way is looking at the social determinants of health, creating partnerships with hospitals and service providers to assess people who “are going to the hospital a lot,” says Mendez. “Take a diabetic as an example. A doctor may give them a list of things to do, like take your insulin or eat more fresh produce.
“But if that individual is in a situation where their utilities are about to be cut off, or they can’t afford fresh produce, or there is not a grocery store within walking distance of their home, then they can’t follow their doctor’s orders and will wind up back in the hospital.”
Under the Impact Institute, United Way will take a more holistic approach to the problems faced by the individual and work to provide wrap-around services to address all of those issues, Mendez says.
“So, you may actually have a health crisis with a housing solution,” she adds.
In another new initiative, called Scholar House, United Way is looking at issues like affordable housing, day care, education and an assortment of other wrap-around services to help young women with children get back into school and break the cycle of poverty.
“The idea is to wrap services around individuals in need in a more meaningful way and be thoughtful of how we can move that person forward and out of poverty,” Mendez adds.
It’s a bold new step by United Way of Greater Cleveland, and it’s sure to create even more pilot programs. Certainly, the Impact Institute will have, well, a more meaningful impact on our community and those in need.