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United We Thrive: Vetting process aims for responsible, effective giving

by Cheyanne Gracia for The Greenfield Recorder - One of the benefits of living in a media-saturated world is that we can easily and quickly respond to community need. However, in the muddied landscape of crowdsourcing sites, Facebook donation buttons and nonprofit fraud, the donor is left to figure out which programs are authentic.

The community investment process is twofold, with the compliance panel conducting a comprehensive assessment of agencies applying for funding and the program panel, which focuses on need and impact.

Dan Kunhardt is currently the chairman of the compliance panel and has been an active volunteer with United Way for more than 25 years. He explained that the panel has a “responsibility to the community to spend their money effectively, efficiently and wisely.” For example, the compliance panel will examine a partner agency’s finances to ensure that “we are not just spending 80 percent on overhead.”

United Way offers funding to agencies who fall under one of their three areas of service: health, education and financial stability. Each year, applications are accepted for one of the three areas of service and continue to be monitored for the following two years.

Kunhardt explained that the committee completes a very thorough review of the program the first year, “then the following two years are less intensive and they will receive the same percentage of dollars as long as they stay in compliance.” He pointed out that “any new agency that’s a nonprofit in Franklin County that wants to apply for funding can.” The process begins in the fall of each year and will be accepting applications for health programming this year.

Once the compliance panel completes its review, the program panel will assess the community need and impact.

Kimberly Green, who has been involved with United Way for the past few years and is the current chairwoman of the program panel, explained that volunteers visit the agency sites and “maybe even go to one of the events that the program is looking to fund. We meet with the partner agencies, then the next step is they come and they do a presentation. Representatives from the partner agency come and they present to the group, we ask them questions and then we have a discussion about it.” At that point, the program panel will make a decision on whether to fund the program and how much will be allotted from United Way’s community fund.

Both Green and Kunhardt believe the process in place is a good and necessary one. However, each noted that there are some important changes occurring in the next few months.

Kunhardt pointed to the more practical changes taking place, including a streamlined online application process. Green was especially excited about the increased focus on community impact, explaining, “For example, in the health area of service, we are going to be able to use the community health assessment that is being done to determine what areas are really needed. We can potentially say to each of the agencies: this is a problem and we need to address this, how are we going to measure your impact on this particular concern or problem? So I think that it gives us much more clearly defined objectives and metrics for each one of those areas, and I think that that’ll be something that’s really beneficial for the community.”

Benefitting the community is at the core of the volunteer panels, and it is clear that both Kunhardt and Green are dedicated to making Franklin County a better place. Though she began volunteering with United Way because it “seemed like a good way to get involved,” Green found it was much more than that.

“It really became one of those things where you just feel so passionate about it because there is so much need,” she said.

Similarly, Kunhardt explained that “I feel really strongly (that) dollars given through us can really have a great impact. Through us, I think the money can really touch an awful lot of people. It’s been the right thing to do.”


Cheyanne Gracia is the office coordinator for United Way of Franklin County.