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Advancing Racial Equity in Central Ohio

November 2nd, 2021

At United Way of Central Ohio, advancing equity is at the heart of our mission. We support more than 90 nonprofits that provide basic needs and equitable educational opportunities for every person in every community – and that’s not possible without explicitly focusing on communities of color and ethnic minorities. In recent years, we made that commitment more explicit.

United Way is quickly becoming a reliable source for diverse and more equitable board talent. A survey we conducted in 2019 confirmed central Ohio nonprofit boards are not diverse in comparison to county demographics. As a result, we created a policy requiring funded agency boards to reflect county demographics by 2025. To help support this effort, we’re working in collaboration with funded agencies to create and execute rigorous plans for achieving greater board diversity.

We know the best decisions are made when everyone has a seat at the table and can contribute diverse perspectives, says Shayne Downton, United Way of Central Ohio Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. Project Diversity Pride Leadership is our training program that has more than 700 graduates, 75% of whom have served or are currently serving on nonprofit boards. Local companies identify associates to participate and represent their organization through its corporate social responsibility programs and policies.

In addition to training diverse board leaders, United Way has a new, innovative approach to achieve nonprofit board diversity that includes working more closely with companies to build a pipeline of diverse, board-ready talent for the nonprofit sector.

Real change requires meaningful action, which is why United Way Worldwide recently built a website to help local United Ways integrate an explicit equity lens in their work and core business practices. This means drilling down deep and examining the disparities in education, income and health within our communities and taking concrete steps ―through avenues like policy and advocacy, resource allocation and targeted community engagement―to close them.

For example, other action taken at United Way of Central Ohio is to look at our investment process for 2021-2022 with a racial equity lens when recruiting grant review volunteers and also when reaching out to new nonprofits to apply for grants. Of the 123 people who reviewed the RFPs, 20 were United Way staff while the other 103 were community volunteers. In total, the demographics of the group represented the demographics of Franklin County, ensuring people’s lived experiences were represented in the process.

The pandemic has illuminated racial disparities that have existed in our community for years. In response to this, we expanded our funding from our Community Response Fund to include organizations serving under-resourced communities and those that focus on serving racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants and New Americans.

“United Way has always required its funded partners to have high-quality outcomes for the clients they serve. However, this year we made several changes to the application process, making it open to more grassroots organizations, requiring the collection of disaggregated data and requiring funded nonprofits to have diverse boards. These changes resulted in a significant increase of funded nonprofits led by people of color. We believe it’s important to acknowledge and support nonprofits that yield results and promote racial equity from within,” said Lisa Courtice, president and CEO of United Way of Central Ohio. “As a result, 40% of our grant recipient organizations are led by people of color, and 38 organizations are first-time grant recipients of program funding.”

Another way we’re addressing systemic issues in our community is through the work of the Economic Mobility Coalition’s Racial Equity Partnership project, which received a grant from The Gannett Foundation for racial equity training in Franklin County.

“Several years ago, we started to convene partners in the community who were also wanting to work cross-collaboratively with other organizations to address poverty and increase economic mobility,” Courtice said.

A result of that conversation was the creation of an Economic Mobility Coalition, and its first initiative was the Racial Equity Partnership, which launched training in September 2020. The trainings are designed to help people in the health and human services fields understand the effects of structural racism.

“We felt that if we could increase awareness, we’d allow people to make better decisions to address structural racism,” Courtice said.

As we work together to rebuild from the pandemic, we aren’t looking to get “back to normal.” We are working to build stronger, more equitable and inclusive communities. United Way of Central Ohio is helping to lead this effort on the ground and keeping equity at the heart of our mission.

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