A Laser Focus on Poverty

Author: United Way of St. Joseph County

What were the results of the research?

Why did the Board choose poverty as the issue? UWSJC believes that poverty (self-sufficiency and family economic security) is a serious epidemic that demands collective action. The condition of poverty is linked with quality education. Children living in poverty are more likely not to be prepared for or succeed in school, and less likely to complete or further their education.  (Alliance for Excellent Education; American Graduate.)

Summary: Donor survey and key leader interview results showed that poverty/economic self-sufficiency and education are perceived as the primary social problems for our community. Interviewees endorsed the “issue focus” model. They also supported UWSJC’s role as a leader to address a key issue. Most respondents of the donor survey indicated that they would continue to donate and volunteer (or would increase their participation) if either poverty or education were selected as the focus. 

New Model: Board members decided that the community and UWSJC would not be well-served by continuing the traditional fundraising focus. To make a long-lasting impact in our community, Board members voted to adopt a “laser focus” on a key community issue.

Poverty defined: “Poverty for a family of four is demonstrated by an annual income of $23,050 or less.”  (2012: The Department of Health and Human Services) “Families and their children experience poverty when they are unable to achieve a minimum, decent standard of living that allows them to participate fully in mainstream society.” (The National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University.)

The epidemic of poverty right here at home: The poverty rate in St. Joseph County is 20%, 5% higher than the Indiana poverty rate. 53,000 children, women and men live in poverty. Nearly 20,000 children live in poverty or 1 out of every 3 children under the age of 18. In Indiana, our county has the 7th highest poverty rate, the 4th highest number of children who qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch and 4th highest number of people qualified for Food Stamps. (2011, U. S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U. S. Census Bureau, Indiana Family and Social Services, Indiana Dept. of Education, Indiana Business Research Center)

Many services and programs in our community address poverty or its effects.  However, in the absence of focused, collective action, the UWSJC Board is concerned that the number of people in poverty will continue to grow.

Next Steps: Board members, current and new public and private partners, as well as staff  will develop and implement a strategic plan. The plan will align programs and services with this issue. Measures for success and resources to address the issue will be identified and pursued.  The move to an issue focus will impact UWSJC’s organizational structure, allocation investment process and initiatives/services, marketing communications, development resources and governance practices.