North Texas Cares: Crisis Innovation That Works | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

North Texas Cares:
Crisis Innovation That Works

When the coronavirus barreled into North Texas this spring, thousands of people were suddenly out of work, out of school, potentially homeless and hungry. The crisis hit hard, leaving nonprofits and other organizations scrambling for ways to help people—often with extremely limited resources, short of staff and in a situation where speed was critical.

Enter North Texas Cares, a first-of-its-kind collaboration between United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT) and The Dallas Foundation (TDF) that streamlined and sped the process for getting money to local organizations addressing the pandemic.

AN “AHA” MOMENT

Over the course of four hectic days in late March, North Texas Cares went from an “aha” idea from Ashley Brundage, Senior Vice President, Community Impact for United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, to a launch on March 23.

Brundage said the idea occurred to her during a conversation with CFT and TDF in late March. “I thought there should be a way for all these small groups—especially the grassroots organizations, the ones that are really on the ground helping their communities in a situation like this, but might have just one or two people in their offices—to have one easy place to apply for grants from lots of different funders. Even if was just United Way, CFT and TDF, they could complete one application instead of three.”

As it turned out, one application through NTC now gets a nonprofit’s request for help to dozens of potential funders. The list has gone from the initial three, to about 10 in the first week, to a total of 31 now—and growing. Collectively, NTC covers 14 counties across North Texas.

A BRAND-NEW WAY

While the approach to funding was completely new, United Way was able to leverage a collaborative application system through Survey Monkey Apply that it had developed for the Better Together Fund. Unlike Better Together, however, NTC isn’t a pooled fund. Rather, it’s a portal where nonprofits can apply for money from many different funding organizations in one go through a single streamlined application.

With the Survey Monkey Apply technology at hand, United Way was able to quickly build a new application to meet this collective need. Simultaneously, Communities Foundation of Texas worked on the logo, website and language. The North Texas Cares platform was up and running—and accepting applications from North Texas nonprofits—in a matter of days.

All applications are reviewed by United Way and CFT. United Way serves Dallas, Collin, Rockwall and southern Denton counties, but applicants from other areas of North Texas can also use the system. In those cases, Brundage said, a United Way or a Foundation in that applicant’s area completes the review. However, she said, “All decisions are independent to the specific funder. Even if we recommended against a certain application, the funder still could decide to fund it, because it’s their money. It’s not a pooled fund.”

United Way also bolstered the process through a needs assessment that it had started the week of March 16. Brundage said that at the request of Susan Hoff, United Way Chief Impact and Strategy Officer, “We had started reaching out to our nonprofit partners, asking about their needs and how we could show up to meet this crisis. We shared that with our partner funders, and that’s what helped us determine the North Texas Cares funding priorities.” That first needs assessment reached about 120 partners; another was done about a month into the crisis, reaching more than 200 partners.

RACIAL EQUITY AS A FOUNDATION

A needs statement, including a priority on racial equity, was drafted by United Way, CFT and TDF and became an integral part of NTC’s process. It states that funding should focus on efforts to help children, the homeless, low-income displaced workers, first responders, medical professionals and those without other resources; efforts that overtly address racial disparities (including efforts to address viral racism related to COVID-19); and efforts that address the racial disparities in communities of color that take into account areas such as access to care, food, mental and physical health care.

The overall priorities for NTC are:

  1. access to food
  2. safety for high risk and vulnerable populations
  3. providing general support and engagement with clients while organizations are closed
  4. emergency financial assistance
  5. access to mental health care
  6. supporting distance learning and access to distance learning for students

The coronavirus pandemic quickly illustrated how all United Way’s ongoing focus areas—education, income and health, the building blocks of opportunity—were devastated by what started as a primarily a health crisis.

By the end NTC’s first week, United Way had received and reviewed 66 applications and awarded 44 grants through NTC from its Coronavirus Relief and Recovery Fund. As of mid-June, those numbers had reached 768 applications received/reviewed, with 296 grants given.

And that’s just counting United Way grants. Altogether, North Texas Cares funders have awarded $32.6 million to almost 600 nonprofits addressing immediate COVID-19 needs. Some 1,100 North Texas nonprofits have requested assistance through NTC.

MOVING FORWARD

North Texas Cares continues, Brundage said, and is still taking applications for emergency relief through the website, NorthTexasCares.org. There’s also a plan to “morph the application into being responsive to long-term needs due to the coronavirus,” she said. “We plan to launch the new, long-term-needs application by mid-July.” It’ll be available at the same website.

The response to NTC has been overwhelmingly positive, Brundage said. “The funders absolutely love it,” she said, “and that’s the reason we’re now taking it to another stage. The smaller nonprofits have really appreciated it as well—it’s gotten them exposure to funding institutions they might never have been able to access otherwise.”

Of the nearly 300 applications United Way has funded so far, about half of them are grants going to organizations United Way has never interacted with or funded before, the majority of which are grassroots organizations—and 30 percent are led by a person of color.

In addition to saving nonprofits time at the front end with the application process, it also helps when it comes to reporting how they’ve spent their grants. “Just as with the application, the reporting back is one-step, very quick and easy, rather than having to create an individual report for each funder who granted them money,” Brundage said.

NTC has also sparked the interest of other organizations nationwide. “I’ve had conversations about how we did it, and at least two or three of those have been from outside of Texas,” she said.

 

For more information, visit NorthTexasCares.org.

You can read more about how United Way of Metropolitan Dallas led the way in addressing the pandemic in this Forbes Nonprofit article, Building a New Model for Greater Change and Impact, by our McDermott-Templeton President and CEO, Jennifer Sampson.

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This article was published on: Jun 26, 2020