We wish we had a crystal ball. We don’t.
What we do know is that things are not going to look like they do today in five years; definitely not in 10 years. Our community and its population has changed dramatically. Just ask any former resident who comes back for a visit. We have grown. We have changed.
As I look back 10 years, who would have thought we would lose some of our long-time businesses and be thankful that new businesses popping up are making their home here? Who knew we would have such a big drug problem? Suicide problem? Swings in political views?
Families who struggle to make ends meet.
As a board of directors, we’re already talking about the future. We are in the process of reviewing everything we do — programs we fund, our programs, events and fundraisers and our office processes.
If we know who we are — really are — we can change direction quickly to address local needs, change funding as the community and attitudes change. As always, we have some challenges ahead. Communicating the mission of the United Fund to our young community members among them. If we are perceived as an old idea, not relevant for today, we will lose donors.
We already have updated our funding cycle to include community grants that can be requested throughout the year and not the traditional time frame of winter/spring. Some of the programs we fund today are so relevant that we have funded them for years. Some programs are new and address today’s problems. One change that we have made is that our funding is no longer called “an allocation” which sounds like an entitlement. We fund programs using a “grant” process and only for specific programs. Staff reports are sent to us quarterly and cite not only numbers but results of their efforts to help their clients succeed.
In addition, who knows what the future holds for government funded programs? (We have quite a lot of state and federal grant money that comes to our county). We can’t be assured that those funds will be available. And how much of that reduced funding will be left up to the local communities to support to keep important programs available to our residents? It will be up to us to establish or continue to fund existing programs that serve our residents every day.
The personal connection between our board, volunteers and community donors will help us keep informed on what we may need to consider as far as funding or be involved with in the future. Keeping the conversation open will be critical to keep that crystal ball clear as a bell.
So, after all of this brain-challenging thinking — what will we fund tomorrow? We don’t know. But what we do know is that we are ready to take on the challenge just as we have for the past 142 years of our existence. Can you imagine what the 40 women who started this community philanthropy movement in 1877 must think? We hope they would pat us on the back and say keep up the hard work for another 142.
Ken Russ is board president of the Norwalk Area United Fund. The United Fund has kicked off its 142nd community campaign to raise donations for its annual funding cycle and community grants. They can reached at 419-668-0269 for more information.