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Impact measured for United Way of Lancaster County's new funding model

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Three years ago the United Way of Lancaster County adopted a funding designed to increase communication among county nonprofits – and its latest report shows it may be working.

In 2015 the United Way of Lancaster adopted what is known as a collective impact model to change how it gives money to organizations.

The United Way of Lancaster once gave individual groups funding for individual projects. Now, there are over 300 local groups working together under one of 10 partnerships funded and encouraged by the United Way.

The new model allows the United Way to help guide the work of the partnerships, compared to the previous model, which was more hands off, said Andrea Heberlein, vice president of strategic impact for the United Way. The collective impact model also helps the United Way bring together a wider group of nonprofits that can fit under the umbrella of one of the 10 partnership, which tackle issues like immigrant and refugee integration, homelessness and child care.

When the organization unveiled the new model, Heberlein said the United Way’s traditional partners and donors didn’t all trust the change. Heberlein said she feels the United Way has managed to overcome that initial skepticism.

“It’s a complex way of tackling complex social problems. It takes sitting down one on one (with a donor or organization leader), going over the data and describing what a specific partnership is doing,” she said.

United Way’s report on the model’s first three years shows that Lancaster County nonprofits working with the United Way are communicating more with each other. Heberlein says that the model helps limit duplication of services.

“All of the partners aren’t doing the same thing; they are coordinating their efforts in a way that positively moves toward the agenda,” she said. “They have a common agenda and are able to communicate.”

The report, written by the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College, states that organizations involved in the new model have had significant internal changes, expanded resources and capacity, and have undertaken greater collaboration with one another. The changes have led to an expansion of services from organizations funded by the United Way and an increase in the number of people served.

Deb Jones, executive director of Elizabethtown Community Housing & Outreach Services, the lead organization for the Elizabethtown Area Hub partnership, said that the results she has seen in her organization has made her a believer in the collective impact model.

Elizabethtown Area Hub consists of 17 organizations grouped together through the United Way’s model. The partnership’s goal is to eliminate generational poverty in Elizabethtown. Jones said that in the three years that the partnership has operated, Elizabethtown’s nonprofits no longer operate as a single entity. Instead, a majority of the partnership’s organizations now work under one roof.

“It has pushed us to go deeper in setting a common agenda, aiming towards goals that are unified in performing our services,” Jones said.

The report graded the model’s efficacy in Lancaster County based on changes the model brought to particular aspects of the work done by the United Way and the organizations in the partnerships. It showed improvements in all categories of collaboration through assessments of the United Way’s partners. The report found that organizations, in particular, felt there were clear strategies to meet goals, there were ways of resolving conflicts and that the partnerships changed policies when necessary.

“The first two years, even more than that, were so much just working with the systemic change and building trust and communication. Now we are seeing the outcome on some of these efforts,” Heberlein said.

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Ioannis Pashakis

Ioannis Pashakis

Ioannis Pashakis covers health care and Lancaster County. Email him at ipashakis@cpbj.com.

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