Beyond the Numbers: Measuring United Way’s Impact in 2019
Like most United Way chapters across the country, the Greater Twin Cities United Way saw revenue decline again in 2019. Last year, the Twin Cities nonprofit’s annual revenue dropped to $61.3 million, down $7.3 million from 2018. That’s according to the organization’s most recent 990 filing, which was made public earlier this week.
John Wilgers, president and CEO of the United Way’s Twin Cities chapter, says the decline comes amid an ongoing pivot away from the organization’s typical focus on workplace giving campaigns, which had long been a mainstay for the nonprofit. The organization has been working to tap into different sources of revenue since Wilgers signed on as CEO in mid-2019, and even before.
“We’ve been seeing that for a number of years,” Wilgers said of the revenue decline. “And we have had strategies in place to start to diversify our revenue sources. … All of those strategies are starting to take hold.”
For one, United Way has been placing a greater emphasis on year-round giving. Instead of relying solely on seasonal donations through workplace campaigns, United Way in 2018 teamed up with Salesforce to enable online giving at any time of the year. Wilgers said the Salesforce “Philanthropy Cloud” platform has “really started to get additional momentum in 2020.”
And if record donations to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and other organizations are any indication, many folks are still inclined to give, and give generously. Consider, too, that charitable giving has been on the rise nationally. In 2019, total charitable giving actually rose by more than 4 percent, according to the latest Giving USA report.
The main difference now is simply the way people give: Today, many people prefer to donate to individual charities instead of larger groups like United Way, which is why the organization is giving more attention to tools like the Salesforce platform.
Meanwhile, United Way is dipping into other sources of revenue unrelated to donations. For instance, the organization has picked up a few more government contracts and grants within recent months. This year, under a contract with the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, the Twin Cities United Way began helping people access much-needed housing-related aid through its 211 hotline. In August, Minnesota authorized $100 million in CARES Act funding for housing assistance.
“Our 211 helpline is kind of the first point of contact for people looking to take advantage of those resources. … They call the 211 helpline, and they get screened and referred to the help that’s appropriate based upon their situation,” Wilgers said.
Of course, that contract isn’t reflected in United Way’s 2019 performance, but it may help lead the way to a more sustainable future for the organization. Wilgers notes that the 211 helpline will soon expand again to take on suicide prevention services in the state.
In 2019, United Way was already experiencing an uptick in 211 calls, which typically help connect folks to health and other public services in the community. This year, amid Covid-19 and civil unrest, calls grew even more significantly, Wilgers said. At some points during the year, the organization saw as much as a 400 percent year-over-year increase in 211 calls, he said. In Wilgers’ view, that underscores United Way’s importance in the community.
“I think that we continue to be significantly impactful in the community, and you see that in a number of ways,” Wilgers said.
The organization, which began placing a heavier focus on racial equity issues in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in late May, also measures community impact through its ongoing advocacy work. Last year, for instance, United Way staffers worked with legislators to increase funding for early learning scholarships. These are some of the other efforts that might not necessarily be reflected in a 990 form, Wilgers notes.
“Our advocacy work is a really important piece of that,” he said.