Reviewers play a critical role in deciding who and what gets funded in the upcoming grant cycle
A passerby, hearing the laughter echo from the meeting room this morning, might have thought a party of some sort had broken out, rather than a deep dive into the financials of non-profit agencies. But that’s exactly what it was: a group of United Way volunteers, hard at work, looking at budget line items, revenues and audits–and they appeared to be loving every minute of it.
“I have to admit, I thought this part of the process could possibly be dry,” said Karley Ausiello, Vice President of Volunteer Engagement for United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “They were laughing and having a great time and, personally, when I sat in on the meeting, I found it fascinating.”
You wouldn’t think of poring over spreadsheets as a recipe for fun, but such is the uniqueness of the allocations review. As both a window into how United Way invests in agencies and an opportunity to network with peers, it offers an experience no other volunteer opportunity can.
As United Way gears up to enter another cycle of funding for local organizations, the reliance on volunteers is critical. No other organization leverages volunteers at this scale for vetting agency finances, governance and program effectiveness. All told, the process features 452 total volunteers. Participants range in age and discipline, from small to large donors, MBA students to senior Vice Presidents of the biggest companies.
“It’s a huge range of volunteers,” says Ausiello. “We have long time donors, leadership donors, field experts, retirees and people who are having their first experience with United Way.”
Recruiting began in September, with training in January, including specially-produced webinars to guide volunteers through their duties. Review groups started to meet in mid-January and will wrap the first week of March.
Ultimately, recommendations from all of this work will be presented to the United Way Board for votes on funding. Dollars are granted to agencies that work in United Way’s three impact areas: children entering school ready to succeed, youth graduating on time with options for the future and families achieving financial stability.
“This is one of those opportunities that people have to get inside our process,” said Ausiello. “Honestly, these people are helping us decide what we are going to be doing in the community.”