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United Way Grants for US Nonprofits: Who's Eligible, How to Apply

| Updated February 15, 2018

Cornerstone issues include education, economic stability and health

United Way Worldwide is a charitable coalition of individual community United Way branches in more than 40 countries and territories throughout the world. Find out if your nonprofit might benefit from United Way funding.

How does the United Way raise money?

The United Way is a federated fund that collects donations in cooperative workplace giving drives, through major corporate and individual gifts, and through individual donations and other giving efforts. These funds are used to support grants to affiliated nonprofits and service organizations, as well as service initiatives specific to the United Way.

What types of initiatives does the United Way support?

The United Way provides grants for community interventions that support one of the following cornerstone issues: education, economic stability or health. Short-term impact grants from a local United Way might be used for particular projects while annual or multi-year grants offer long-term support. Capacity-building grants are also available.

For example:

  • In 2015, the United Way of Central Maryland issued a competitive operating grant to groups delivering health and human services directly to those in need
  • In 2016, the United Way of Houston offered short-term, one-time community building grants of $1,000 to $10,000 to be used for projects such as refurbishing a playground, constructing a ramp to allow wheelchair accessibility or creating a public art project
  • The United Way of Calgary and Area — which highlights its capacity building mission as part of its effectiveness — helps organizations that have a demonstrated impact expand with increased funding
  • In North Carolina, the United Way of Tar River Region hosts a capacity building summit to offer not only funding support but also training and best practices for affiliated nonprofits

In addition, major donors to the United Way might offer funding for specific projects either locally or internationally.

Most international efforts operate through the United Way's International Donor Advised Giving (IDAG) program. Major corporate donors identify recipients — such as educational foundations, schools and orphanages, or malaria bed-net distribution programs — while the United Way facilitates the donation process and directs the donated funds.

Which nonprofits are eligible for a United Way grant?

To qualify for a United Way grant, your nonprofit must support one of the cornerstone issues of education, economic stability or health. In addition, most United Way grants require an organization to have held nonprofit status for at least two years.

What's the application process?

Despite an international presence, United Way is locally-based. This means that, for the most part, you must apply to your local United Way for funding. To learn about grants available in your area, communicate directly with your local United Way — keeping a close eye on their website and grant databases.

Although application dates and details vary, expect to provide:

  • Project plan
  • Budget
  • Staff and leadership qualifications and credentials
  • Tax information demonstrating nonprofit status
  • Signed pledge not to use United Way funds for lobbying

If funding is provided by the United Way, what reporting is required?

Short-term grants require a project summary and itemized cost report within 30 days of completion, while long-term grants require more extensive reporting and demonstration of impact.

How long are the grant cycles?

Grant cycles vary depending on the size of the grant and the project it funds. Short-term community impact grants might have 90 days between announcement and application deadline, and another 60 to 90 days between deadlines and announcement of recipients. After receiving a one-time grant, you must wait two years before applying again. Quarterly and annual operating grants might have a cycle of six months or longer, and may or may not limit repeat applications.

How are funded programs evaluated?

The United Way carefully evaluates the impact of the programs they fund, often requiring a logic model to show a causal relationship between inputs and outcomes. Although templates vary from region to region, basic categories include:

  • Input (resources)
  • Output (processes and services)
  • Impact (short-term, medium-term, long-term)

Each category is represented in a chart to clarify to participants and funders the efficiency and effects of a particular program.

MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.

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Baltimore-based writer and educator