Building a successful nonprofit requires passion, dedication, hard work and funding. It also requires a comprehensive business plan, motivated leadership and strategic goals in order to sustain itself and perpetuate growth.


Grassroots nonprofits start with great ideas and people who want to solve the problems they see in their community. But reality often presents roadblocks that can be difficult to manage alone. In order for grassroots efforts to take off and make an impact – they need a seat at a bigger table – which is not always easy to secure.


In my role at United Way of Central Carolinas, I support our Unite Charlotte program which launched in 2017 to support local grassroots organizations advancing racial equity and addressing economic mobility in the Charlotte region. The goal of Unite Charlotte is to provide not only funding, but also capacity-building initiatives in order to foster long-term growth.


Many organizations in the community are doing great work, but without access to operating revenue, it is really hard to continue. Unite Charlotte helps bridge the gap for grassroots organizations to sustain success by getting them the resources they need to get off the ground. 


First and foremost, all of the funding we give our organizations is unrestricted. This allows them to use the funding for things like keeping the lights on, paying a specialty consultant or hiring an employee to fill an empty position. 


In addition, United Way provides separate funding for capacity building for the executive director or other leaders within the organization. For example, all of our Unite Charlotte first year agencies have the opportunity to participate in the Duke University Nonprofit Management Program. This program really teaches the foundation of growing and expanding a nonprofit. It touches on an array of things – from board governance to legal practices and human resources to community engagement and collaborations. That’s priceless.


I look at this program as an investment. We are taking a chance on grassroots and emerging organizations in the community that otherwise would not have had the opportunity to get $25,000 to bring their idea to life.


It’s rewarding to see our agencies thrive after funding. For example, Alesha Brown started For The Struggle two years ago and applied to be part of Unite Charlotte with her idea and a vision of what she wanted to accomplish in the community. This past year, For The Struggle was able to expand its senior feeding program and launched a critical home repair program. The organization was also able to hire a Marketing Director, allowing them to improve their marketing and grow their social media presence.


Unite Charlotte was For The Struggle’s second investor. When this organization was accepted as a First Year grantee, it was given the initial $25,000. For The Struggle is now operating with a budget of $800,000 and continues to grow. Without the funding from Unite Charlotte, Brown would not have been able to build so much in such a short time frame.


Unite Charlotte Second Year Partner National Black Child Development Institute – Charlotte has engaged 1,500 new families from 11 Title One schools throughout East Charlotte in using a home-based literacy program in the past year. It has also served more than 190 children through the Raising A Reader book-sharing program and distributed more than 10,500 culturally relevant books directly to children and families.


I’ve always been about community, impact and changing the landscape of support for Black and Brown organizations, more specifically Black-led organizations. What I love about United Way’s work is that every aspect of what we do really changes lives by supporting organizations to expand their reach in our community. I love being able to say that, through our funding, an organization went from just an idea to now a fully operating organization.


Learn more about Unite Charlotte.


Sam is the Director of External Engagement and was recently honored at the Charlotte Business Journal’s annual 40 Under 40 Awards ceremony. This award is given to individuals that are making a difference in the Charlotte region.


Staff Contact Card for Sam Smith Jr.