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As the first round of agency applications for United Way funding came to a close, predictions of greater needs in the community came true with the largest cumulative ask in the organization’s 37-year history.

“We saw a significant increase of over a million dollars, or 15-percent, in total requests for funding compared to last year,” said Muna Yussuf, Community Investment Coordinator. “We also had applications from an additional five agencies who are currently not receiving funding.”

The United Way of Fort McMurray Board of Directors identified the likelihood of increased need when they did their strategic planning in the summer. There was a sense that reduced government and sponsorship support was going to impact the demands on the United Way’s community fund.

As an aggregate total, funding requests in 2014 were almost $6.5 million. The total of the application requests in 2015 has eclipsed $7.5 million.

“With every funding cycle, our volunteers on the Community Investment Committee carefully review each application, assess eligibility, and make recommendations to the board regarding allocations based on priority areas of need, agency capacity, and available dollars,” said John Evans, Chair of the Community Investment Committee.

“The dramatic increase that we’ve seen in requests in this funding cycle reflects the realities of a community weathering an economic downturn.”

The Community Investment Committee is made up of 25 volunteers who work in three Agency Support Teams. These individuals who come from all sectors in the community invest hours of time learning about the organizations who applied for funding, participate in interviews, and make funding recommendations to the United Way board.

The dynamic between the committee and the agencies has really changed over the years, evolving to more of a partnership/mentorship relationship.

“We’ve done that purposefully,” he said, “with the intent of breaking down barriers, any communication issues, creating partnerships and creating trust. We are there to support and that’s why they are called Agency Support Teams.”

“It precipitates more transparent communication; it provides for more direct discussion around real topics: positive and challenging. In fact, we try to hold meetings, wherever possible, at the agency, so we’re at their home, if you will.”

“We owe a debt of thanks to the dedicated volunteers who serve on the Community Investment Committee,” said Diane Shannon, Executive Director, United Way.

“They are champions in our eyes. Their level of effort, diligence, and mindfulness is really extraordinary. They are your neighbours and work colleagues who are a vital resource to our agencies, board and staff. I can’t say enough about the role they play in stewarding the millions of dollars that get donated to help meet community needs.”

“I echo Diane’s comments,” said Ben Dutton, President, The United Way of Fort McMurray Board of Directors. “Under John’s leadership, the Community Investment Committee does stellar work on behalf of the community. We are so grateful to all of them for the integral role that they play with United Way.”