For the nonprofits that matter, mission statements are much more than words on paper. They are the foundation of that organization’s future, and statements of commitment.
In 2020, after four months of board-led strategic planning, the nearly 100-year-old United Way of Santa Barbara County updated its mission and vision to better reflect its role and responsibility in guiding the community during times of natural, economic, and public health crises, as well as times of stability.
“To enrich the lives of children and families and build resilient communities by leading local programs and partnerships that improve school readiness and academic achievement, financial empowerment, and crisis response and recovery.”
As with declining local and national academic scores, the Thomas Fire or the debris flow, United Way coordinated a powerful community-wide mobilization in the wake of COVID-19. While only having a full-time staff of 17 and 45 temporary staff each year, the organization expands its capabilities by engaging with partners in philanthropy, the nonprofit community, and public agencies to: raise $10.1 million for COVID-response efforts; support 2,500 individuals and families with funding to meet basic needs; all while providing 40,600 students with unique academic programming in partnership with school districts.
One of those students, an eight-year-old girl, was failing to attend her virtual classes because she was so busy helping her two younger siblings with their remote learning and homework.
“We have been here as a solid organization that adapts quickly and then delivers results,” says President and CEO Steve Ortiz, himself a 15-year-veteran of United Way.
For Ortiz, assessing and responding to varying community needs is what United Way was built for. The organization is built on measuring results so that every one of its programs – whether supporting students or mitigating the fallout of the deepest public health crisis our generation has known – is built out of data and continuously improved. And unlike most other nonprofits, its history gives it credibility as a convener, a quality it uses to forge the partnerships needed to respond to the most pressing issues the community faces.
“We are too small to be able to accomplish everything we do alone,” Ortiz says. “If we are able to set goals that are aligned with one another, we bring together our strengths for a much stronger result” – the united way.