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Community Investment Blogger - Post 4 - It's time to see the agencies firsthand!

Agency site visits are by far, hands down, 100% – and every other cliché you can think of – my FAVORITE part of the Community Investment Process for the United Way of Central Oklahoma (UWCO). This is where you get to see the agencies in action. You get to experience “their world” for a couple hours to fully understand how that agency impacts our community. Unless for circumstances beyond my control, I don’t EVER miss site visit days. (Because they really are the best!)

Again, as mentioned in previous blogs, each subcommittee operates a little differently. Some subcommittees find it easier to commit one full day away from work to visit all of their agencies. For Subcommittee 4, we decided as a group to split our agency site visits in to two afternoons. In my experience, while it may be more difficult to commit two afternoons, I enjoy having a bit more “breathing room” by splitting our site visits between two afternoons. This way you can focus on two agencies per afternoon and not be overwhelmed with the large amount of information you take in at each site visit.

And much like each subcommittee, each Partner Agency operates differently when planning their site visit. Some structure their site visit more like a board meeting. Others are more interactive. Either way, it is strongly encouraged for each agency to have their staff and board of directors involved as well as the clients they serve. Hearing directly from their clients is the highlight of site visits for me. And this year did not disappoint.

Subcommittee 4 experienced four incredible site visits this year. I could write pages and pages about each of our site visits. Instead, I’ll just give you some highlights. During our site visits, Subcommittee 4:

  • Heard from program participants who volunteer their time as a way stay active and involved in our community. Last year, these volunteers accounted for 124,540 volunteer hours valuing at $2.7 million for the agency’s Partner Agencies.
  • Met a young lady who, not only blew us away with her professionalism in front of strange adults, but also, through competitive speech – which she won awards for! – shared the ups and downs of her journey through life as a child in the military.
  • Listened to a mother’s heart-wrenching testimonial of her child’s experience as a client of this particular Partner Agency. Her child participated in the UWCO funded program more than 10 years ago and is still connected to that Partner Agency today.
  • Had lunch with nearly 20 high school-aged kiddos who are actively choosing a better life for themselves and working toward goals they never thought they could accomplish.

Sure, we get to hear about the agency financials, the agency’s board of directors’ participation and impact, strategic plans, and so much more. But hearing from the clients is what leaves the lasting impression. And that lasting impression sticks with you well after site visits – and even the entire Community Investment Process – conclude. We get to experience first-hand the impact of these Partner Agencies and their programs on individuals right here in our community. It truly is a special experience.

My next blog will also be my final blog, folks. But it also covers the most important part of the Community Investment Process. It’s time to get down to the nitty gritty where we put our subcommittee heads together to finalize our allocation recommendations to present to the Community Investment Committee. And then, Jennifer and I will go in front of the big guns to present our recommendations and fight for our Partner Agencies. Wish us luck!

More to come…

Elisa

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Elisa Milbourn

Co-Chair, Subcommittee 4

Director of Education & Special Events

Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association

Community Investment Blogger - Post 3 - The ins and outs of Community Investment, from a true professional

Well, here we go! Community members have volunteered. Co-chairs have been selected. Subcommittees have been announced. It’s go-time for the Community Investment process!

Moment of honest truth here, folks: I was late to our first subcommittee meeting. I hate…and I mean hate being late. And as one of the co-chairs, I felt awful for leaving Jennifer to kick the meeting off solo. As I flew in the door and settled in to my seat after introductions had already begun, I tried to gather myself and catch my breath. I then broke in to laughter as I heard one of our subcommittee member’s voices coming from the speaker phone placed in the middle of the table. I immediately relaxed and reminded myself of how awesome this process is and how dedicated our volunteers are with one making the extra effort to call in even if he couldn’t be physically present. I may have been late…but I was here!

The first gathering of a subcommittee is always a fun experience. In addition to the get-to-know-each-other portion of the meeting, we review each Partner Agency and touch on the basics of how the United Way of Central Oklahoma (UWCO) fits in to the agency’s overall structure. Jennifer and I provided information we had gathered during our executive director meetings and answered questions from the group. We also talked through the entire process: what to expect at each meeting, the timing of each meeting and what our end goal should be as a group. Jennifer and I passed along our mentality of being cheerleaders for our agencies and not the Allocation Police. I feel like we set a good tone for the group as we left our first meeting. And I promised not to be late to another meeting!

During the time between the first and second subcommittee meeting, the Partner Agencies are hard at work completing their allocation request packets. Each agency is required to submit a packet of information that gives us a complete rundown of their agency, the programs funded by the UWCO, how each dollar is spent, board of directors information and a lot more. This packet is also where we first see the exact dollar amount each agency is requesting for the UWCO-funded programs. Now it’s time to really dive in.

We had decided as a group to split our subcommittee in to four smaller groups with each group doing a “deep dive” on one particular agency and their programs. We encouraged each subcommittee member to be familiar with all four agencies, but we relied on our smaller groups to provide the nitty gritty about each agency and program. This was the first time for me to use this method with my subcommittee and I found it very beneficial.

At our second subcommittee meeting, each smaller group reported on their agency and programs. As we went through each allocation request packet, we developed a list of questions to submit to each agency to clarify any questions we had regarding their request. This is not because we are nosy, but we need to fully understand how the agency functions, how the UWCO allocated dollars are used, and how the agency’s clients are impacted to have a good handle on each agency and their programs to make a solid allocation recommendation at the end of this process. Sometimes they are tough questions. Others are simple clarification questions. But, we have to ask questions.

Something I would like to note: The UWCO does a great job of building our subcommittees with a good balance of numbers people and feelings people. I am in the latter group. And thank goodness Jennifer is in the former. (Numbers are not my forte.) We need people in our group who understand the numbers and the financial status and situation of each agency. And we also need people who have an emotional reaction to the work each agency and program does for their clients. Not to say the numbers people aren’t emotionally connected to the process, but a good balance of personality types provides a solid overall view of each agency and their programs.

So, we have completed our first and our second subcommittee meetings. Now it’s on to my favorite part of the Community Investment process…agency site visits!

More to come…

Elisa

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Elisa Milbourn

Co-Chair, Subcommittee 4

Director of Education & Special Events

Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association

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Community Investment Blogger - Post 2 - Let the process begin

When you get the call or email from Crystal Stuhr and her team at the United Way of Central Oklahoma (UWCO) asking if you’d consider being a co-chair for a Community Investment (CI) subcommittee, they make it very difficult for you to say no to the opportunity. Crystal is the vice president of strategies and community impact for the UWCO and a total rock star. If you want to know anything – and I mean anything – about a United Way partner agency, she’s your gal. So, when she comes knocking, there is a 96 percent chance you will open the door and step up to the co-chair plate because you know you will be supported from the beginning to end of the process.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, this is my second year as a co-chair. As a member of Subcommittee 2 in 2016, I was called up from the bullpen mid-process to take the place of one of our co-chairs who needed to step away due to new responsibilities with her job. I was one of the more “senior” volunteers in our group and knew I needed to help our subcommittee in this role. I was only three months in to my new job at the Central Oklahoma Homes Builders Association and still figuring out the ropes of a new career path. Adding another responsibility to my plate wasn’t something I was expecting at the time, but you want to know the great thing about it? Crystal and her crew made the transition and final weeks of the CI process easy as pie. Organized and always encouraging, we couldn’t do our jobs as co-chairs without the CI team and the UWCO staff who act as our liaisons between our subcommittee and our partner agencies.

To kick off the CI process, we have a co-chair roundtable meeting where all subcommittee co-chairs come together and meet with the Community Investment Committee Chairs (Remember the big guns I mentioned in Blog 1? Yup. Those guys.) to go over what to expect throughout the process and how to navigate the next few months. Ideas were exchanged. Challenges were discussed. And we left that meeting equipped with the tools to lead our subcommittees to the Promise Land (aka. Exit Conferences).

Prior to our first subcommittee meeting, my fellow co-chair, Jennifer, and I met with the executive directors of each partner agency in our group to better understand their missions and how the UWCO supports their agency and program(s). We also needed to get a gage on what we could expect when it came to their allocation request for this year. (Allocation Request: fancy way of saying funding request.) We asked a bunch of questions. Is their request going to increase, decrease or remain the same as compared to the previous year? Have they experienced any major changes in other funding sources? Have they encountered any new challenges this past year? All sorts of fun – and some difficult – questions that help us as co-chairs prepare to meet with our subcommittee for the first time.

But one thing Jennifer and I continually stressed to each of our executive directors and wanted them to remember throughout the process was this: We – as a subcommittee – are their cheerleaders. Their champions. We aren’t there to drill them about usage of funds. (Sure, we want to make sure funds are being used properly, but we don’t want to be viewed as the Allocation Police.) We aren’t there to tell them how to do their jobs better. We are there to fight for their agency and their program(s) so they have the best shot a receiving the most funds possible to support their mission and impact our community. They shared stories of their successes with us. They also told us of the negative impacts our community would experience should their agency and/or program(s) lose much-needed and valuable funding. Armed with this information, we now have a job to do.

And now it’s time to gather our crew and get the ball rolling. Our first subcommittee meeting is the next step.

More to come…

Elisa

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Elisa Milbourn

Co-Chair, Subcommittee 4

Director of Education & Special Events

Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association

Community Investment Blogger - Post 1 - Why volunteer with United Way?

The United Way of Central Oklahoma (UWCO) is in my blood. My family has been active supporters of the organization for as long as I can remember. Along with being loyal monetary contributors for 30-plus years, my dad has served in numerous volunteer leadership roles and currently sits on the UWCO Board of Directors. As a kid, I remember my parents getting all dressed up for the annual Snowflake Gala and thinking “Does it actually snow at this fancy dinner? I can’t wait to go when I’m a grown up!” (Spoiler alert: It doesn’t actually snow at the gala. But it is one special evening!)

After graduating from Oklahoma State University in 2007 and settling in to my young professional career with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber in 2008, I was excited about having the ability to give back to the community in which I was born and raised. As a part of a Pacesetter company, I began my monetary support of the United Way via the chamber’s workplace giving campaign. As an incentive, participating employees received an extra full day of vacation for their contribution. Support the United Way AND get an extra day of vacation? No brainer. But I knew it was more than that. Because I grew up around the organization, I knew my contribution – as small as it was as a new young professional – would make a difference through the work that the UWCO does in our community and the enormous number of people who benefit from the services provided by their Partner Agencies.

But I wanted to do more. After talking to my mom about her experience as a Community Investment (CI) volunteer, I knew this was where I could extend my reach. With the support of my employer and direct supervisors, I started giving my time as a CI volunteer in 2012. And, to be honest, I was completely overwhelmed. I was now part of a team – not just my subcommittee, but the entire CI volunteer group as a whole – that was responsible for allocating millions of dollars to UWCO’s Partner Agencies. How in the world was this going to happen? How were we supposed to identify Partner Agencies who “deserved” more than others when each of these agencies were doing wonderful and vital work in our community? I knew it would be a challenge, but with the guidance of veteran subcommittee co-chairs, I settled into the trusted process and enjoyed every minute.

So now, six years later, here I am. With the support of my current employer, the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association, I’m jumping in on my second rodeo as a co-chair with the responsibility of leading our subcommittee through the CI process with my fellow rock star co-chair. And I couldn’t be more excited. I’ll be sharing details with you about the Community Investment process as we work our way toward our final exit conference with the Community Investment Committee (They are the big guns who ultimately make the final allocation recommendation to the UWCO Board of Directors!) to give you an inside glimpse of what it takes to allocate the millions of dollars so generously donated to the UWCO to support our 58 Partner Agencies and their 121 programs that impact and improve lives in our community. I hope you follow along!

More to come…

Elisa
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Elisa Milbourn
Co-Chair, Subcommittee 4
Director of Education & Special Events
Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association