Allocations, A Letter By Paul Larson

Since we moved to Oshkosh over 30 years ago, my wife and 2018 Campaign Co-chair, Peg, and I have regularly contributed to the Oshkosh Area United Way.  In fact, we contributed in other communities before moving here, and our family involvement in the United Way traces back to Peg’s mother, who was a campaign chair in another community in the 1960s. 

Why have we made the United Way one of our major focuses of charitable giving?  There are two main reasons – the United Way touches the largest segment of the population of any single charity, and United Way funding is highly accountable and efficient.  How does that accountability occur?  Through the allocations process.  Despite our belief in that process, we had limited direct experience. 

In preparation to serve as campaign co-chair for 2018, I decided to take a deep dive into the allocations process with the dual goals of learning more about the programs that are funded by the Oshkosh Area United Way and more about the allocations process itself.  What I learned only deepened my commitment to the United Way.

The Oshkosh Area United Way has three areas of focus:  Health, Education, and Financial Stability.  Each of these areas has an allocations panel, and most of the programs funded by our United Way are evaluated by one of these panels.  Each of this year’s panels had 8-10 members from the community, most of whom had some expertise in the field of the panel, which can be difficult since they also cannot have a conflict of interest with the agencies that sponsor the programs.  Each panel this year assessed ­­­­­at least 10 programs over two meetings of 4-5 hours each. 

Prior to the panel meetings, members reviewed detailed applications from the sponsoring agencies about their programs.  The applications focused on the purpose of the program, the demographics of the clients, and most importantly on the measurable outcomes of the programs.  Outcomes measurement is so important to the United Way that we hired an outcomes assessment expert to advise the agencies over the past two years, and the results of that advice were evident in many of the applications.  The agencies clearly spent substantial time and effort to prepare their applications.  If my experience was typical, panel members spent at least 20-30 minutes on each application prior to the panel meetings to assess and grade each program.

During the panel meetings, representatives of the sponsoring agencies presented the highlights of their programs with an emphasis on their outcomes and answered questions from the panel members.  Most agencies were represented by their Executive Director or equivalent, a member of their Board, and one or more program experts.  Following the presentations, the panel members deliberated on the merits of the programs and recommended a funding level for 2018.  Through this process, I learned about the programs and the allocations process but more importantly about the level of need in our community, which is much greater than I knew.

This year’s process was especially difficult because the total amount of money to allocate was less than in 2017.  Since all of the programs provide valuable services to the Oshkosh community, difficult decisions were made, and many programs received slightly less money than in 2017.  However, we can reverse this trend in 2019 by contributing to the 2018 United Way campaign.  Please join me in contributing generously to the Oshkosh Area United Way.  Live United!