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Visualizing success: McKinsey & Company’s employees champion new projects for United Way of Greater Atlanta

Photo caption: McKinsey & Company employees accept the Corporate Volunteerism Champion Award at United Way of Greater Atlanta’s State of the Children: Progress through Partnerships breakfast.


When nonprofit agencies prepare for community improvement efforts, questions abound about what sort of needs a community has, what assets are available in that community, and what strategies will best leverage those assets to drive sustainable change.

In the past, the answers to these questions have remained unclear. United Way of Greater Atlanta wanted to change this.

In 2017, the nonprofit launched the Child Well-Being Movement to unite community partners under a shared vision. The vision was clear: provide the opportunities and resources that all children of the Greater Atlanta region need to thrive.

Identifying what sort of resources are available in a given community and sharing that data in a digestible way can be difficult though. United Way had the existing network of relationships to understand what services nonprofit agencies were providing, but it wanted to make sure that that data was collected in a standardized manner and communicated effectively.

That’s why United Way decided to engage a team of business analysts from McKinsey & Company through a unique skills-based volunteerism partnership.

Will Whitehurst, a senior business analyst at McKinsey & Company, says the pro bono work all began in the fall of 2017.

“My colleagues and I were looking for a way to use the skills we had developed at McKinsey to give back to the community in a meaningful way,” says Whitehurst. “A partner in our office was aware of the great work that United Way was doing and suggested we reach out to them to see if we could somehow work together.”

Following preliminary conversations, the two teams reached an agreement for a collaborative, pro bono project. The goal would be to identify existing networks of community partners and opportunities for new networks, complete an asset map to help visualize the state of available resources, understand community penetration levels and share best practices for well-networked community organizations.

“There was this vision for United Way to be a data-driven one-stop shop and convener of the overall Child Well-Being Movement,” says Whitehurst.

For the four months that followed, the two teams diligently worked together to execute this plan of action. Collecting the standardized set of data was the first step.

To do so, the teams finalized the metrics for the Child Well-Being Index and created a survey that they would send out to nonprofit partners in the community.

The final survey contained questions regarding what sort of services a nonprofit provided, how many people received those services and who was actually better off as a result of that work.

Nonprofit agencies across Greater Atlanta received the surveys and began sending back a plethora of data. The next step was to do something with it.

With these thoughts in mind, the McKinsey and United Way teams opted to rely on Tableau. It’s an analytics software that provides the user with the ability to generate easy-to-interpret data visualizations.

Whitehurst and his colleagues built out several iterations of the project, attempting to make sure that the map was as functional and comprehensive as possible.

In April 2018, the teams presented the fruits of their labor at United Way’s State of the Children event in downtown Atlanta. The event draws hundreds of attendees every year, which allowed for the teams to see the map’s impression on stakeholders firsthand.

“Seeing the impact and bringing that to real life was remarkable,” says Whitehurst.

Given the success of the asset-mapping project, United Way and McKinsey opted to expand their partnership. Since then, even more projects have begun taking shape.

Julie Spangler, a business analyst at McKinsey, has spent the past six months leading a team responsible for mapping out education stakeholders in the Greater Atlanta area.

“We’re mapping out partners that United Way is currently partnering with, but also other educational nonprofits that could be partnered with in the future,” says Spangler. “The work has been critical to ensuring equity and comprehensiveness in the Child Well-Being Movement.

Austin Smith, another business analyst at McKinsey, has led the work around a social impact return-on-investment model.

“The intent is to internally allocate investment to the organizations that are being the most efficient with the dollars that they’re given and externally communicate at a quantitative level what impact United Way is having on Greater Atlanta,” says Smith.

Through this body of work, Smith believes McKinsey & Company and United Way of Greater Atlanta can reshape the way that nonprofits operate.

“The nature of our partnership and any work that we continue to do down the road is really all about trying to be data-minded,” says Smith.

With that data-minded approach, United Way enhances its ability to engage with community stakeholders and, in turn, its capacity to improve child well-being for years to come.

Click here to view United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child Well-Being Maps and look up your community’s score.

Paul Jennings is a Content Manager at United Way of Greater Atlanta.


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