Moving forward on the path of progress


Since the 1950’s, United Way of the Lowcountry (UWLC) has leveraged the collective generosity of our region in order to serve those most in need. In June 2015, UWLC’s board approved an exciting new approach to serving those needs that will allow significantly greater impact on the major human services issues facing our region.

As you will see in the information below, the foundation of our Community Impact Plan is a call to action to create lasting, positive impact in the areas of Education and Basic Needs. We believe that through collective, focused action we will advance the common good by creating opportunities for a better life for everyone in the lowcountry.


In the last several years, United Way of the Lowcountry has sought to improve services to better reflect the changing needs of the community.

The Early Grade Reading Program was implemented in 2012 to address the reading levels of children in local schools in grades K-3 by using volunteer tutors. The subsequent success of the program – which has seen at least 95% improved test scores for children enrolled in the program each year of its existence! –  allowed the board to look into adopting a program with greater focus on further addressing the education and basic needs of the community. The United Way of the Lowcountry believes it is the most capable organization to mobilize people, multiply investments and maximize opportunities so people in the lowcountry receive the education and basic human needs required to lead productive lives.

The new Community Impact Plan provides the detailed goals and methods needed to achieve that purpose.

The full implementation of this plan will improve thousands of lives and create lasting, measurable change now and for generations to come. The intentional focus on change at both the individual and system levels is referred to as Community Impact. Just as Community Impact addresses issues at the micro and macro levels, it also calls for a focus on the immediate, pressing needs of today and longer view toward creating and supporting community solutions to reduce those needs in the future.

For well over 50 years, the United Way of the Lowcountry’s approach has been to invest in programs and agencies who work directly with individuals and families. Research shows that while investment in program interventions does create positive change in the lives of those individuals who are targeted, it does not sufficiently tackle the root causes of complex social problems.

This reality calls for a new approach that is more collaborative and works across multiple sectors. United Way has been a key player and often a leader in this “system change” work already and this new plan calls for an even greater acknowledgment and support of this essential work.

By improving systems and conditions in the community and addressing root causes, more people can reach stability and success whether they are touched by a United Way-funded program or not. This is not work that United Way will accomplish alone – strong, diverse partnerships are needed. Some partnerships will require financial commitment while others will call for United Way to commit time, expertise and influence.

Development and Timeline

In early 2012, as the United Way Board began its strategic planning process, United Way staff began the research, learning and development that frame this new Community Impact Plan. Volunteers from the Community Investment panel also contributed countless hours of work dedicated to studying the Community Impact Model in other United Way organizations to better understand how it would impact our current agencies and the community at-large.

As we continue to work with agencies and others in this new model, some agencies may receive an increase in their funding, while others will have a chance to enhance their programs and better focus on outcomes. Since full implementation of the new model will not begin until 2017, there is a two-year time period that allows agencies to focus and prepare for the more competitive funding process to come. From 2017-2020, United Way of the Lowcountry will take steps to begin announcing funding for programs at the end of each successful fundraising campaign in 2020 rather than the beginning, as is the current process. The process moving forward will tentatively look like this:

2015 – Funding for agencies is based on achieving the goal of $2.4 million

2016 – Funding for agencies remains at 2015 levels

2017 – Funding levels begin at zero as new application process takes effect and those programs/agencies that align with Community Impact goals and common outcomes are rewarded with higher funding levels

2020 – Solid funding for programs comes at the end of a campaign, eliminating inaccurate budgeting based on fundraising campaign projections

Building on Past Success

The planning process acknowledges that United Way has taken important steps already towards a Community Impact Plan. During what could be called a first phase for the past decade, United Way:

  • Narrowed the focus to funding agencies who address education, basic needs, income and health.
  • Started focusing on systemic change through facilitating and investing in programs such as Success By 6, Play Partners, VITA, and neighborhood development projects such as the Sheldon project and the St. Helena Island project, not to mention our own Early Grade Reading Program.
  • Funded a fairly consistent group of 33-34 agencies and 44-48 programs with funding levels ranging from $4,000 to over $100,000. With few exceptions, United Way grant funding has not been open to non-partner agencies during that entire period.


This is a bold, progressive plan for dealing with the upstream problems of the Lowcountry while continuing to keep an active role in the downriver emergencies. United Way organizations in Greenville, Columbia, Charlotte and Charleston have already successfully implemented the Community Impact model, and their success is expected to be duplicated in Beaufort and Jasper. The United Way of the Lowcountry believes this model offers the opportunity to utilize United Way’s specific strengths and advantages to attract new investments and make our community a better place to live, work and thrive.