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Advocacy Update: Connecting the Dots to Foster Systems Change

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Susan Carter


Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Susan Carter. Twenty-three years ago, I worked at the Minneapolis United Way as a Community Impact Associate. Today, I am back working for Greater Twin Cities United Way as the Director of Advocacy and External Engagement. Upon sharing my new role, friends and colleagues asked me why I would return to an employer I worked for years ago. My answer is simple: “this is not the same organization.”

Greater Twin Cities United Way has been on a transformative journey – moving from funding intermediary to community convener, proximate partner and catalyst for change. If you need additional reassurance, I am pleased to recommend our latest report, Connecting the Dots. The report contains work informed directly by the communities we serve and illuminates not only what we do but how we do it.

For some, federated campaigns, volunteer events or loaned executive experiences shaped their understanding of United Way’s work. These are fundamental activities and still critical pieces to our engagement strategy. However, I’m proud to say, we are so much more.

The Connecting the Dots report highlights four challenges facing our state and shares potential policy and funding recommendations to foster systems change. Every issue – and every possible solution – is born from direct community feedback. Our colleagues gathered data using grant applications and outcome reports; detailed discussions with program staff; and surveys of current grantees and the broader nonprofit community. We also relied on Greater Twin Cities United Way’s 211 referral line and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline to understand real-time barriers people are facing.

The data offered more insight into the following concerns addressed in the Connecting the Dots report:

  1. The underinvestment in organizations led by and serving Communities of Color. At Greater Twin Cities United Way, we elevate Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islander and People of Color by increasing attention, money and resources for organizations led by and serving these populations.
  2. Ongoing nonprofit sector workforce shortages. We create spaces where nonprofits can learn from peers, build community, and share best practices.
  3. Addressing the benefits cliff and its impacts on working families. We understand how the benefits cliff is impacting lives and use this information to advocate for families.
  4. The increasing rates of homelessness. We promote stable housing strategies ensuring homelessness is rare, brief, and nonrecurring. Through our 211 and 988 programs, we work with state and county agencies to improve access for housing and mental health services in our region.

As I settle into my new role, I am grateful for United Way in ways I couldn’t predict 23 years ago. We listen more and talk less. We bring humility and curiosity to every conversation. We are a trusted resource for the work ahead. Join us.

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About the Author

Susan Carter is our Director of Advocacy and External Engagement, which supports Greater Twin Cities United Way’s systems change work. She leads United Way’s advocacy strategy, including engaging the organization’s nonprofit partners and stakeholders in the development of its annual policy and advocacy agenda. Prior to joining United Way, Susan served as the executive director of the WCA Foundation at The Minneapolis Foundation for eight years. Susan holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Kansas and a M.A. in Nonprofit Management/Public Administration from Hamline University.

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