December 15, 2023
By: Kevin Zwick
CEO, United Way Bay Area
For me, December is always a time for reflection.
It’s a practice spurred by various factors: the abundance of year-end top-ten lists, the meaningful traditions of Hanukkah that encourage contemplating our values and recommitting to them, and the longstanding practice in the nonprofit organizations I’ve been a part of, where we observe a winter recess during the last week of the year. This break allows our staff to relax, reflect, and start the new year rejuvenated. This December, I’m reflecting on United Way Bay Area’s three-year Strategic Plan, which we put into place in July 2022, as we are officially at the halfway point in the plan.
Why do nonprofit organizations have Strategic Plans? For UWBA, to be steadfast in our mission to fight poverty and act as a catalyst for good, we regularly develop and publish organization-wide strategic plans. In 2020 and 2021, like many nonprofit organizations in the region, we were deep into direct service for the community in the face of the global pandemic, wildfires and environmental disasters, and an urgent cry for racial justice. With so much uncertainty, despair, and inequity to address, it seemed critical for us to put our flag into the ground, to call for an end to losing ground, and to chart a path towards a more equitable and impactful future – for our own organization and for the region.
Our strategic plan accomplishes that goal – it gives us a look into a United Way Bay Area that helps the region at scale, with a renewed focus on racial equity and housing justice, while investing in data and analysis to help inform decision-making. It redoubles our efforts to be an effective organization regionally, to make sure all parts of our eight-county Bay Area region get the attention they deserve and offers them a seat at the table at UWBA in our leadership and programs. We also lay out a path to ensure more people understand the work that we do and to raise the resources we need to assist 1,000,000 people in the Bay Area.
Finally, our strategic plan goes deep into imagining the type of organization we need to operate so that we can be inclusive, equitable, and effective in our operations, culture, and management.
Halfway through the plan, from my perspective, we are ahead of progress in expanding the impact of our work, assisting hundreds of thousands of people every year, doubling down on data and analysis, and re-establishing our presence regionally. We have increased our resources to support our work during each year of the plan, and more people have learned about that work and how they can get involved through more effective traditional and social media channels.
In terms of our organizational effectiveness, our financial systems are now the best they’ve been in the three years I’ve led United Way Bay Area, and our efforts to seed our DEI Action Plan throughout all facets of the organization are beginning to sprout and change processes and procedures.
However, we still have more work to do on our journey of becoming a truly anti-racist organization and achieving a culture of belonging for all our staff. While this is my perspective, based on what I can observe in the organization, I am excited about what is on the horizon. By this coming summer, we will achieve the transparency and accountability we called out at the beginning of the plan, by having our progress viewable externally through our website so that you can come with us on this journey.
In the spirit of reflection, I went back and looked at My First Six Weeks on the Job, the blog I posted when I arrived in the summer of 2020. I wrote:
Many of us have often referred to where we live as the Greater Bay Area. But the pandemic, the economic and public-health disparities and the protests for racial justice have underscored that we live in an unfair and inequitable Bay Area. We don’t have to settle for that. We can all commit to creating a truly Greater Bay Area, rather than trying to settle back into the way things were before the pandemic.
I worry – have we missed our chance? Our poverty rates are increasing again as we allowed Congress to end the expanded Child Tax Credit, which cut childhood poverty in half, and consequently, kids are falling back into poverty. Eviction Protections that were in place during the pandemic have also ended, and we are now seeing renters displaced at a record pace – which only causes a more devastating cycle of poverty for those affected.
Remember what it was like when that wasn’t the story – when we imagined what things would look like if we truly created a more equitable region, state, and country? The Bay Area can still work together to make big changes on our most pressing issues.
Believe me when I say, it’s not too late to turn things around.
In the coming year, there will be new funding coming from Washington, D.C. to invest in infrastructure, the environment, and workforce development at a scale never seen before. We have an opportunity next year to reverse restrictive rules that keep local cities from meeting their affordable housing goals while also voting to pass new funding for affordable housing regionally at a scale finally big enough to meet the magnitude of our housing crisis. And we will be scaling and expanding our proven poverty-fighting programs at United Way Bay Area and reaching out to all of you to get involved.
Here’s to an impactful 2024 as we continue to Live United!