United Way Makes a Way With a Focus on Impact

In May of this year, United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties named Courtney Edgcomb, 27, as its new president–the youngest person in the organization’s 78 year old history to hold the top job. Edgcomb started working for United Way in 2013 as assistant director of resource development, right after graduating from Stetson University. Promotions came quickly, and in less than two years she was named vice-president–serving on the leadership team that implemented a new framework for working with and evaluating the effectiveness of partner nonprofits in the community. Now as president, Edgcomb is tasked with executing this model in an effort to better serve the local community and invest in long-term, measurable change.

Courtney Edgcomb

In 2017, United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties introduced their Community Impact Model, a new way of selecting grant recipients based on long-term goals and measurable outcomes and achievements. The model utilizes a Community Impact Cabinet, a group of subject-area experts tasked with strategically mapping the organizations’ priority areas, reviewing requests for funding, recommending funding, and monitoring programs and results from those programs.

Although the model relies on data to determine community impact, not everyone was pleased with the change. Some long-time grant recipients no longer qualified for funding. There was pushback; but if a current project was no longer a good fit for the new model, transitional or step-down funding was granted to ease the blow. United Way raises $2.2 million annually, but the need is much greater than that, said Edgcomb. “The truth is, there’s just not enough to go around.”


Preston Root

As might be expected, large local companies and their employees and customers give big to United Way. Publix Associates and Publix Charities lead the pack with over $1 million in yearly donations, thanks not only to employees, but to shoppers who pitch in. Brown & Brown Insurance contributes more than $88,000, and ISC/NASCAR/DIS, more than $86,000.

But small companies play major roles too. For instance, there is The Root Company, and the Root family, which has been a presence in the area for 75 years. The Community Foundation is one part of the Root family’s philanthropy, with special focus on animal welfare and the elderly. “Everyone in my generation is now facing very difficult decisions about their parents,” he said. “That is something that touches everyone in our community, said Preston Root, chairman of  the Community Foundation of Volusia-Flagler, a division of United Way.”

Publix Volunteers

The Root Company’s accumulated United Way giving over the past 25 years has passed the $1 million mark. “We are a small organization, yet we remain in the Top 10 givers to United Way, and that is a testament to our employees,” said Root. And to the company, which matches the contributions of its  workers.

“There is a strong desire in our community to help those who are less fortunate. In the past, the time-honored tradition of giving was a way of life. It was just what everybody did.” It still is a way of life, but now, younger people are motivated differently, said Root, noting the value in measuring outcomes and working toward long-term positive results, rather than short-term fixes.

Another important contributor with a relatively small staff is Intracoastal Bank. “They are a local bank that is one of the top supporters of United Way every year,” said Edgcomb. “They not only support the organization through donations, but also through their leadership on our United Way Board, leading Generation IMPACT, and through our Community Foundation. We are incredibly thankful to have them as part of the team discussing the merits of partnering with United Way in the community.”


Rene Bell Adams

Two months after Courtney Edgcomb stepped into her executive role at United Way, Rene Bell Adams was installed as chair of the United Way board on which she had served for six years. “Our main task this year will be working to develop a strategic plan for the next three years, and laying the groundwork for the United Way of the future. . . Specifically, it is our job to illustrate the good that United Way does for the community.”

United Way’s three focus areas are health, education and family financial stability. “A community that helps its members gain strength in all of those areas can move forward with great strides.”

Short term, that includes creating a community that is engaged in what United Way is doing. “One of my big goals for our organization is to seek out ways to lead fundraising into the future, said Adams, noting the differences in the way giving differs by generation.

“The Community Impact Model for raising money has been around for years,” and is, “a crucial tool for not-for-profits striving for long-term success. You are actually solving problems in the number of people helped year over year, and proving you’re making measurable differences.”

Because the way millennials give is different from the giving patterns of previous generations, the challenge is: “How can we capture millennials’ hearts and minds, and let them see that their investment is worthwhile?”

The traditional United Way giving model for the Greatest Generation, Boomers, Generations X and Y, has been at the company level, with a paycheck contribution. “Millennials don’t want to be dictated to by their company. Also, they want to be involved, to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty when they are giving of their time and their money.” It’s an exciting time, Adams said, and a challenging one, figuring out the diversified ways non-profits will raise money now and in the future. “The thing that makes me feel the best about our community as a whole is that we can all be part of the solution to making our community better day by day.”