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United Way leaders Sarah Glover and Frank McCain Jr. discuss how MDC is helping build an ISD ecosystem in Greensboro

Sarah Glover and James McCain image
Sarah Glover and Frank McCain Jr.

What does it take to create a family economic success ecosystem that aims to reach the entire community? To get a better understanding of how the innovative Integrated Services Delivery work began and is unfolding in Guilford County, N.C., we spoke with two leaders of the program, Frank McCain Jr. and Sarah Glover. 

Frank McCain Jr. is Vice President of Community Investment and Impact at United Way of Greater Greensboro, where he and his team are responsible for the investment of over $7 million annually to address human service needs facing the Greensboro community. Before joining the United Way, he was employed by Parish Capital Advisors, where he was responsible for overseeing the administration of the Financial Futures/Kenan Flagler Youth Institute, and was a Wealth Advisor in the Private Client groups of Merrill Lynch and UBS PaineWebber. He has served on boards including the Greensboro Police Foundation, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, and the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce. 

Sarah Glover is Manager of Family Success Centers for United Way of Greater Greensboro and oversees the centers being hosted at Guilford Child Development and The Salvation Army Center of Hope. She has been at United Way since 2009, in the Community Impact & Investment department. Sarah previously worked at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro for 10 years, in both business development and global leadership research.

The conversation has been lightly edited.

MDC: How did the United Way of Greater Greensboro’s Family Success Centers get started?

Frank McCain Jr: It was in 2014 that our board of directors decided that we wanted to become what we call an issue-focused United Way. What we learned in the community is that people were familiar with the United Way name but really had no clue about what we were doing. People often thought we were just a pass-through. We decided to become an issue-focused United Way, and what that means is we decided we were going to focus strictly on poverty in our community.

Then we had to really look at ourselves and say, “How are we going to do this?” Our structure would not allow itself to focus deeply on the one issue. What we had been doing to date was gathering money from the community and investing it in nonprofits that were dealing with the whole range of issues—education, income, and health. When we became laser focused, we said, “How do we best address the root causes of poverty?” We started looking around the country at models. We knew that we could not have been the first city in the United States that wanted to address poverty, so who else was looking at it?

In the San Francisco area and others, there were some really interesting things happening to fight poverty. They were using something called Integrated Services Delivery, something we were somewhat familiar with, that was all about removing barriers for clients. It was about bringing services where people were under one umbrella, so to speak. Then, we said, “Well, how do we take those models that we learned from and build something unique to Greensboro?” What we did is we started having listening sessions. We had conversations with people in our community who were using various services to find out who they were, why they might be in the situation that they were in, what barriers they were experiencing, and we compiled all the information. We talked to donors. We talked to corporations. We talked to anybody in our community who was willing to listen to us and to have conversations with us, including school-aged children. Once we got all that information, we took what we learned from those United Ways and we created—we customized—an Integrated Services Delivery model that became the Family Success Center.

Sarah Glover: One thing that I think is interesting is talking about the hybrid unique to Greensboro. You were hearing about one-stop shops all over the place. We have a day center for the homeless that is a one-stop shop. People were talking at the time about a refugee and immigrant one-stop shop in our community. We visited an ISD one-stop shop in Winston-Salem, called The Prosperity Center. The idea was really out there as a way to help people access services better. Another place where I became involved was, I had been to a conference where I heard about a workforce organization partnering with a Head Start program in kind of a one-stop shop situation. Head Start is very into parent and whole-family engagement. That was where the idea of a one-stop shop partnering with Guilford Child Development came from. It made a lot of sense. And they had Robin Britt, the executive director, who shared the vision of eliminating poverty, and he was willing to be innovative. And then after that is where MDC came in.

MDC: How did you get to know MDC?

Sarah: I went to a conference where Jenna Bryant [an MDC program director] spoke about Integrated Services Delivery back in maybe 2012 or 2013. ISD was being used at our community college also and it seems like MDC had something to do with that. So, all these things were coming up about ISD and MDC. And we already were partnering with MDC as [Affordable Care Act] Navigators. I believe MDC reached out to us about trying to do more with the FSC model.

Frank: One of my initial conversations with MDC was around, “How have you folks been so successful in bringing all these partners together and willing to work together, because that is a challenge in a community? How did you do that?” We learned about the skill sets that MDC could bring to the table and relate it to scaling our work, and they had an idea about creating a network outside of a place-based strategy because we have 57,000-plus residents in our community that are living in poverty. We can’t have enough of these centers to be able to address all those needs, so how do we approach that on a larger scale? MDC talked to us about this concept of a network—very daunting. But we were up to the challenge.

MDC: How did MDC help get the Family Success Centers and the network concept going?

Frank: Sarah and I are part of a 27-member team at United Way, where all of us are very, very committed to the work we’re doing. We know that we have to be the voice and the action for people in our community who need help. It hasn’t been an easy road. As a matter of fact, it’s been a very bumpy road, but MDC has been very helpful to us. It’s been a marriage more than a consultative-type relationship. It’s been a lot of back-and-forth and getting good communication, good conversation. We believe that together, we’re going to be able to pull this thing off, and that there are going to be so many people who are going to be better off as a result of us being willing to accept that challenge.

We had to educate people on what Integrated Services Delivery was because people said, “We’re already in collaboration with one another,” but they didn’t really understand. They might be in collaboration, and there were different pockets of collaboration in our community, but what we were talking about is a more cohesive, inclusive collaboration—more than anything we’ve ever seen in our community.

Sarah: Deeper than people were used to. People think they’re collaborating, but they may only be scratching the surface. They think they’re integrating, and they are in many cases, but Integrated Services Delivery actually has research behind it as an evidenced-based practice that refers to these specific types of services and these specific ways of collaborating. What it means, the goal of ISD, is for it to be seamless to the person receiving the services. They don’t know that 30 different organizations were part of this. They just know they get the help they need, and as Ralph [Gildehaus, MDC Senior Program Director] likes to put it, ISD is an accelerator of economic outcomes.

Part of the challenge of this kind of collaboration is that in order to be seamless, you have to share data. You have to communicate. You have to over-communicate. To be willing to over-communicate, you have to open up the doors to your turf a little bit. You have to put your ego a little behind. You have to be a little less afraid. You have to have higher trust. Everybody has great intentions, but when you start sharing your data, sharing the credit, and sharing the blame, it’s a whole new ballgame. And then with it being new, and people not knowing, they might have been thinking, “Why is United Way doing this? Are they really going to go through with this? We better keep our eye on them, so we better partner,” and everybody wanted to partner with the FSC at first. But it wasn’t clear to us how they were all going to fit into this new ISD strategy. There was like a big period of uncertainty.

Frank: I think one of the things you have to remember is that this is not built to be like a cookie cutter operation. This is really specific to the needs of the clients. The clients communicate their objectives, their goals. The case managers, the coaches, work with them to create a plan, and we didn’t know upfront what types of things people would need. People enter the center just like they did day one and at different stages of their lives.

Sarah: At the beginning, there was not somebody whose full-time job it was to manage and form these partnerships, so that also was part of the issue.

Frank: We are developing partnerships with the two FSC directors. In our agreements, we say that neither organization will formalize a partnership without the other’s involvement. But I think of it as United Way taking the lead on partnerships with employers, and, of course, we do all the fundraising, including grant writing. The FSC directors take more of a lead on service providers because they know what services they need to build.

MDC: What’s the reaction from employers? It seems like a win-win for them.

Sarah: It is. The best example we have is Lincoln Financial. They had somebody come on a tour and it planted the seed that there are people here with some of the personalities and interests they like. They wanted to talk to us about hiring people for their call center through a streamlined process just for the Family Success Center, and they’ve hired four. One has moved up twice since he started, so it’s been very successful.

Frank: We’re not just interested in jobs. We’re interested in positions that lead to careers, and provide sustainable wages, and are able to provide benefits. We want careers for people. We want them to be able to progress, and we have had employers who have approached us about hiring members from the Family Success Center. Once we peeled the potato, it was not a good fit for what we’re looking for, not that they’re not good employers, not that those weren’t good jobs, but they weren’t the right kind of jobs. We’re very particular about maintaining our level of ability to be able to put people in positions that will lead to careers.

MDC: How has the scaling gone, and how has MDC helped you with that?

Sarah: MDC has the “More to Most” model for scaling up. They guided us through that. They advised us at a certain point to slow down and not try to open the second one too soon. They conducted listening sessions with the three different levels of partners in the first FSC before we developed the RFP for the second one to just get feedback and understand how the partnerships were working. They did one with FSC staff and United Way staff, too. MDC staff were more like neutral parties for those listening sessions rather than us doing it. They got information we would not have gotten.

Frank: Early on, MDC’s presence brought credibility to this crazy idea that United Way had about Integrated Services Delivery, and changing our model the way we’ve been doing, because we’ve been operating the same way in over 90-something years. People are like, “What are you doing over there?” We had new leadership at United Way, new employees, and so people saw it as not such a good thing: “They’re in there trying to change everything.” MDC brought credibility early on to this work, so people didn’t think we were totally off our rockers because of MDC’s success. “Hey, this can be done, and we’re here to help them. We’re not here to take over. United Way is still driving this, but we’re here to help you.”

Like Sarah said, you have the model, the More to Most model, to help us with scaling. And the other thing, Sarah alluded to it, MDC has helped us really manage expectations, and helped us be patient. And MDC helped push us when we needed a push, to ask the challenging, important questions. It’s trusting. It makes very complex and difficult work fun and keeps it challenging all at the same time. Could we have done this on our own? Yes, we could have. Could we have done it as smoothly and as quickly? No.

MDC: How do you think that has manifested itself?

Frank: The best thing we did for the start-up of the second one—we, as a team with MDC—was create clear expectations in the Request for Proposals and in an application process that would surface the things we needed to see to be able to select.

MDC: How did that manifest itself when things actually got going? When the center opened, what problems had been averted?

Sarah: The problem of too many partnerships at once was averted.

Frank: They need to know day one, there needs to be someone at that center, the director.

Sarah: This is not work that can be added to somebody’s existing plate. It also requires training on ISD in creating service flows, and how staff uses it. The expectations were just a lot clearer and there was a little more of a planning period.

MDC: How is that translating as you create the ISD network?

Sarah: I see the network as focusing in on the ISD component of the FSC and just saying, “Let’s take this accelerator and figure out how to make it happen not in one place, and make it happen not just through technology, but primarily through human systems, through service providers working together in the same way.” When you say “network,” people think technology. But you’ve got a lot of other technology initiatives cropping up, referral systems, and databases, and connectors, and things, and I see our network as really homing in on the human needs. How do you need to train people? How do you need to staff? How do you need to communicate to do ISD to accelerate economic outcomes without all the people being in the same place in the same program?

It means no wrong door. Wherever they go, whether it’s Head Start, or a health clinic, or some public agency.

MDC: Does it mean whoever is sitting at the desk in each of those places has to understand how this network works and how they can help people make best use of it?

Sarah: Right, and there’s a workgroup of community representatives from different organizations, different sectors, focusing on human systems. What roles do we need? What do the service providers who choose to participate in the network have to agree to? One thing would be your frontline staff needs to know what to do with somebody coming in to be part of the network.

And there are going to be memoranda of agreement about data sharing, and communication processes, and representation, and governance, and a lot of things we haven’t been figured out. But there will be technology to enable the communication and the referrals.

Frank: What we’re doing is we’re taking something that’s working in our community, the Family Success Center, which is a physical location-based strategy using ISD, and expanding it to our entire county with it not being at just one  location, but more technology enabled through a network of providers. It’s just a way to place our current strategy on steroids to be able to reach more people faster. It won’t be every place. There will be certain service providers who will be designated as points of entry, but they will be scattered out around the city maybe 10 or 12 places.

MDC: How else was MDC able to help?

Frank: It validates our efforts for us to say that MDC is a partner with us. I think it’s a check-mark that we would not normally have gotten. MDC has brought to the table people who are interested in our work that we would not have had an entry to without their involvement. We want to create something that helps individuals and families get on the path to financial stability. Every community has pockets of poverty. We want to develop a sustainable strategy that will change the trajectory of families for years to come. With MDC, we are surely on the right path.

Sarah: I agree with all that, and I would say I appreciate MDC’s expertise in facilitation and planning on group process. The group process expertise is so high, and I credit that with a lot of the things about us being able to go faster and smoother. And it does not feel like you’re a consultant at all. There’s nothing forced down our throats—“No, you have to do it this way.” They let us talk. They listen more than they talk, even in the management team.

MDC: Have you been able to quantify the results of your work?

Frank: The pilot evaluation, which was conducted locally after about 18 months of the first Family Success Center, showed that the outcomes that families in the Family Success Center reported were significantly stronger than those of the comparison group of other Head Start families, so we feel like we’re building. The pilot evaluation showed statistically significant results that FSC was adding value. And then earlier this year there was another evaluation by UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work, which showed evidence that people’s progress is significantly greater when they stay engaged for longer. So, we know we’re on the right track.

MDC: Congratulations, and thank you very much for your time.