Annala says United Way is changing more than just the services it offers as, across the country, although teen pregnancy and infant mortality rates are dropping, other issues are getting progressively worse.
"Families are fragile, especially in tough economic times," says Annala.
As a result, United Way has changed its entire approach to how it will serve the community. After attending a workshop in Chicago, Annala and her team developed a series of strategies, based on varying population and economic scenarios, to meet the needs of those they serve.
Annala says the changes give the organization flexibility to meet future needs, regardless of what they may be.
"The traditional plan could be relevant for a year or two," she says. "Then we'd have to scrap it and start over."
One change is that instead of funding a certain number of agencies, United Way instead surveyed the community to discover where the biggest needs were in order to refocus funding. The result is a new focus on education.
In the new Bridges to Success program launched by Annala and United Way, the agency works with each school in the Indianapolis Public School system to determine the needs of students, then partners with professionals and businesses to meet those needs. For example, if a number of students need of health or dental care and do not have access to it, Annala works with local health and dental care providers who donate services to those students.
The goal is to keep more students in school and succeeding.
"It's a wonderful collaboration," she says. "And we're not just providing funding."
Smart Business spoke with Annala about the new direction of United Way.
You have introduced several innovative strategies to United Way. What inspired these?
As we look at the challenges we face in the community, all over the country and Central Indiana, problems continue to escalate. We don't have a choice but to look at new ways to have more impact.
The work we did in part was good, but we need to improve to face these challenges. We need new methods, partnerships, and we should never be satisfied until we are meaningfully impacting the community in ways that are visible.
Things are getting better instead of worse, but the numbers of cases of abuse have increased. It's a challenge to know whether that is because the reporting is better or there are more cases. Substance abuse leads to domestic violence, and there is a growing population of working poor.
In some cases, parents are working one, two or even three jobs, and are just barely making it. It's a major crisis. In the last three decades, more women are in the work force and need before and after school quality child care. And they need it at an affordable level to keep working.
There is good news. Teen pregnancy rates are going down and infant mortality rates are going down. We are making progress. We lag behind the country in the graduation rate in our area, which is why we have focused on education.
It's hard to rank an order of these issues, but there is a great deal of concern about schools and a desire to increase the rate of academic success by children, which is why we are collaborating with the schools.
During your tenure as leader of United Way's planning and community service arm, you introduced what is being called a cutting-edge "scenario" model for strategic planning. How is it different from previous models?
I went to a workshop in Chicago and was the only nonprofit person in the room. The workshop was on scenario planning.
Traditionally, you take a look at where you are and go through a process of going through stakeholders and deciding where you want to be in two to five years, decide steps to get there. It is a linear process.
Scenario planning looks at the driving forces that help you achieve your mission. There are some that are predictable that you can make some plans of what you want to do. For example, the demographics here are changing. We have an increased Latino population and an increasing aging population, so we looked at what we could do for these populations.
But there are also unknown scenarios about the future of the community and how it might evolve. So we created four scenarios and gave them names.
The first was called Slow and Steady, in which the population was homogenous and the economy strong. The second was called the Neon Cornfield. In that scenario, the population was homogeneous but the economy was bad.
The third scenario was called Move Over Seattle, in which the population was diverse and the economy strong. The last scenario was called Suburbs in Search of a City. In that one we had a diverse population and a weak economy.
We looked at how we needed to structure ourselves and plan for each scenario. Doing this allows us to be more nimble as opposed to having a plan all laid out and then the environment changes.
Surveying all the key stakeholders was the real value in the process and opened us up to consider ways of doing our work differently. Unfortunately, signs are that while the economy is rebounding, we're not back, and we are, in fact, more diverse. We're not as cohesive. We have multiple, distinct values and needs, and so have developed a number of strategies.
Some we have employed, some we haven't. But this process changed our perspective, and when we got into planning mode the next year, it helped us deal with the changes going on in the community.
You also started a school/community partnership called Bridges to Success, which is being replicated across the country. How does it work?
Bridges, by definition, is collaboration. It came out of the fact that we share the same concerns about children not making it through school. Studies show that you can predict at an early age which children are likely not going to make it. We want to reverse that trend.
The president of the school board and the superintendent were focused and concerned about some families and asked if there was something we could do together to remove barriers and enhance opportunities. Our job was to bring in resources. We conducted surveys of teachers and principals and developed six pilot programs in the Indianapolis public schools.
There are now 43 programs. Some are health-related. When the children are sick or are in bad need of dental work, we can provide it. We also provide mental health counseling and have developed after school programs and tutoring.
We started on the health issues, and now a separate organization of all the health providers in Indianapolis put up money to provide school-linked health care in all the schools in the county.
Each school develops a plan for what they want based on what the needs are, and Bridges brokers the partnerships that help meet those needs. We work with social services, government agencies and businesses. It's called Adopt a School, and with everyone focused, it has increased its success. The board approved the expansion of the program at the request of the Lebanon school system.
When I was a kid, there were a lot of school activities and a school nurse. Over the years, a lot of these programs were pulled out because of money. Our effort is to bring the community back to the schools.
You also sponsor a leadership program for female executives to help them become more effective leaders of nonprofit organizations. Why was that necessary?
We actually have three different programs. In the late '80s, in an attempt to diversify boards, we developed the Leadership Training and Development for Diversity program for people of color. We wanted to engage them in more leadership roles in the community.
In 1990, we wanted to get more women involved and started the Executive Women Leadership program. We followed up with what we were doing in that one with a program for youth. We now have two youth members on our board.
Wh at the program does is help trainees understand the nature of board responsibilities, help them examine leadership styles, and they serve internships on boards for nine months. After the training, we make sure they serve on boards of nonprofit organizations.
We wanted to reach out broadly to diversify leadership and get a broad range of people. The people we choose to participate in the program have generally demonstrated an interest through some volunteer experience. And very often, they are sponsored by their employers.
We also have some scholarships available for those who are not working or who work for companies that cannot afford to sponsor them.
You served on the United Way of America leadership team that upgraded reporting practices standards in 2003. What are some of the outcomes of these standards and changes?
Both myself and our CFO were involved in creating new standards. At one point, we were viewed almost like a trade organization -- used for training and similar resources. First of all, we're dealing with companies that have multiple locations, so we need to have some commonalities across the nation.
Some locations -- not this one -- ran into problems that tarnished the reputation of all of us. We need to govern ourselves just like other organizations, and we need standards.
We now all do the same basic reporting and do a self-assessment every three years. We are driven by a board that has good management practices. We formalized them and abide by them. We have had incredibly strong oversight, but not all of our locations have had that.
In the last 10 to 15 years, what we've tried to do is change our message to the public to focus on what is being accomplished and how lives are changing because of United Way. We have changed our practices, too, like the Bridges program. We are focusing on key needs, key priorities and getting that message out. Indications are that that strategy is working.
How to reach: United Way of Central Indiana, (317) 923-1466 or www.uwci.org