News Release: 2021 Grant Process Adapts to Pandemic

For Immediate Release: 1.28.2021
Donna Swaffar
, Communications Director
Phone: 785.383.7451 (voice/text)

United Way announces changes
to grant programs

Impact grants adapt to COVID-19 response and recovery

TOPEKA, KS, January 26, 2021—The challenges of COVID-19 have prompted temporary changes to United Way of Greater Topeka’s impact work timeline and grant process.

United Way of Greater Topeka (UWGT) announced today that to support its current grant partners through the remainder of the pandemic and the anticipated post-COVID recovery, it will limit impact grant investment through the 2022-2023 fiscal year to partners with existing grants.

The restriction to existing partners does not affect Basic Needs grants. Those requests for proposal will continue to be open to all Shawnee and Jefferson County nonprofit agencies.

Over the first decade of impact grants, initiatives were awarded for a three-year cycle. The current cycle ends June 30, 2021 and was the last of three cycles planned under the original Community Impact strategic plan.

Nearly every program currently supported with a UWGT impact grant has been seriously disrupted by COVID-19. School interventions, job readiness training and financial stability programs have been forced to adapt to virtual formats or reduce capacity. UWGT has worked with all partners to modify program expectations to best support the children, teens, adults, and families they serve.

While the community has remained incredibly supportive with individual donations and workplace campaigns through the start of the new year, UWGT has pledged to remain fiscally cautious. The potential decrease in donations that support impact work (which are kept separate from funds designated to the COVID-19 relief fund last year and from Christmas Bureau) has prompted the conservative move to limit new grant applications.

Had COVID not intervened, UWGT would have already completed a new round of strategic planning and revised impact goals and strategies. New proposals would have been requested and grants awarded. However, such a drastic change in the current uncertain environment felt unrealistic and unwise to the staff, board and volunteers who guide UWGT’s work.

Instead, the board supported staff recommendations to provide an abbreviated concept paper application process to existing impact grant partners for the next two fiscal years. This process allows continuity of support for critical programs while helping each partner refocus resources in ways best suited to pandemic response and recovery.

The temporary pause in new impact work will give the community time to assess and address the damage from COVID-19 before committing to new impact goals.

“Honestly, so many of our partners are still feeling their way through the pandemic,” said Brett Martin, Vice President of Community Impact. “Everything seems to be in constant flux, so flexibility has been really important. Trying to impose a new framework on our impact grants felt impossible and unwise when we took into account that we haven’t yet felt the full impact of COVID on our community and on the overall support system. We are doing everything we can to make sure our partners get the resources they need to keep helping people. The changes we have settled on give us the best balance of responsiveness and responsibility to our community and our donors.”

Existing impact partners will submit concept papers in February. UWGT will work with all partners to maximize the benefit of each initiative and support partners in continuing to adapt to the evolving post-COVID landscape.

UWGT Basic Needs grants—for food, medical, rent and utility assistance, as well as safety from domestic violence—have operated under a separate grant process for the past decade. To better mesh these critical support systems with long-term impact goals, basic needs grants will soon become a formal component of UWGT’s Financial Stability work.

Martin said the change represented an evolution of the way UWGT views the continuum of financial stability.  “We recognize that our Basic Needs investments are critical supports for individuals and families in crisis,” he said. “Moving Basic Needs into our Financial Stability work is a natural fit. Sometimes people need these emergency supports to reinforce their family budgets before taking larger steps toward financial stability and, eventually, prosperity.”

Starting this spring, Basic Needs grants will be awarded on a two-year cycle, instead of the previous one-year model. This grantmaking change will provide additional stability to partners and reduce the work associated with annual applications. UWGT will release more information on the upcoming Basic Needs Request for Proposals in early February.



United Way of Greater Topeka creates and cultivates an unbreakable network of support for a strong, healthy and equitable community.

United Way brings together people, companies and nonprofits in Shawnee, Jefferson and Jackson Counties to create positive sustainable change in education, financial stability and health. United Way remains dedicated to supporting Basic Needs, including food, rent and utilities, health and prescription access and safety from domestic violence.