United Way of Greater Milwaukee's Community Impact

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
United Way of Greater Milwaukee
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

The mission of United Way of Greater Milwaukee is to improve lives by mobilizing community resources.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

United Way of Greater Milwaukee’s Community Impact More than a decade ago, United Way of Greater Milwaukee identified an emerging need in the Greater Milwaukee community – the need to collectively measure the outcomes of its programs by specific issue areas (e.g. youth development, housing, domestic violence). In the past, United Way was able to communicate individual program outcomes to the community, but could not evaluate an issue area in its entirety because outcomes were measured very differently by each program and agency. Therefore, United Way developed the Community Outcomes Project to establish a collective measurement tool to be used by all programs focused on the same issue area. This standard measurement tool allows United Way to measure and communicate meaningful results in each issue area. The new reporting reflects our community and its issues as a whole and improves United Way’s ability to work with agencies to maximize impact and address gaps in service. Microsoft technologies were a critical platform upon which United Way developed the Community Outcomes Project, thus creating greater impact throughout our entire community. Community ImpactUnited Way of Greater Milwaukee defines community impact as measurable and sustainable positive change in a community over time. United Way thinks community impact is so important that it has a fund named in its honor – the Community Impact Fund. United Way’s Community Impact Fund supports effective health and human service programs in the Greater Milwaukee area. Through the Community Impact Fund, United Way of Greater Milwaukee partners with over 80 agencies that are held accountable to produce measurable results. Volunteers and staff work together to distribute dollars to over 150 programs, and then they continue to monitor the programs through regular outcomes reports and site visits. This careful oversight ensures the greatest community impact. The Community Outcomes ProjectUnited Way of Greater Milwaukee holds its programs and agencies to the highest standards, only investing in programs that work and with agencies that manage their money responsibly. But, how do we know that our programs work? How do we measure community impact? In the past, each program was responsible for collecting and analyzing its own data, using a measurement tool of its choice. Results were mostly positive. But, without a uniform evaluation protocol and tool, it was difficult to accurately assess the true impact of the programs, especially in relation to each other. Beginning in the 1990s, United Way of Greater Milwaukee embarked on the Community Outcomes Project – a progressive initiative designed to measure the impact of health and human service programs on the lives of the people they serve. The initiative’s goal was to identify and create a comprehensive evaluation model—a standard measurement tool—that would enable United Way and its partners to uniformly measure community impact. By developing a standard measurement tool, progress can be measured over time, thereby identifying promising practices that benefit the lives of people. The project is distinct from other outcomes models because a set of programs in a particular issue area are engaged in a process to identify outcomes they can move toward collectively. This proactive process is designed to engage a group of programs in a community dialogue about the results it would like clients to achieve collectively, rather than each agency and program operating independently of each other. Survey Data Collection and Reporting Tools In addition to enhancing the quality of the outcomes, United Way of Greater Milwaukee sought to increase its capacity to collect accurate data from its agency partners, making the data collection process easier and more secure. Microsoft technologies were the key to achieving these goals. Using Microsoft software purchased from TechSoup, United Way created two applications that process survey data from Excel files and output results to a database. Here’s how it works:

  • Partner agencies input the data from Word file surveys into an Excel file and then upload the Excel file to United Way via a web site. This site was created using Microsoft’s Visual Studio.
  • After the surveys are uploaded, two applications—also created using Microsoft’s Visual Studio—are used to process the data:

1. Data Collection Tool – This application allows an administrator at United Way to view all uploaded files and any associated programs and agencies. The surveys are then flagged as ‘Pending’, meaning they are ready to process.2. Data Processor – This is a scheduled application that will process all files marked as ‘Pending.’ When run, this application opens each Excel file and ‘reads’ the data and stores the responses in a database table. To enable different survey files to be read, data fields are mapped in a database table by a survey id. Agency FeedbackOnce United Way developed the applications necessary to support the Community Outcomes Project (thanks to Microsoft technologies), it began its pilot project in 2005 using the issue area of Youth Development. Partner agencies participated in the process, and then they offered feedback about the process. Many programs indicated data entry was easy and charts and graphs were useful and interesting. Participants largely felt more secure regarding the confidentiality of data, which in turn lead to improved data and more meaningful results. Programs also noted that it helped them see the larger community and the impact and connectedness of all the agencies. As one respondent so aptly stated, “Tying the results of this program to the results of other programs in the community working with similar populations will help see the larger community impact.” United Way of Greater Milwaukee’s Community ImpactDue to the success of the Community Outcomes Project, United Way of Greater Milwaukee is implementing all its issue areas into the project, and it currently has ten issue areas already in process. Staff members are sought after by other United Ways and agencies looking to improve their data collection processes and their overall community impact. We have shared the Community Outcomes model, including the Microsoft-supported applications, at conferences across the country, and the response has been incredibly positive.

United Way of Greater Milwaukee will help more than 425,000 people this year through its Community Impact Fund. But more important than the number of people served is the lives that are changed and the impact on each individual’s life. Today, because of the Community Outcomes Project, United Way and its partner agencies are able to accurately measure the impact they have. This is incredibly valuable to agencies as they make continuous quality improvements to their services in order to maximize their reach and impact. Since data drives decision making, the quality of the data and its collection is vital to our mission.

Submission Category
Optimize Mission Delivery