United Way of Story County’s Women United (WU) program, formerly named Women with Initiative, was developed to help low- to moderate-income women achieve self-sufficiency through financial education. Through a series of financial management workshops and one-on-one mentoring, individuals learn money management practices including identifying financial goals, creating spending plans, banking basics, and finding ways to save and use credit wisely.
Two years ago, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Investor Education Program, in partnership with United Way Worldwide, awarded WU a two-year grant which allowed the program to broaden its reach within Story County, thereby creating new community relationships.
The initial step in configuring the expanded programming was stepping back and asking what was needed by the target audience. Through this, adjustments were made to the program components to better fit the participants. This included marketing messages on social media and providing products such as paper towels, toilet paper and other basic needs as attendance incentives to participants who can benefit from the program.
Community relationships were a key component in making program expansion possible. Connections with the school districts, chambers, churches and organizations in local communities helped in a multitude of ways including providing space, recruiting volunteers, increasing program awareness and providing insight into the unmet needs of the community. As a result, communities became more engaged with the program and in helping to meet the needs of the participants.
“Our best advocates are people who believe in the program,” said Jerri Baumeister, Women United director. “It’s been easy to develop relationships with community partners who see what this program can mean for women in their community. And women who have participated in our program are our very best referral sources because they know the difference it has made for them.”
Through building strong relationships, champions emerged in each community.
In Nevada, the first community in which WU expanded its reach, an existing relationship with school personnel was a solid foundation to build the program upon. Through that, WU was able to work closely with the principal and guidance counselor to communicate with families about the program opportunities and distribute flyers. The school allotted space for WU to use and offered meals and transportation for women during the summer Food for Thought program.
This pattern repeated itself in all communities. Partnerships with local schools, churches and local vendors provided access to space and meals for the program. Recruitment of participants and childcare volunteers were made possible through the school’s connection with families. Consequently, connections within the community helped provide women with additional resources and opportunities.
As a result of the FINRA Foundation grant, WU has been able to evaluate the program more comprehensively. An independent evaluator was brought in to conduct focus groups that included donors, mentors and women from the program. The key findings helped WU change its marketing to better reach its audience. The program was also able to modify mentor recruitment and, for the first time, actively recruit mentors from the community at large.
Since acceptance of the FINRA Foundation grant, the number of donors has doubled and WU is now serving more than twice as many women, none of which would be possible without community partners. For more information about the WU program, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 515-268-5142.