United Way of America
, based in Alexandria, Virginia
, is a non-profit organization
that works with nearly 1,300 local United Way offices throughout the country in a coalition of charitable organizations
to pool efforts in fundraising
and support. The focus of United Way is identifying and resolving pressing community issues, as well as making measurable changes in the communities through partnerships with schools, government agencies, businesses, organized labor, financial institutions, community development corporations, voluntary and neighborhood associations, the faith community, and others. The issues United Way offices focus on are determined locally because of the diversity of the communities served.
The organization has roots in Denver, Colorado
, where in 1887 church leaders began the Charity Organization Society
which coordinated services and fund raising for 22 agencies. Many Community Chest
organizations, which were founded in the first half of the twentieth century to jointly collect and allocate money, joined the American Association for Community Organizations
in 1918. The first Community Chest was founded in 1913 in Cleveland, Ohio
, after the example of the Jewish Federation
in Cleveland -- which served as an exemplary model for "federated giving". The number of Community Chest organizations increased from 39 to 353 between 1919 and 1929, and surpassed 1,000 by 1948. In 1948, Walter C. Laidlaw merged the Community Chest and other Detroit charities to form the United Foundation. By 1963, and after several name changes, the term United Way
was adopted, but not everyone chose to use it.
William Aramony became CEO of the national governing body, the United Community Funds and Council of America (UCFCA) in 1970 and the organization was renamed, United Way of America (UWA), and moved from New York City to Alexandria, Virginia in 1971.
Frances Wisebart Jacobs, known as Colorado's "Mother of Charities," was the driving force behind the concept of today's United Way. In 1887, she spearheaded the creation of the Charity Organization Society, which became a federation of charities that coordinated fundraising and other efforts and shared the proceeds. This was the model that led to the creation of today's United Way, which recognizes Jacobs as its founder. She brought together the Rev. Myron W. Reed, Msgr. William J. O'Ryan, Dean H. Martyn Hart and Rabbi William S. Friedman to put their heads together and plan the first united campaign for ten health and welfare agencies. They created an organization to serve as an agent to collect funds for local charities, as well as to coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and make emergency assistance grants in cases which could not be referred.
That year, Denver raised $21,700 and created a movement that spread throughout the county to become the United Way. Over 118 years later, United Way is still in operation.
In the 2006 Philanthropy 400, United Way of America was again number 1, with more than 1,300 local United Ways reporting $4 billion in contributions last year, a 3.9% increase over 2004.
Common focus areas
United Ways identify and build on community strengths and assets, help individuals and groups with specific community interests find ways to contribute their time and talents, support direct-service programs and community-change efforts, and advocate public policy changes.
All of this is done in collaboration with diverse partners. Depending on the issue and how the community chooses to address it, United Ways work with schools, government agencies, businesses, organized labor, financial institutions, community development corporations, voluntary and neighborhood associations, the religious community, and others. The United Way of America has also worked with local United Ways along the Gulf Coast to sponsor three Alternative Spring Break programs in 2006, 2007, and 2008 to help with the recovery and rebuilding of the areas devastated by hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, and Rita. In 2008, the United Way of America teamed up with the United Way of Southeastern Michigan and produced their first Alternative Spring Break in Detroit.
United Way also helps to promote other community service projects through their Alternative Spring Break Programs, such as the 10,000 Hours Show (10K). This is a program designed to motivate young people to become involved in community service projects by providing an incentive; free concert admission by providing 10 or more volunteer hours to local non-profit organizations. The concert is organized by a given campus and their local United Way and can be attended for free by anyone who puts in enough hours. The mission of the program is to raise awareness across the nation that young people can make a difference by joining their efforts to help meet the needs of their own communities. Their goal in part in based on "Helping develop the next generation of active community leaders", according to their website.
The 10,000 Hours show was first founded in the fall of 2002 by the undergraduates at the University of Iowa. Ben Folds performed the first show, held in the fall of 2003, and it raked in a total of 13,573 hours completed by over 600 volunteers. Since then there have been a number of other successful shows.
Because of the unique conditions in diverse communities, the issues United Ways address are determined locally. However, some common themes emerge:
- Helping children and youth succeed through engagement
- Strengthening and supporting families
- Improving access to health care
- Promoting financial stability
- The on-going partnership with the National Football League began in 1973 when the NFL and United Way of America came together to discuss the possibility of using the NFL’s network contract airtime to promote United Way during game telecasts. Commissioner Pete Rozelle recognized the partnership as a viable means of communicating the good works of United Ways while putting faces on a league of players hidden by helmets.
- National partnerships with over 100 corporations are formalized through the National Corporate Leadership Program.
- Since 1946, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and United Way of America have enjoyed a cooperative relationship
- Leadership 18 a coalition which represents long-established charities, faith-based organizations, and social and health groups that support and promote the safety, health, well-being and social and economic development of people across America.
Criticism and scandals
- Reportedly, some workplaces with United Way collection programs do not follow commonly used ethical procedures when soliciting donations. Employees may be pressured into donating through peer pressure which is tolerated by management. United Way has made public that it does not support such measures. In some workplaces, the employees who may disagree with United Way's programs, ethics, and scandals are "strongly encouraged" to give.
- Some local United Way chapters have faced criticism that their donation options are misleading. United Way allows individuals to specify that their donation go to a particular charity. However, if that charity is already a part of the United Way network, the money sent to that charity may not be affected by user requests unless the total amount of designations exceeds the amount otherwise budgeted for that charity. This rarely happens even for the most frequently designated charities, meaning that in practice individual designations have no effect on United Way funding.
- In 1995, William Aramony, CEO of the national organization, and in 2004, Oral Suer, CEO of the Washington, D.C. chapter, were convicted of misuse of donations. Mr. Suer's replacement, Norman O. Taylor, Oral Suer's replacement, was never charged with misconduct, but was forced to resign.
- In 2001, Vassar College decided to end its annual support of United Way due to United Way's giving to the Boy Scouts of America.
In an effort to address these problems, United Way has implemented new membership requirements and accountability standards in 2003; however problems have continued to occur.
- Across the country many individuals and groups have withdrawn their support from the organization because of United Way’s decision not to fund the Boy Scouts of America.
- Others have withdrawn their support from the United Way because of its support for Planned Parenthood and other groups that support abortion.
- In April 2006, the New York City United Way revealed misappropriation of assets by Ralph Dickerson, Jr., the retired CEO of that chapter. The appropriation of resources occurred over a three year period, ending in 2005. Mr. Dickerson agreed to reimburse the organization for around $37,000 in personal expenses and approximately $190,000 worth of points that Mr. Dickerson had redeemed for hotel lodging. The points had been donated to the organization and were administered by Dickerson's office; therefore, they had not been officially accounted for.
- In May 2006, Kim Tran the former CFO of United Way of the National Capital Area (Washington, D.C.) resigned, claiming many issues remain.
- In August 2008, Gloria Pace King was asked to resign from her position as CEO of United Way of Central Carolina after being paid more than $1.2 million dollars in 2007.