At most United Ways, the funding process involves issuing a request for proposals that basically allows partner agencies to submit any program, with an invitation like “Nonprofits whose programs align with United Way’s funding interests of education, income, and health are encouraged to submit an application.” But, for United Ways that have identified specific community needs, the request for proposals process becomes much more specific, to the point of identifying the desired programs. One United Way that has developed a request for proposals that addresses their specific community needs is Orange County United Way (Irvine, California).
On their Grantmaking Process Web page, Orange County United Way explains their FACE 2024 community-wide action plan and their 10-year goals in the areas of education, income, health, and housing. Currently, they have a health-related RFP targeting childhood obesity prevention programs. Clicking on the link on the page opens a four-page PDF entitled “Orange County United Way Childhood Obesity Prevention Request for Proposals.” Their RFP includes an introduction, application requirements, funding opportunity description, and funding criteria. For ease of display in this blog post, the four pages are linked together into one long image shown below.
What are they doing right?
First, the goal of their request for proposals is not to fund programs, but to reduce and prevent childhood obesity. Before asking organizations to respond to their request for proposals, Orange County United Way decided that their goal would be to reduce the level of childhood obesity from 34.5% to 20% by 2024. Once they made that decision, they were then able to prepare a request for proposals that was based on addressing this goal. One of the biggest challenges facing volunteers on investment committees or impact councils is deciding how to allocate funding between programs addressing a myriad of diverse issues. In the case of Orange County United Way, all of the applications for funding will be to reduce and prevent childhood obesity, and the question is solely which programs will be most effective in achieving this goal.
Second, their request for proposals is open and competitive. There are many United Ways that can say their request for proposals is competitive, but few that can say it is open. When Orange County United Way says their request for proposals is open, it is because they will allow 501c3 organizations, public nonprofit organizations, cities, schools, and community business organizations to apply. Any of these organizations can apply because the goal is to fund programs utilizing promising, evidence-based practices to prevent and reduce childhood obesity. It does not matter to Orange County United Way what type of organization applies – as long as they can deliver on the goal of reducing childhood obesity.
Third, many requests for proposals from United Ways are too long and too complicated. Unfortunately, there are all too many requests for proposals in excess of 10 pages long, including page after page of requirements to meet, and that are so complicated that any organization considering applying must participate in training prior to completing the request for proposals. Orange County United Way has a four-page request for proposals that is simple because it is focused on asking for just one thing – childhood obesity prevention programs. An example of their simplicity comes from asking the organization to “demonstrate the capacity to implement proven or promising practices to institute successful childhood obesity prevention programs” and allowing the organization to provide whatever information they wish in response, rather than specifying all of the information that must be supplied.
Issuing a request for proposals is the first step of the process of determining what programs will receive funding. But requests for proposals do not need to be long and complicated, and this starts by deciding what needs to be accomplished – what is the issue and what do you want to do about the issue. Orange County United Way has a simple and effective request for proposals because they have selected childhood obesity prevention as an issue and set a goal of reducing the level of childhood obesity from 34.5% to 20%. The next time your United Way gets ready to issue a request for proposals to your partner agencies, take a look at what Orange County United Way did with their request for proposals for childhood obesity prevention. Orange County United Way, you are Doing It Right!