FLOC, which serves children in grades one through 12, was among 133 local organizations to receive United Way Community Impact Fund grants announced late last month. A total of $1.7 million will be given to groups in eight Washington area jurisdictions. The largest amount of money — $333,662, about 20 percent of the total — will go to organizations in Fairfax County and Falls Church, Va. The jurisdiction to receive the most individual grants is Alexandria, with 22.
“There are universal challenges in terms of income, affordable housing, homelessness,” said Rosie Allen-Herring, who became president and chief executive of United Way NCA last year. “But there may be issues that are unique to a particular community. So what we try to do is tailor what we do to that community.”
This year, United Way NCA raised the minimum grant to $10,000 and increased the number of grants to 133 from last year’s 120. It also divided the aid among projects related to what Allen-Herring calls its “strategic pillars”: health, education and financial stability.
Volunteers helped evaluate the grant requests, the majority of which were not funded. “There are very hard decisions to be made,” Allen-Herring said. “This year, I believe, we received over 400 proposals.”
“We know the needs are greater than the finite resources we have,” she said. “I think what we try to do is not to pick winners and losers, but to have the greatest amount of impact we possibly can. Which is just one reason we went to the $10,000 minimum.”
United Way grants can fund much of a nonprofit group’s activities or just part of one program. Last year, FLOC had a $1.7 million operating budget, which dwarfs the $10,000 from the United Way. But the grant will go to expand the group’s tutoring program to the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, on the east side of the Anacostia River.
“That program costs us probably about $55,000 to run. So the $10,000 is a huge chunk of that,” Payne said. “We likely would have gone in there thinking we could serve maybe 10, 15 kids, but this year we’re going to serve at least 25.”
Fairfax County’s FACETS Cares has an even larger budget, said Executive Director Amanda Andare. The organization spends more than $2 million annually on “an education and community development program that works in four affordable housing communities to break the cycle of poverty.”
Still, the $13,000 received from United Way this year has financial and symbolic value. “In all of our contracts and grants with other foundations or the government, we’re always specifically asked about how much we get from the United Way,” Andare said. “Every small or larger grant helps to demonstrate that we are actively fundraising to support the program, and leveraging other resources to make the program more whole.”
At Loudoun Cares, an information and referral help line, $10,000 is a major slice of the pie. The group has an annual budget of just $450,000.
“Because of funding losses earlier this year, we scaled back to one part-time person,” said Executive Director Andy Johnston. “This will allow to cover all the business hours at least.”
“We talk about leveraging in this business,” Johnston said. “That’s a real thing. Most funders don’t want to be responsible for all of it. If you can say you got United Way funding, then a foundation may look at that and say, ‘Okay, we’ll help a little bit.’ Nobody’s on the hook for all of it.”
The United Way itself is more collaborative these days, Allen-Herring said, citing as one example a partnership with Goodwill of Greater Washington to train as many as 600 potential workers for the new downtown Convention Center hotel.
“The United Way is evolving,” she said. “It really is about us being a convener, a collaborator and a catalyst.”