Jan 12, 2023 - News

One of Charlotte’s largest nonprofits overhauls its funding strategy


Uptown skyline view from Romare Bearden Park. Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

United Way, one of Charlotte’s largest nonprofits, is shifting to mostly funding community groups that work directly with neighborhoods in need.

United Way of Central Carolinas, which also is renaming itself to United Way of Greater Charlotte, said Thursday that more than half of the $16 million it is spending this year in the region will go to 132 neighborhood and grassroots groups working to improve economic mobility.

Why it matters: Organizations like United Way hold many of the purse strings in the nonprofit world. But small grassroots groups have often lamented that the system leaves them out in favor of larger charities further removed from the community.

Context: Charlotte’s dead-last ranking among 50 cities for economic mobility and the 2016 police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott drove United Way to reexamine its strategy, says Laura Yates Clark, president and CEO.

  • “Our conclusion was that the mission of United Way is right, that we use collective giving to end poverty and address economic mobility,” she says. “But the how we do that work needed to change pretty dramatically.”

Details: Some of the groups receiving the $9 million include neighborhood organizations like historic West End Partners and the East Charlotte Coalition of Neighborhoods, and other organizations like Legal Aid of North Carolina and Carolina Migrant Network. You can view the full list here.

  • United Way is also receiving $5 million from the city to house people experiencing homelessness and provide them with supportive services. The city’s money comes from federal COVID-19 relief, city manager Marcus Jones tells Axios.

Yates Clark says United Way held focus groups and conducted surveys with residents in the neighborhoods to figure out their biggest priorities and what organizations they wanted grants to go to.

The organization aligned the communities it invested in with Charlotte’s corridors of opportunity, which seeks to bring resources to six areas in which investment has lagged. The group is also providing funding to historically Black communities in north Mecklenburg.

What they’re saying: Melissa Gaston is executive director of the North End Community Coalition, one of the grantees, which works with residents in the rapidly-gentrifying neighborhoods north of Uptown.

She says most of the time grants nonprofits like hers receive are for specific programming but with this funding, she’ll be able to build up the organization, like hiring an assistant. Plus, she said residents in the area were able to help decide who received money based on the biggest needs they identified in a survey.

  • “So often what you see in corridors that are changing or areas that are changing is people come into the community and say, hey this is what you need, and this is what we’re going to do for you,” she told the crowd gathered for United Way’s announcement Thursday. “And United Way said no, we’re not doing it that way.”

Of note: United Way has faced financial challenges in recent years as workplace giving declines.

  • That dip is due to factors like technology creating more options for people to give to charity and the pandemic, says United Way spokeswoman Cassie Boesch.
  • The $16 million the nonprofit is giving out this year is an increase from $12 million in 2021, which includes an increase in city funding because of the $5 million for homelessness, she says.

Previously, Yates Clark says, United Way funded a “fairly static” list of about 100 well-known organizations, like Salvation Army and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

  • “We hope that this is a signal to other funders that we all need to be thinking creatively about who we’re funding, why we’re funding them, and are we being as equitable as possible?” she says.
Laura Yates Clark, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Charlotte. Photo: Danielle Chemtob/Axios

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