Community Conversations

Centering Community Voice for Greater Impact

Hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents who are working to get back on their feet after the worst of the pandemic uncovered profound and historic inequities are being hit with record-breaking inflation, job losses and the threat of a recession. As a result of these challenges, affordable housing, healthcare, and childcare are becoming further and further out of reach. These are issues that we as a community have a unique and urgent opportunity to address.

United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley is rising to this moment.

Leveraging our uniquely powerful partnerships with community-based organizations and residents, we’re harnessing the power of community voices on the region’s most pressing priorities through a series of interactions with community members called Community Conversations. These Community Conversations inform our strategic planning and program investments and create a framework for incorporating community input into our impact strategy so that we can achieve our vision: We will advance an economically just region, where access to financial opportunity is universal and prosperity is shared across race and ethnicity.

The What, When, and How of Community Conversations

From April through June 2022, Community Connectors—community leaders with deep roots in their respective communities, who represent historically marginalized groups—convened small group gatherings of community members to discuss the issues that they feel matter most when it comes to their financial well-being. By design, most of these conversations took place in the 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.

To augment Community Conversations, United Way held Town Halls, each focused on one of our major service areas: quality affordable childcare and out-of-school-time programs, educational and career pathways for youth and young adults, safe and stable housing, wealth accumulation and access to credit, and crisis response.


Through our Community Conversations, we heard the hopes and dreams of residents across our region, and we learned that the freedom to make choices in their lives, ensure their essential needs are met and plan for their future are all critical to achieving financial well-being.

Key Takeaways

Community Conversations provided an opportunity for us to test ideas about financial well-being with residents in communities that are particularly impacted by the issues on which we focus, providing critical insights as we hone our grantmaking and programming. Among the key takeaways:

  • Long-term financial well-being is a priority in our communities. Community members described financial well-being in a future sense, citing homeownership and getting out of debt among important indicators of financial well-being, more frequently than they did in terms of meeting immediate needs such as keeping up with housing costs.
  • 18 to 24-year-olds were even more likely than older participants to identify longer-term indicators of financial well-being. United Way continuously heard from young people that while they want to meet their most immediate needs, they are future-oriented and eager to build toward long-term financial well-being.
  • The areas that United Way prioritizes largely align with how community members perceive financial well-being: Over 60% of survey respondents reported financial well-being indicators that relate to our five key service areas. The balance of the responses were longer-term, holistic responses that financial well-being means aspirations like “spending more time with my family.”
  • Not all financial well-being indicators appear on a budget or balance sheet. 22% of respondents described indicators attached to a holistic -being, such as freedom or lack of stress. These intangibles are just as important as, and often driven by, financial stability.

From Input to Action

We’ve already begun incorporating the learnings from the Community Conversations into our new strategic plan for advancing economic justice in our region. Read the report to see how these conversations will guide our work going forward.


When we raise up community voices and unite behind a shared vision, together we can be a force for economic justice!