This story was updated Aug. 21, 2018, at 7:28 p.m. with more information.
United Way of Greater Chattanooga plans to raise $11.5 million — more than the organization's total net revenue since 2006 — during its 2018 campaign. Last year, the organization made $10,866,928, according to a United Way spokesperson.
Campaign chairman Michael Mathis made the ambitious announcement at a kickoff event Tuesday at the Chattanooga Convention Center and outlined a new strategy focused on impact, innovation and engagement.
"We also have 1,600 nonprofits that call Chattanooga home, so why is our community one of the most generous and one of the worst in the nation for economic mobility and childhood poverty?" Mathis asked the audience. "Our research suggests it's less a matter of resources and more an issue of how we use them."
United Way's redesigned approach for allocating funds will target areas that offer the greatest "return on investment," he said, and build upon its hundreds of existing partnerships to become more effective and collaborative.
Lesley Scearce, president and CEO at United Way of Greater Chattanooga, said a "connection problem" causes people to overlook pockets of need throughout the community, and she challenged donors to think differently.
"The very system created to address all of this — philanthropy — can be just as insular and just as siloed off as the communities that we're trying to serve," Scearce said.
She cited a new United Way study that found 60 percent of Tennesseans can't afford basic needs such as transportation, housing, food, health care, a phone and child care.
"We know how much this impacts the next generation. Living in the crisis of right now makes it really hard to have vision for the future," she said. "Disconnected communities don't develop."
A panel of "connectors," including Karen Nichols, a Building Stable Lives program coach, took turns offering insight into some lesser-known challenges within the communities they serve.
For example, Nichols said that Alton Park is a "resource desert," meaning there's no access to groceries, transportation is a challenge and the food bank isn't convenient. But a food pantry created in October has managed to serve more than 150 families in the area.
"Everyone's stability looks differently," Nichols said, "so we have to start where they are connecting them with the resources that we have."
Building Stable Lives is a United Way program that works in five Chattanooga neighborhoods — Brainerd, East Chattanooga, Alton Park, East Lake and Highland Park — to help families with coaching and personal support.
In an effort to better connect individuals to services, Scearce said, another goal is to place 211 kiosks and support at four area schools with high need. Fundraising for the kiosks began immediately during the event.
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.