Lifting Community Voices for Greater Impact

United Way has long had deep partnerships with nonprofit agencies, community leaders and the corporate sector.  These partnerships have helped drive decades of significant, positive impact.  But there is one thing they can’t do.  They can’t speak directly for the residents living in the communities where we work.  Only those residents can tell us what’s working for them and where the need is still unmet.  This gap in insight has led us to broaden our strategy and invite members of the community directly into the conversation.


Community Conversations

Last spring, we officially launched this work by identifying Community Connectors — leaders with deep roots in each community—and inviting them to convene their fellow residents in Community Conversations to talk about the issues they face.  These initial conversations centered around how people in each community define financial well-being.  Most conversations took place in eight focus areas, where nearly half of people living in poverty in our region reside: Boston; Chelsea, Everett, Revere and Malden; Lowell; Cambridge and Somerville; Lawrence; Lynn; Quincy; and Taunton. 

Overall, about 400 people participated in 29 Community Conversations led by 25 Community Connectors hailing from 18 communities. Participants reflected the region’s racial and ethnic diversity: About two-thirds identified as BIPOC, Hispanic or Latino/x, and about one-third responded to the post-session survey in a language other than English.

Conversations revealed common themes of mutual struggle, such as a lack of living-wage job opportunities and affordable childcare. They also raised issues unique to their communities, for example, for immigrants with close family members outside the U.S., travel abroad is a necessity, not a luxury.


Town Halls

To augment these Community Conversations, United Way hosted six Town Halls with local residents, each addressing a specific issue area: childcare, out-of-school-time programs, housing and homelessness, savings and wealth building, and two on youth and young adult pathways. 


Lessons Learned

Taken together, the input from our communities offered important lessons that will help guide our programming and grantmaking today and in the future:

  • Ensuring a strong safety net is critical to meeting the immediate needs of individuals in crisis
  • Communities also need our support in achieving longer-term financial wellbeing.
  • An individual’s experience accessing resources and services is just as important to them as their financial outcomes. We need to put people front and center when designing systems to support their financial wellbeing.
  • Our region’s residents can be powerful agents of change. Amplifying community voices in our work is critical to finding effective and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing vulnerable communities. 

Rising to the Moment

A few of the things we’ve learned from our community voices:

  • Long-term financial well-being is a priority for our communities – especially for 18-24-year-olds
  • Ending homelessness, economic equity, access to affordable childcare, youth pathways, and crisis response were all factors in how communities perceive financial wellbeing
  • Not all financial well-being indicators appear on a budget or balance sheet – many are driven by factors of feeling free from financial stress.

Read the specifics about the Community Conversations by downloading the full report here.


Moving Forward

Community Conversations are helping to foster an important dialogue between United Way and the people most impacted by our work. As we forge ahead to advance economic justice in our region, this unique perspective will be integral in everything we do.  We’ll seek out input from every community, welcoming views borne from lived experience. 

Get Involved

Want to know more and learn about getting involved with our work?  Please contact to get started.