An Interview with Nancy Mendez, Associate Vice President, Community Impact, United Way of Greater Cleveland
The United Way of Greater Cleveland provides support to 128 local programs that benefit the health, education, financial stability, and general well-being of those who need it most in Cleveland and throughout Cuyahoga County. As part of the organization’s financial stability work – which focuses on programs that help families and individuals find their way out poverty by securing meaningful work to increase earnings, manage these earnings, and ultimately save – the United Way of Greater Cleveland invests in and works together with the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition to help community members become more financially secure through free tax assistance, EITC outreach, and financial literacy programs.
Why is investing in the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition essential to achieving the United Way’s mission?
Since our founding more than a century ago, the principal mission of the United Way of Greater Cleveland has been to respond to our community’s most urgent needs. As part of this mission, we are dedicated to combating poverty in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. The work we do and the investment we make in the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition is an important tool toward achieving this mission. Laying the groundwork for financial literacy and access to savings, for instance, can be crucial benchmarks in helping individuals becoming self-sufficient. The EITC is often an untapped resource and by connecting community members to the tax credit, we are putting more money into individual’s pockets and helping them meet basic needs.
How did this public-philanthropic collaboration begin and how did the United Way become engaged in the effort?
The Cuyahoga EITC Coalition, as part of the IRS Volunteer Assistance Program, was established in 2005. Cuyahoga County started the conversation – the County saw a need in the community for free tax preparation and EITC outreach services and approached a number of organizations in the community to help build a program. The United Way has been a coalition partner from the beginning and has worked with the lead organization – Enterprise Community Partners – as well as with the County and other coalition members to identify and fill the gaps, as possible.
On a practical level, what is the United Way’s current role within coalition??
We fund the program, provide the primary vehicle to schedule VITA appointment through the 211 program, and provide in-kind marketing support. We have made a financial commitment to the program and as the need in our community grows, have worked to help raise additional dollars over the years. We have also worked to educate our corporate partners and help engage them in this work as well. In addition, the 211 Help Center, which covers 3.5 million people in Ohio and serves 26 counties, has been vital in connecting community members not only to VITA, but serves as an entry point to additional support services. And our marketing team is busy taking the lead on outreach efforts for the coalition.
What are some of the lessons learned or advice you might have for other funders based on your experience?
Don’t underestimate the popularity of the program and reach out to corporate partners as soon as possible. Helping individuals and families work toward financial stability and creating communities of opportunity is all of our responsibility and, in turn, we all benefit. The only way we achieve these goals, however, is to work in collaboration. That’s a message that can really resonate with partners.
For additional funder perspectives, see Through the Funder Lens: Public Sector, Philanthropic, and Practitioner Collaborations that Strengthen the EITC and VITA.