Behind the scenes: United Way’s funding process designed for greatest impact

By Alyssa Cholodofsky, Chief Program and Policy Officer, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania

United Way’s mission is simple, yet powerful. We are committed to creating long-lasting, positive change by mobilizing our entire community to deliver innovative and effective solutions to our region’s most pressing problems. And in 2021, we continued that mission by adopting a new strategic framework to focus our impact work, drive community investment and engage more people in our mission.

You, our generous community, responded by helping United Way of Southwestern PA raise funds to address our region’s needs. With many still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, those dollars will make a real difference for hundreds of thousands of our neighbors.

So, as we approach United Way’s grant process this year, how do we best determine how those dollars are spent? What does our new framework mean for the community and organizations applying for funding? Let’s take a look at United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s grantmaking process and review a few things you might want to know…

Funded organizations will align with United Way’s investment priorities and strategies

United Way provides critical funding assistance and changes the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors by meeting basic needs, moving toward financial stability and building for success in school and life. Under each of these priorities, United Way will invest in partners committed to the following strategies:

Meeting basic needs

  • Addressing food insecurity and providing access to nutritious food
  • Providing individuals and families access to safe and secure housing through programs that provide shelter, address eviction prevention, home repair, and utility assistance
  • Providing access to reliable transportation
  • Providing safety and support to survivors of intimate partner violence
  • Addressing the negative health effects of social isolation by providing interventions that promote connection and community

Moving toward financial stability

  • Connecting people to employment through skill-building and career development programs
  • Offering equitable opportunities across race, gender, and ability for people to access services and benefits that increase their income and financial security
  • Advocating for critical policy and systems change by engaging stakeholders across the community

Building for success in school and life

  • Providing affordable, high-quality early childhood educational opportunities and family supports
  • Working collaboratively with school districts and other community partners that provide positive out-of-school time opportunities for young people.
  • Addressing learning loss, social and emotional well-being and kindergarten readiness
  • Providing career and college readiness tools and resources to historically underrepresented groups of students 

All are welcome to apply for funding

This open and competitive grant process is available to all non-profit, human service organizations in United Way of Southwestern PA’s service area of Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Fayette and Westmoreland counties. Organizations small and large, new and established are encouraged to apply.

Support is available

Group information sessions will be hosted in the fall, and members of United Way’s Community Impact team are ready to talk with organizations about their ideas and how what they’re doing aligns with our funding strategies.  The people working at our partner agencies are living this work every day; they know better than anyone what the most serious issues people are facing and how they can be addressed. We want to solve them together.

Community stakeholders have a voice

A key part of United Way’s funding process has always been community participation at the local level. Donors, volunteers and leaders from each county will give their time to review applications, and ask questions to help determine which organizations are best suited to address the issues most pressing for our neighbors. Each communities’ issues are unique, and so are the solutions. We can’t truthfully determine that without input from the people who call each county home.

Your gifts make this work possible

An investment in United Way is an investment in your community. With your support for our work and that of our agency partners, we can identify holistic approaches and create innovative solutions to our region’s most significant challenges.

United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania will begin accepting applications for an open, competitive grant process in November 2022. For more information, please contact If you’d like to donate to support United Way’s work in our region, visit