by Fred Payne, president and CEO, United Way of Central Indiana

In the human services sector, we are well-versed in the language of impact. Our missions drive us to help make a considerable difference in the lives of our residents, families, and neighbors. We recognize our local needs and proudly answer the call to serve.

We know the impact that can be made for people. Now, how about the impact we can make on our economy? It’s a question nonprofits rarely ask.

Upon my arrival to United Way of Central Indiana in 2022, I began to wonder about our sector’s role in our local economy. United Way deploys millions of dollars every year into community organizations. Could we identify what effect those investments have on job creation, employee compensation and overall spending? You know, the buzzwords that economists and elected officials love to hear.

Thanks to our partners at the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) at Indiana University, we have, for the first time, an economic impact picture of United Way’s investments to more than 300 community partners across Central Indiana.

In the recently released report, “United Way of Central Indiana’s Economic Impact,” you’ll find details of the secondary effect of United Way’s grants in the region over the last two and a half years. The biggest takeaway for me, especially as an unapologetic economics “nerd,” is our sector’s $1.5 billion impact to the region’s gross domestic product from 2020-2023. Yes, I said the b-word. Billion.

As Matt Kinghorn with the IBRC said: “Every dollar invested in United Way is getting multiplied across the region.” Simply put, when United Way can deploy grants to community organizations, those dollars don’t just help our neighbors in need. They ripple to hiring people and increasing local spending. The findings are an excellent reminder for all of us in the nonprofit industry: Alongside our meaningful work to help people live the lives they are capable of living, we provide a meaningful boost to our local economy.

The nonprofit human services sector is a silent yet powerful economic engine. With this new study, I’m proud to be a little less quiet about a sector that is both economically and socially impactful.

Download the full report