United Way's Research

United Way works to help people in need reach their potential. 

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How does research help people?
We ask hard questions. United Way recognizes that not all systems are equitable. We believe in advocating for vulnerable and marginalized people that are affected by the policies and systems in place and searching for answers to promote a better community. Through collaboration and learning, we collect knowledge and search for ways to influence inequitable systems and support long-term improvements for people in need.

What does the Research Team do?

The Research Team is intended to enhance United Way's understanding of community conditions and best practices in the field. This informs our advocacy, collaboration, funding, and direct services. The purpose of the team is to co-learn with others through research. Members of our team collect information through literature review, analysis of data, and participating in site visits. These processes help create resources about our community that didn't exist previously. 

Learn more about the Research Team by contacting Kristin Block at Interested in joining us? 
Volunteer! To apply to volunteer, please complete our application.


The work below is a summary of the work done by the Research team and staff on topics of interest to United Way.



Disability is a complex issue. With a multitude of definitions, a struggle for many organizations may be the application or pertinence of the defining source. The goal of this project was to capture a definition of “disability” to standardize reporting. Unfortunately, there is no set definition, so we turned to United Way partners to provide insight. Here is what we learned during a literature review and in-person interviews with six community partners encompassing services for developmentally disabled, chemical dependent/ mentally ill, child protection, and a daycare organization with a family resource center.

Mental Health Advocacy

By: Abdiwahab M. Hassan

Mental health conditions are on the rise in the United States and Olmsted County. The most recent Community Health Needs Assessment (2019) indicated that mental health is a top community priority in the upcoming years. Many factors play into individual's mental health and we are working to understand the complex interconnectedness of physical, mental and social health.

Early Success

Success in the early years of life - generally prenatal to age five - is crucial in developing positive phsyical and emotional health.  Children with strong foundations in the early years are more likely to have successful academic careers; launch and maintain successful employment; maintain financial stability as adults; and raise healthy, stable children themselves.

Place-Based Work

We know that place matters: research and experience shows that families and students do better when they live in strong communities.  Strong communities are marked by the opportunities they afford their residents – including economic mobility, employment security, and self-advocacy.  Yet challenges such as poverty, unemployment, housing instability, and education levels tend to concentrate in areas negatively impacted by a history of disinvestment and require intentional, location-specific efforts in order to be adequately addressed.  Place-based approaches allow for targeted investments in neighborhoods experiencing concentrated need, ensuring that all neighborhoods become the kinds of places that allow children and families to reach their full potential. 

Food Security

United Way is working to bring an end to inequity in Olmsted County: This requires taking a long-view, and working to ensure that families are stable and children grow up in healthy environments that promote success.  Those families can break cycles of poverty, strengthen across generations, and make a better community for us all.  Without stable, reliable access to nutritious food, no family can progress.  No child can succeed.  No community can thrive. United Way recognizes the need for stable, equitable access to nutritious food, and supports programs that provide the foundation of our community's food supports, and help make food access equitable.

Housing Stability

Once housing is stabilized, a family or individual can begin to address additional barriers to success. United Way's funding priorities are responsive to community conditions and are meant to complement other local efforts. The primary focus is on the lower/earlier end of the financial needs spectrum, and the goal of our investments is to improve emergency shelter capacity in Olmsted County in three primary ways: expanding the total number of shelter spaces in Olmsted County, reducing the need for emergency shelter through eviction prevention and rapid re-housing strategies, and improving navigation resources for homeless individuals and families. 


Volunteering is any activity in which time is given freely to benefit another person, group, or cause.  Volunteers may be engaged in a wide variety of activities and volunteering can take a number of different forms.   Each individual who volutneers has his or her own motivation for doing so: a sense of purpose, develop skills, or to make their community a better place.  This paper is a brief overview of some of the benefits of volunteering.