Worcester Together Fund: Phase Three Reimagining

The United Way of Central Massachusetts and The Greater Worcester Community Foundation are glad to announce the third phase of the Worcester Together: Central Massachusetts COVID-19 Fund. In its final stage, the grant reviewers are seeking bold and innovative ideas to help Central Massachusetts organizations engage in systems change. A total of $1 million will be awarded through a limited number of major grants.


The full press release can be found here. If you have any questions, please reach out.


The Reimagining phase – the third and final phase of Worcester Together funding – is solely focused on supporting nonprofits to engage in systems change thinking (see the below callout for more information) and implementation planning. It is not about creating more efficient processes for individual organizations, but rather looking to support a limited group of collaborative efforts aimed at examining root causes of inequities and developing plans to disrupt the systems that uphold them, reduce barriers, and create more robust, equitable, and sustainable systems benefiting all people in our communities.




While COVID-19 has highlighted inequities and service gaps we know have existed for a long time, the nonprofit sector has proven its resilience in responding to the needs of our community and forging new ways to connect people with resources. We also recognize that nonprofits often lack the capital, resources, and dedicated collaboration time or face structural barriers to tackle the systems change required to eliminate these inequities. It is clear that, moving forward, real systems change is needed in order to build a stronger collective social safety net that will allow nonprofits to operate at a higher level and empower all community members to thrive.


This phase of the Worcester Together Fund is focused on generating models and a plan to test the influence of a systems change project. We recognize complete systems change may not be feasible with the duration and amount of these grants, but we are hopeful that this can be the spark that ignites new collaborative thinking about entrenched community issues.




We are specifically looking to support teams and collaborations in generating ideas and project plans. Grants can be used to:


Support new systems change work such as:

•Allow teams to generate ideas and test them with key stakeholders

•Support teams with ideas of what might need to be done but do not yet have a project plan in place

•Allow teams the supported time to gather information and meet with stakeholders


Support the capacity of an existing systems change project including:

•Expanding the influence of the project

•An opportunity to reflect on stages completed and plan for the next phase

•Help generate evidence needed to scale efforts and/or attract other funders


A limited number of major grants, totaling $1 million, will be awarded in this phase. Please direct all applications to our online portal.

We are interested in seeding promising ideas and expect requests to be aspirational but also realistic in terms of the timeline and amount of funding needed. Grants should be considered working capital to apply to work for however long it takes. We recognize grants awarded will not change systems immediately.




We are interested in supporting community-led projects that have the potential to create lasting changes within and across systems. Those projects
must be:

•Led by a registered 501(c)(3) or have a fiscal sponsor

•Tackling the root causes of complex issues by disrupting the ways systems have historically operated

•Collaborating within and across sectors

•Bold and creative in their approach

•Have potential for lasting change

•Have equity at the forefront

•Focused on creating better systems for people and our community as a whole


Logistics & Process:


Below is the timeline for the third and final phase of Worcester Together:

•Monday, Dec. 7 by 5 PM EST: Letter of inquiry deadline

•Friday, Dec. 11: Invitations to submit full application

•Tuesday, Jan. 12: Application deadline

•Thursday, Jan. 28: 1 to 5 PM: Review Committee meets

•Monday, Feb. 1: Grant awards announced


Criteria on which your LOI will be evaluated include:

•Community-driven solutions: people and institutions most affected by the issue are engaged in the process

•Locally-led: change efforts generated from within local communities

•The root cause: demonstrates good thinking about the current system and possible levers for change

•Readiness: organization and community are primed and ready to tackle this issue

•Impact: the issue being addressed will benefit a significant population or sector in the community


What is ineligible for consideration in this phase?

•Applications from lead organizations outside Worcester County

•Sponsorships or event support

•Endowment support or matching grants

•Direct religious purposes

•Capital projects

•Direct program/service costs or operational expenses (unless it is directly addressing broader systems change)

•COVID-19 emergency relief (unless it is directly addressing broader systems change)


For more information, please contact one of the following staff members:

•Kerry Conaghan, vice president of community impact, United Way of Central MA

Email: kerry.conaghan@unitedwaycm.org

Phone: 508-757-5631, ext. 262

•Jonathan Cohen, vice president for programs & strategy, Greater Worcester Community Foundation

Email: jcohen@greaterworcester.org

Phone: 508-755-0980, ext. 111

•Sarah Shugrue, program officer, Greater Worcester Community Foundation

Email: sshugrue@greaterworcester.org

Phone: 508-755-0980, ext. 109


What is Systems Change?


Systems change requires rethinking and adjusting to how we do things. One tool in systems change is systems thinking, which takes a step back from the immediate consequences of a social issue and looks at the bigger picture. Systems thinking is a way to approach complex issues by recognizing how the system works to create the results you are seeing. Understanding that bigger picture is the first step to creating lasting change.

Systems thinking is not linear. Systems are often interconnected and involve relationships among players at different levels and in different sectors and the relationships are often complex.

In this approach, you start with the assumption that the system you’re working within is intentionally designed to get the results it’s getting. It achieves these results because of the choices of the stakeholders within and outside the system

It does not mean inventing an approach no one has ever done before. It could mean adapting a successful approach to your local context.

Questions to help you get thinking:


•How did we get here? What are the root causes of the issue?

•Why does the system operate this way? What societal benefit is it trying to generate?

•What are the unintended consequences of the way the system currently operates?

•What would be different and uncomfortable about changing the current system?

•What are the stakeholders?

•Who benefits from the current system? Who is left out?


To learn more about the Worcester Together Fund and to support our efforts please click here