Why did United Way do this?

Every day, United Way answers the call to help our Missouri and Illinois neighbors in need by leading with impact. Through a powerful mix of community generosity, understanding needs, and making strategic investments into programs and services that meet needs and achieve outcomes, we are creating a stronger, healthier, and more equitable region. The following pages share a summary of results of the CNA, as well as United Way’s investment strategy to meet the needs of our community.

Guided by a committed group of volunteer leaders, United Way conducted a comprehensive regional needs assessment to understand what services and resources were most needed across our 16-county service area and within our impact areas. The following pages provide a summary of the findings and methodology used to conduct a comprehensive CNA of the St. Louis region.


United Way engaged four external entities to conduct the CNA: Mutare Network, University of Missouri St. Louis’ Community Innovation Action Center, Urban Strategies, Inc. (USI), and Brown School Evaluation Center at Washington University. The CNA team designed a collaborative approach to understand priority needs, map regional funding, and identify community partnerships.


Understanding Priority Needs To help United Way understand priority needs in each county and the most common needs across the region, the researchers conducted a multi-step process that included various methods of data collection, data triangulation, and a rating system using pre-defined criteria. 

The first step of this process was to engage the community through primary data collection. This was done through a public survey to the broad community, focus groups with social support providers and local government agencies, and in-depth interviews with community members. As this primary data was collected, secondary data was also thoroughly reviewed by using existing information from sources, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Census Bureau, and other datasets. 

With this primary and secondary data in hand, a triangulation process was implemented to organize and format the data, allowing the researchers to compare different types of data to understand need.

Using this, a data summary matrix for each county that represented all collected data was created. A prioritization matrix was then created to rate needs in each county using the following criteria:
• Magnitude
• Racial disparity
• Community-identified needs
• Upstream/Root cause

Five researchers scored each topic by these criteria for all counties in United Way’s service area. Figure 1 is a representation of the rating scale used for each of the prioritization matrix criteria. 

Note that the racial equity criteria were weighted more than the other selected criteria because it was important to reflect United Way’s commitment to employing a racial equity approach to the CNA. 

The ratings given by CNA researchers were summed across the criteria to generate total scores. Those scores were then adjusted to account for the data availability of each criteria, accounting for the sometimes limited data access. Using the adjusted rating scores, United Way ranked the top half of each county’s needs 1 through 12. 

A second step of the prioritization process was employed, but not utilized, in determining the final priority needs in each county. A web-based prioritization survey was sent to the community asking participants to select what they believed to be the five greatest needs of their county based on a list of the top 12 to 14 topics (those identified by the CNA researchers through the rating process). Due to low community participation in numerous counties, the results of the community prioritization survey could not be used in the final needs prioritization process, but this feedback can be found in the full report.