Meghan Anderson, Product Marketing Manager for HubSpot, volunteered as an allocations reviewer, and despite the fact she’s been involved with United Way for years, the experience was revelatory. She agreed to chat with us about the process and what she learned.
How did this volunteer experience differ from other volunteer experiences you may have had?
Many of the volunteer experiences I’ve had to this point have been single day events that give me a view into the day-to-day work of a particular agency or collective. Volunteering with United Way Allocations is very different.
Through the allocations process, you not only get a sense of the day-to-day work of an agency, you also gain a more strategic understanding of how these agencies are driving change on a far larger scale.
How was your perception of United Way’s work changed from your experience as a reviewer?
It’s fascinating because I’ve been involved with United Way for nearly seven years now. I saw the organization shift its investment strategy to focus on outcomes and have what I think is an above-average understanding of the organization’s goals and record of success.
I’ve known for a very long time how United Way opens its doors to volunteers from across the community to help review agencies and allocate resources based on performance, but experiencing it as a volunteer for the first time made that resonate in deeper way than ever before. In my group there were people from all different stages in life. We ranged broadly in professional roles and industries. That diversity of experience and expertise really shaped our discussion and the way we reviewed each agency.
I guess I would say that I understood symbolically that United Way is about bringing together people from across the community for a common cause, but this volunteer opportunity shifted that from a symbol to a lived experience.
What was the most interesting thing you learned through your work as reviewer?
A number of times while I was reading agency proposals I caught myself saying aloud, “wow, this is really thorough.” Again, I always knew that part of the reason you invest in United Way is because of the thought and evaluation that goes into each investment, but seeing first hand all of the different factors that go into weighing an agency’s capacity to drive change was really striking.
How does this process reflect on United Way’s reputation as an expert in community impact?
In the review process, we looked at the factors that influence how an agency is governed, how it measures and adjusts its approach, how it reflects the people and communities it serves and of course, how adept it is at achieving tangible results.
It was clear that each of these factors had been carefully shaped and informed by United Way’s long-history of understanding what works to keep an organization thriving and achieving a greater and greater impact each year. I found United Way’s approach to be well structured, but not rigid. Informed but also innovative.
There was no, “well we funded them last year so let’s fund them again,” mentality about it. The review process looked at each organization holistically and with fresh eyes. Above all, it kept its sights firmly on what investments would create the greatest return in outcomes for the community.
Based on this experience, what would you say to someone who might think United Way is simply a middle man when it comes to funding?
All too often people reduce charitable decisions to single measures like overhead or brand recognition. But neither of those determines whether an organization has the capacity to make real progress against an entrenched social issue. That’s what should matter in philanthropy — the outcomes.
I don’t know any organization that does a better job than United Way of finding and aligning organizations in the best position to improve outcomes for our region’s children, youth and families.
United Way does the research to determine what type of social investments work, finds the organizations that can make the most out of those investments, and aligns an entire network of agencies around a single set of common goals. It’s not the middle-man, it’s what fuels the entire movement.