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Learning Alongside our Agency Partners

On August 6, Greater Twin Cities United Way hosted an event for our newest agency partners, the first of several convenings this year. Typically, a convening is a gathering that brings people with common interests together to unite for a cause.

It was a chance for agency partners to meet United Way’s new CEO, John Wilgers, and learn about the many ways the organization is working to support them.

John Wilgers welcomes the crowd at the August Partner ConveningJohn welcomed attendees and shared his perspective on the organization’s long-range plan as well as his priorities in the first few months on the job, like broadening the community’s understanding of United Way beyond fundraising and diversifying funding sources.

“It’s going to be challenging, but exciting, and responsive to some of the things we’re seeing in the community,” he said. “And I am really happy to be a part of it.”

He also addressed the role agency partners play in the future of the organization. “Your voices represent the community and they help inform decisions that we make everyday, so convenings like this will be really important moving forward,” John said.

After the welcome, United Way’s Senior Vice President of Community Impact, Acooa Ellis, took the stage to congratulate both new and long-term agency partners, and underscored the importance of working together.

“We know that our success is interdependent with yours and that you collectively have wisdom to share with one another,” Acooa said.

Acooa Ellis speaks at United Way's August Partner ConveningShe also acknowledged the change that’s happened at United Way in a short period of time: a streamlined RFP process, a tightened focus in some areas, and a more holistic overall approach.

Acooa touched on many ways we can support our partners. “We do a lot of grantmaking, but it’s not all we do at Greater Twin Cities United Way. It’s just one of the ways we seek to support your very important work,” Acooa said.

Some other ways include:

  • 1:1 support from United Way’s expert program managers
  • Help measuring impact
  • Advocacy and larger systems building
  • A forum to connect with one another

One of those forums is the Council of Agency Executives, which was re-introduced by United Way’s Director of External Engagement Leslie Wright. In response to feedback from partners, United Way is bringing back this group in an evolved form to provide agency partner executive directors a place to collaborate and build relationships with one another.

Participants in a breakout session at United Way's August Partner Convening

Before attendees got into breakout sessions and had the chance to connect with one another, United Way’s Director of Equity and Holistic Grantmaking, Olivia Jefferson, went over insights discovered during the most recent RFP process, and introduced the concept of communities of practice.

The RFP allowed United Way staff a lens into the most pressing challenges facing the community right now. Almost two-thirds of RFP applications referenced racial equity as a huge problem in our region. It’s an issue that exacerbates other community challenges identified through the RFP, like mental health and trauma, affordable housing, inequitable employment practices and education access and attainment.

“It’s widespread. Change has to happen and we need to collectively come together in order to make those changes happen,” Olivia said.

In order to come together on challenges like these, United Way will be creating communities of practice, organized groups of people who have a common interest in a specific technical or business domain. They collaborate regularly to share information, improve their skills, and actively work on advancing general knowledge. It’s a way for GTCUW and partners to work together and build on and leverage networks that already exist to create tools to tackle challenges.

But, these events and avenues for nonprofit agencies to connect with one another are not just benefits for GTCUW partners. They are the best way to identify the biggest issues in the Twin Cities right now and unite passionate people to not just talk, but create solutions.

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