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Making an Impact

Alexandria Community Impact Fund of the United Way directs contributions where they are needed.

The holiday season is about more than tasting Scotch and conspicuous consumption. For an increasing number of people, charitable giving is an important way of demonstrating a commitment to those in need.

Last year, according to the Giving USA Foundation, charitable giving reached a new all-time high. According to a study conducted for the foundation by the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University, donors gave an estimated $11.97 billion more than 2005, a 4.2-percent increase.

"It is impressive that giving continued to rise in 2006, especially following the unprecedented levels of disaster giving in 2005," said Richard Jolly, chairman of the foundation, in a written statement announcing the study’s findings earlier this year. "America’s 1.4 million charitable and religious organizations provide a huge range of services that improve lives, from meeting immediate needs to fund medical research or creating endowments to assure the future of arts or educational institutions."

Here in Alexandria, the city has a wide range of charitable organizations that depend on a steady stream of charitable giving — especially during the holiday season. Keeping up with which organizations are legitimate and which ones are more in need of funding can be a difficult challenge. That’s where the United Way comes in; helping to distribute funds through its Community Impact Fund.

For the past eight years, the fund has assembled a knowledgeable committee of experts in the local nonprofit world who have an intimate knowledge with which organizations have been naughty and which have been nice.

"We always try to get a good cross-section of the community in terms of which organizations are selected for funding," said John Porter, chairman of the United Way, who served as a member of the first Community Impact Fund committee. "Over the years, the process has become more refined in terms of what the level of expectations is for the nonprofits who apply for funding."

GIFTS TO THE Alexandria Community Impact Fund are distributed by a committee of volunteers to specific local initiatives proposed by Alexandria non-profit organizations. Earlier this year — after last year’s holiday season — the fund distributed $113,084 to 15 Alexandria nonprofits for programs. The programs included the Family Emergency Program at ALIVE!, an elder law attorney and advocate program for Alexandria seniors, the Success-by-Six Collaboration of Stop Child Abuse Now and the Alexandria Seaport Foundation’s boat-building apprenticeship program.

"A lot of people know about the Boys and Girls Club and the Campagna Center, but they might not know about other organizations in need of funding," said Councilman Tim Lovain, chairman of the United Way’s charitable giving campaign. "This is a good way of making sure your money is being well spent in the community by the best organizations meeting the best needs."

Nonprofits that participate in United Way’s annual campaign apply for Community Impact Funds grants. Then highly trained volunteers work with government officials and nonprofit leaders to identify community needs, set funding priorities and determine how donations to the funds can have the greatest benefit. After the holiday season, the Community Impact Funds committee will award grants based on the applicants’ demonstrated ability to create positive change in the community. After the grant, volunteers continue to monitor programs on an ongoing basis to ensure that dollars are used effectively.

"The United Way is really encouraging people who are interested in charitable giving to make donations to the Community Impact Fund," said Lovain. "It’s a great way to make sure your money gets the best bang for the buck."