Most everyone in our community has heard of the United Way of Forsyth County. Many have donated through their fundraising campaigns, and many have benefited from those resources. But, do most of us really understand how the United Way actually works to achieve successful problem-solving in our community?
The United Way of Forsyth County has roots back to 1923 when it was known as The Community Chest, raising funds to allocate to local welfare organizations. Renamed the United Way of Forsyth County in 1974, the organization continued to build a history of successful fundraising, largely through payroll donations. Raised funds were then allocated to other community organizations that were addressing various challenges and needs in the community. In the 2000s, the United Way of Forsyth County began evolving into a new model of collaboration with partner organizations to solve problems. In part, this evolution was spurred on by new technology-driven ways for people to donate, and the expectations of donors. Philanthropists were once thought of as people in later life sharing their financial success in large donations. But, with digital technology, social media and bank drafting options, anyone can become a philanthropist at any stage of life, giving in any amount, large or small, continually. Social media and internet technology opened the door for donors to have far more choices in giving. They could witness more closely the success of funded projects.
President and CEO of the United Way of Forsyth County Cindy Gordineer talked about this evolution in fundraising and its relevance to successful outcomes in 2011 when she was interviewed for her current role. Cindy came from upstate New York, where she had a successful career with the Red Cross. She had seen organizations like the United Way in many communities struggling with their fundraising and allocation processes. She brought the perspective of collaborative problem solving with her. “More than ever, we need to embrace our mission statement,” said Cindy. It reads, “United Way of Forsyth County brings the community and its resources together to solve problems that no one organization can address alone.”
What does that collaboration of resources look like? The United Way works with many partner organizations to address community challenges. The four main areas of concern are health, education, economic mobility and stabilization of those in immediate need. When a challenge is addressed, such as increasing the graduation rate of high school students, for example, the United Way works with a number of community organizations to address the challenge from multiple directions. There are many facets to the problem of low graduation rates, such as after school needs, absenteeism, family needs, lack of transportation, financial pressures, etc. Do at-risk students need to care for younger siblings or older family members? Do they need transportation or tutoring? Do they need an attendance coach? Various community organizations and support agencies can address these issues using their knowledge of the community and resources from United Way. The student’s challenges are seen holistically, many parts affecting the whole, and those parts are addressed specifically to lead to successful graduation results. It is like seeing the many pieces to a puzzle and knowing that some pieces must be placed before others will fit into the whole.
By approaching the challenge of low graduation rates in the county using this collaborative approach, the United Way and its partners have been able to increase high school graduation rates from 70% in 2007 to 86.5% in 2017. Additionally, by collaborating with partner agencies and community groups, the United Way has significantly reduced chronic homelessness and improved at-risk neighborhoods through their “Place Matters” initiative, recognizing that each person’s predictors for success in life are squarely rooted in the quality of their environment. Many hard challenges don’t have one single fix but contain many sub-challenges that need to be addressed in order to affect a positive solution. One of Cindy Gordineer’s favorite quotes is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
By adopting the course of collaboration of resources and ideas to solve a problem, piece by piece, takes commitment of time and communication to share ideas and identify resources. It comes with a learning curve, but once learned, solutions can be achieved more quickly and with fewer funds. The process also allows for more in-depth measuring of success and increased accountability.
To learn more about the United Way of Forsyth County and discover how you can become involved through donation of funds and resources, visit their website at ForsythUnitedway.org. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They are located in Winston-Salem in the Winston Towers building at 301 North Main Street, Suite 1700 and can be reached at 336.723.3601.