We are in the season of giving. As the holidays arrive and winter sets in, there are many reminders of how important it is for individuals to give — both of their time and money — if they are able.
For the social service agencies in Lawrence and Douglas County, giving is a year-round occupation. But during this season, it is important for local nonprofits to give in a way that they are not always asked to do.
They need to give a new idea a chance.
The idea is one that has been discussed for some time by board members of the United Way of Douglas County. It involves revamping how the United Way distributes funding to the 24 agencies it helps support. Board members are suggesting that United Way tie future funding to a set of community goals. United Way agencies — beginning in 2012 — would have to demonstrate how their agencies help fulfill one or more of those goals as part of their funding requests.
The idea is still at least 14 months from being ready to implement, but already some social service providers have responded with various levels of concern, noting the new funding situation would create a “huge unknown.”
Such concerns are understandable. The employees and volunteers of local social service agencies work extremely hard to make Douglas County a better place but often must work even harder to find the funding they need to continue their work.
But now really isn’t the time to worry; it’s the time to dream and help set the community goals that agencies will be asked to address. This is the time for local residents to come together and determine which issues we must tackle to be the caring community that we desire. The success of the United Way’s idea will depend on how well the community comes together and plans for its future.
Other United Ways across the country have been doing just that. A recent Journal-World article noted that the United Way of Central Iowa set three community goals earlier this decade: Cut by half the number of students who do not graduate on time; cut by half the number of lower-income families who are financially unstable; cut by half the number of adults and youths who are engaged in unhealthy and risky behaviors.
What would be Lawrence and Douglas County’s three goals? It is exciting to ponder. Also exciting to think about is how such a process could energize the county’s donors. In Central Iowa, giving increased by 45 percent in a five-year period. In Douglas County, such an increase would equate to about an extra $800,000 per year.
Such a surge in giving may or may not occur in Douglas County, but the United Way initiative has the potential to benefit the community in a number of ways. What the United Way is proposing should be viewed not so much as a big change but as a big opportunity.