Community Impact Framework: Investment strategy guide

Since 2020, United Way’s Community Impact Framework has guided our investment strategies. With an emphasis on systems change, capacity building, and investing in the community, the framework reflects the evolution and growth of our organization from primarily a fundraiser and funder to one committed to investing to create lasting change for people through positive outcomes, and by recognizing and responding to emerging trends and sector needs. The individual at the core of the framework is valued for their role as both a contributor to, and recipient of, an integrated and coordinated social system of care.

Along with creating more equitable communities by eliminating barriers and supporting an improved social services sector, the framework emphasizes the building out and sharing of United Way’s greatest assets, including our ability to:

  • Convene, gather, and collaborate;
  • Invest strategically;
  • Build awareness and advocacy; and
  • Use data to understand the impact of our work and funding in the community.

Additionally, United Way supports and funds the social services sector in its development of innovative programs and services that help people build new capabilities and plan for promising futures through skill growth. As a community convenor, United Way facilitates and provides opportunities for constructive dialogue that leads to collective action. United Way creates opportunities to build the capacity of the social sector to conceive and form intentional partnerships, and to understand and utilize design and systems thinking.

Investment types within the Community Impact Framework

This chart illustrates the United Way of Calgary and Area’s 2021-22 investment types, amounts and the number of organizations funded by investment type:

Investment Type
(In thousands of dollars)
2022 Investments# of OrganizationsB2021 Investments# of Organizations
Signature Initiatives & Special Projects4$6,86721$4,85017
Tomorrow Fund5$170$152
Donor Choice6$7,944$7,064
Operating SupportA$5,545

AOperating Support in 2022 is distributed among investment types.

BOrganizations may receive multiple kinds of investments and therefore the total number of organizations does not equal the sum of organizations listed by investment type.


  1. Programmatic: Single organization envelope funding that supports delivery of program(s) or service(s) that support effective and proven approaches.
  2. Collaborative: Lead or shared lead organization funding to learn and adapt approaches to reach common, cross-sectoral goals to increase effectiveness of services and the system of care. Includes collaboratives working on improving client experiences, prevention, policy, and/or social development efforts.
  3. Innovation: Investments in designing and testing the integrity of innovative approaches intended to improve the lives of the people served.
  4. Signature Initiatives & Special Projects: As a lead organization, these are investments in (and engagement with) cross- and multi-sector, large-scale, city-wide initiatives for purposes of addressing the root causes of social issues.
  5. Tomorrow Fund: United Way’s legacy fund, offering Calgarians the opportunity to build powerful legacies that reflect their values and vision for the future. $3.5M dollars from the Tomorrow Fund was invested across programs, collaboratives, signature initiatives, and special projects and is included in the totals for these investment types. $170,000 of the Tomorrow Fund was designated through donor choice to other organizations that are not funded by other United Way investment areas.
  6. United Way does not evaluate programs or initiatives funded exclusively through donor choice.

Learnings of the Community Impact Framework

Even before the pandemic and then the inflation crisis, Canada’s non-profit, charitable sector had been changing, with more Canadians needing charitable services and fewer people giving. There have been learnings, rewards and challenges associated with these changes. The following learnings reflect United Way of Calgary and Area’s responsiveness and resourcefulness in the face of an evolving sector:

Trust-Based Philanthropy

Trust-Based Philanthropy addresses the inherent power imbalances between funders, non-profits, and the communities they serve, and lays the foundation for a healthier and more equitable non-profit ecosystem.

In line with trust-based philanthropy, envelope funding is an approach to funding which affords organizations more flexibility (within agreed-upon parameters) to respond to the needs of the people they serve, while still fulfilling outcome reporting requirements. This type of funding demonstrates trust in the organizations – that they know best how to maximize the success of their programs and create meaningful impact for those they serve and support. United Way envelope funding can be applied to both organizations and collaboratives and has been in place since 2021.

Grassroots Empowerment Strategy

The new Grassroots Empowerment Strategy helps advance key principles of trust-based philanthropy and building an authentic relationship and allyship with diverse communities facing barriers to addressing systemic inequities as stated in United Way’s Community Impact Framework and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy. A key enabler in implementation of this strategy is having the policy, processes, and templates in place for United Way to provide grants to non-profits directly. Based on this desired direction, these changes were implemented in 2023.


Innovation is valuable in many environments, including the social sector, where it is vital to the creation of novel, non-conforming and non-traditional solutions to social problems. With its foundation of collaboration and partnership, innovation in the social sector focuses on solutions that are effective, sustainable, fair, and equitable.

Supporting agencies in their development of innovation practices and opportunities is important to United Way, and we do so in a variety of ways, including adding an Innovation Rider – a one-time grant to support innovation of existing work funded through the United Way envelope – into the current funding cycle.

Read our latest Community Impact Report
Elijah BeaverCommunity Impact Framework: Investment strategy guide