This FAQ pertains to United Way of Greater Topeka prior to the 2022 merger with United Way of Douglas County to become United Way of Kaw Valley. An updated FAQ will come online soon at UWKawvalley.org.
What is United Way of Greater Topeka?
United Way brings together people, companies and nonprofits to create positive sustainable change. We work to solve issues no single donor, charity or government agency can handle alone. By focusing on education, financial stability and health, we help more children graduate and get stable jobs, help families become financially stable and improve the overall health of our community.
We haven’t really called it that, but what United Way of Greater Topeka has been doing over the past decade is evolving into a new breed of nonprofit leader. A leader that strives to add value to the nonprofit community by facilitating and encouraging collaboration, by sharing resources and capacity, by focusing many partners on problems that would overwhelm any single agency. We have taken on the hard work of measuring impact and then using that information to move the community forward.
Is United Way a local or national organization?
United Way of Greater Topeka is a local, autonomous, nonprofit organization governed by a local volunteer board of directors. In exchange for nominal dues, United Way Worldwide provides staff training, community research information, localizable materials, NFL advertising and ongoing consultation to local United Ways.
Why should I invest in the community through United Way?
Community impact is hard. Collective impact is even harder. When you serve someone a meal, or give them a coat, you know right away that your contribution made a difference. But when you send a four-year-old to preschool, it’s much harder to know just how that experience will shape that small soul, or all the others around her, next year, two years, or even a decade later. So, at United Way we work hard to choose strategies and interventions that have proven successful, and we measure our own impact so that we might help the next child or neighborhood or community find a better path. We no longer take it on faith that what we do will work. We have to prove it—to our donors, our partners and our community.
Through partnerships and alliances we make sure more voices join the discussions about the future of our community. We have the honor and responsibility of helping partners who focus on one service meet donors and partners they might otherwise never find. We bring the power of a global network and the resources of that network to each partner. When we learn, we pass that knowledge to our partners so that together we can fight for the education, financial stability, and health of every person in our community.
Why does United Way focus on education, financial stability and health?
We are leaders in early education, working with our partners to ensure that those who start life with a disadvantage can get back on level ground BEFORE they have a chance to fall behind in school.
We know that the work doesn’t end there, that students and their families need continued support in school. Our on-grade achievement work in math and reading helps students have a solid foundation as they rise to middle school and high school, setting the stage for graduation and a career. We support teens with financial literacy education so they can enter the next phase of their lives with the knowledge necessary to make them financially stable. We support adults who want to climb out of financial strife under their own power through budgeting, saving, and job training. And we support all of our neighbors when life grows difficult and they struggle to meet their own basic needs.
But without you, we can’t do any of it. Without your investment, proven strategies will never reach all those who desperately need them. Without your investment, the incredible success in Pine Ridge will never reach beyond Pine Ridge. And that would be a shame. Because what started as a simple preschool has blossomed into community empowerment, drawing support from more and more partners and gaining national recognition for its ingenuity and collaboration. We may not know for 10 more years if that preschool experience translates into higher graduation rates. But we know TODAY that preschool families in Pine Ridge are engaged in their children’s education and in their community in ways that they never had before Pine Ridge Prep. We know TODAY that opening doors in just one neighborhood has created an avalanche of opportunity for children and adults, opportunities that are making their lives better right now. Wouldn’t it be amazing if more neighborhoods got to experience that? It won’t happen without you.
Your investment helps ensure that regardless of their zip code:
- Children are ready to learn when they start school
- Children keep up with their peers in grade school, increasing their chances of graduating high school
- Individuals and families are financially stable and able to save and plan for the future
- Everyone has access to nutritious and affordable food and opportunities be active and healthy
Does United Way still fund Basic Needs?
Yes. Supporting Basic Needs remains foundational to United Way’s work. This support focuses on rent and utilities, food, health assistance/prescriptions and safety from domestic violence. Without having their basic needs met, children may have difficulty learning in school, families may struggle to be financially stable and individuals and families may struggle to maintain good health.
How are United Way investments determined?
Investment decisions are made by volunteers from the community. As part of a competitive grant process, community volunteers meet to review submitted proposals aimed at achieving the community impact goals and addressing the Basic Needs issues listed above. Proposals showing the greatest ability to meet the goals are awarded funding. United Way staff and board members have no influence over which proposals receive funding.
How will United Way know if it is achieving its goals?
It is important to know that we are moving toward achieving our 10-year goals. United Way annually compares current statistics with the benchmarks used to determine the community goals. United Way works with its partners to achieve short- and long-term results toward its goals. Reporting from our community partners will allow us to measure progress or identify when course corrections are needed to achieve results.
How much of my money gets put to work in the community?
Your donation is put to work whether it is invested directly into our community initiatives or whether it supports our staff in facilitating and coordinating the work that helps children succeed in school, families become financially stable and improves the overall health of the community.
It is important to note that the return on your investment is often multi-fold:
- Your support may be leveraged to attract additional money through outside grants which are then invested into the community.
- The $5,000 United Way invests into the VITA program to help people get their tax returns prepared and filed brings $10 million back into the community.
- In early childhood education, statistics show that every $1 invested results in $7 worth of benefit to the community.
How much of my gift goes to service versus administrative costs?
The United Way of Greater Topeka’s percentage of administrative and fundraising costs was 16 percent in 2018.
The Better Business Bureau and the IRS recommend that nonprofits spend no more than 35 percent on overhead. Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator to which United Way of Greater Topeka subscribes, states that the most efficient charities spend less than 25% on fundraising and administrative fees.
AT UWGT, we take pride in keeping all of our internal costs as low as possible, so that donor dollars are used efficiently and effectively to achieve our mission. That being said, without thoughtful expenditures on support services, we couldn’t raise money or otherwise help our staff do their jobs. These expenses include the costs of fundraising, rent, communication, accounting, and management just to name a few.
By focusing on operating efficiency and enlisting the help of many community volunteers, we are spending less on administrative expenses than we did three years ago.
Can I designate my donation to a specific organization?
Yes. For a minimum $50 contribution to each partner organization or other United Way that you choose, you may designate all or a portion of your donation to a United Way partner organization. Eligible organizations are listed on our website at www.UnitedWayTopeka.org/Give. All designated gifts to eligible organizations are honored regardless of the amount the organization may receive through the grant process.
Some of our employees are struggling. How can we ask them to give?
Often, people who have recently struggled and have seen the benefits of a helping hand are the ones who most want to help others. They appreciate the opportunity to make a gift, even if is small, or they may wish to volunteer or serve as advocates for United Way’s work.
Everyone should have the opportunity to express caring through philanthropic giving whether it is a financial gift or a gift of time through volunteering or advocating.
Payroll deduction makes it easy to give small amounts that add up and combine with the gifts of others in the community to achieve an even greater impact.