Fighting hunger. Reducing homelessness. Supporting mental health. Providing opportunities for children. As our region continues to address these and other important issues, Greater Mankato Area United Way aims to be at the forefront of community change. Our community connections are in motion year-round as we work to ensure the well-being, stability and self-sufficiency of all ages.

Throughout the year, this column will highlight United Way’s impact and suggest ways to get involved.

Our 2020 campaign is wrapping up after reaching a goal of $2,060,000 for nonprofit organizations in Blue Earth, Le Sueur, Nicollet and Waseca counties. Because of our region’s generous support through giving, volunteering, employee rallies and other avenues, 55 vital programs will receive funding they need.

Fundraising is an essential part of our mission, but it is not the only part. Our United Way also works to connect people to community issues and facilitate action around them. We refer to this part of our mission as “convening the community.”

“We focus on keeping regional leadership strong and engaging people at all levels, including community members, businesses, nonprofits, governmental agencies and schools,” said United Way Community Impact Director Elizabeth Harstad. “This collaboration helps us all better address the issues.”

One of the ways United Way brings people together to enact change is through our annual review process. This process ensures the use of donor funds is not dictated by United Way staff or board. It is a community-led process in which community volunteers vet the use of donor dollars.

Every program receiving Greater Mankato Area United Way funding is reviewed during this process. Our partner nonprofits provide basic needs and emergency services, support individuals and families, nurture children and youth, enhance the lives of people with disabilities, and promote health and wellness.

Each program must fall into at least one of United Way’s impact areas: basic needs, health or education. These are the pillars needed to be strong and balanced so individuals in our region are supported all around in their lives, putting them on the path to long-term success. Programs are not guaranteed funding and must apply each year.

A diverse group of more than 80 community volunteers make up the Community Impact teams that review the funding applications each year. These volunteer teams interview the nonprofits to learn who they serve, how they use their funding and the impact they make. The teams make the recommendation to our United Way’s Board of Directors on how the funds should be distributed the following year. Last year’s volunteers dedicated more than 1,000 hours to this vetting process for the 2020 campaign funding.

Applications for this spring’s Community Impact teams are now open for 2021 campaign funding.

According to Harstad, volunteering on a Community Impact team offers a meaningful opportunity to learn about important services and needs in our region. “Beyond its goal of determining funding, the review process connects volunteers to the community as they learn about regional needs and the programs’ impact,” she explained.

For more information on volunteering on a Community Impact team, please contact Elizabeth Harstad at 507-345-4551 or ElizabethH@MankatoUnitedWay.org by February 28.

Laura Murray is the communications and marketing director for Greater Mankato United Way, which covers Le Sueur, Nicollet, Waseca, and Blue Earth counties.

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