United Way of Massachusetts Bay Unveils New Strategic Direction to Address Racial Disparities and Advance Economic Opportunity Across the Region

April 26, 2023

BOSTON – Building on an 85-year history of mobilizing resources for nonprofits in the region, United Way of Massachusetts Bay today announced a new, community-centered vision to advance an economically-just region where access to financial wellbeing is universal and prosperity is shared across race and ethnicity. United Way is unveiling a new strategic direction that will guide its future funding of nonprofits in the region, reshape partnerships with corporations, and focus its advocacy and brand platform on building more equitable communities.

Since its inception, United Way has been a partner to hundreds of community-based organizations and is one of the largest private funders of early education and out of school time programs in the region. As the pioneer of workplace giving, United Way paved the way for corporate engagement in generating resources for the community. The organization has also been a long-time champion of issues like access to quality early education and reducing homelessness through policy advocacy and innovative partnerships with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Under the new direction, United Way will laser focus its work on households aspiring to financial wellbeing and economic mobility despite historic, systemic barriers to access and opportunity. United Way will also deepen its relationships and investments in the 12 communities in its footprint with the highest percentage of households with status below the poverty line.

“Today is a new day for our United Way,” said Bob Giannino, Ansin President and CEO at United Way of Massachusetts Bay. “A more vibrant, abundant, prosperous, healthy and equitable future is only possible once we start creating greater impact in the communities that have been marginalized. By taking a more proactive approach to addressing long standing issues in our communities and developing new ways to track and measure progress, we can turn our vision into a reality and build more equitable communities, together.”

The new strategic plan was developed in response to the stark racial and ethnic disparities that persist in our communities and the lingering economic strain presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has compounded the challenges of our most marginalized residents.

United Way’s new strategy builds off historic investments and impact in the region and was informed by over a year of community engagement, including “Community Conversations” and town hall meetings with hundreds of stakeholders to better understand the needs of community members and what they see as opportunities and barriers to financial wellbeing.

For the first time, United Way will track population-level outcome indicators to determine progress towards the organization’s goals, including indicators such as income inequality, the percentage of households with $2,000 in savings, percentage of households with any debt in collections, median credit score, childcare costs for a household with two children as a percent of median household income, young people between ages 16-24 who are not enrolled in school or employed, number of people entering and exiting homelessness, and percentage of households that spend 50% or more of their household income on housing.

To achieve population-level change and drive the most impact for the greatest number of financially vulnerable people, United Way is deepening relationships and investments in the 12 communities within their footprint with the highest percentage of households below poverty line status. According to the 2021 American Community Survey five-year estimates, 293,700 people in United Way’s footprint have incomes that are less than the federal poverty rate. More than two-thirds of the households below the poverty line live in the following 12 communities, each of which has an overall poverty rate of at least 10%: Boston (specifically Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Mattapan, and Roxbury), Cambridge, Chelsea, Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, Quincy, Revere, Salem, and Taunton.

United Way will continue to support additional cities and towns within the region, including through support for community coalitions, eligibility for state and United Way-facilitated grant funding, community-centered crisis response, and regional policy and advocacy.

United Way has identified four critical avenues to prosperity:

  • Economic inclusion and wealth building: Improving access to supports that help people increase income, build credit and savings, and reduce debt to ultimately achieve financial wellbeing
  • Early education and out-of-school time programs: Provide high-quality, affordable early education and out-of-school time programs that allow caregivers to work and gives children and youth opportunities to learn, thrive and explore their interests.
  • Education and career pathways for youth and young adults: Engage youth and young adults, ages 16-24 who are disconnected from school and work, in education and career pathways.
  • Safe and stable housing: Building a continuum of housing resources and services for youth, individuals, and families that improve housing stability and make homelessness a rare, brief, one-time event; and

The organization will also continue its long-standing priority of community-centered crisis response, rapidly identifying and prioritizing marginalized communities and their trusted networks when distributing resources for immediate relief and long-term resilience. United Way raised and deployed more than $40M in Covid-19 emergency financial assistance and response funds, as well as partnering with the Commonwealth to distribute additional state resources targeted at addressing impacts from the crisis.

United Way is also for the first time opening its application process for funding to organizations and coalitions in the area doing important work right now in underinvested communities, and will partner with community-based agencies, corporate partners, and other stakeholders to ensure populations that have been historically marginalized have equitable access to the economic opportunity. The organization will release a Request for Partnerships next month, an invitation for organizations whose work aligns with United Way’s new vision to apply for long-term funding.

“We deeply appreciate our existing relationships with local nonprofits, but our community is telling us there is a need for investment in organizations with which we have not traditionally partnered,” said Giannino. “We are opening the door wide for applications from organizations and collectives in our area doing important work right now in underinvested communities.”

United Way will host a launch event this morning at WBUR CitySpace detailing the new organizational strategy featuring a discussion of economic justice with recognized scholar Dr. Lorna Rivera, Director of the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at UMass Boston, along with impact panelists including Turahn Dorsey, Chief Impact Officer at Eastern Bank Foundation, Joe Kriesberg, President and CEO at MassINC, and Inés Palmarin, Director of the Working Cities Challenge at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

United Way of Massachusetts Bay also today unveiled a new microsite previewing its new direction. For more information, visit www.reimagine.unitedwaymassbay.org.