United Way is still relevant
In a world of one click giving and mobile app philanthropy, is United Way even relevant?
For decades, United Ways across the country have stood tall on the accomplishment of being the non profit that topped the list for most money raised. Year after year, United Ways have collected billions of dollars nationwide for investment in local communities. The model was successful and seemed soundproof. United Ways raised the funds through the generosity of community members and then redistributed that money to the agencies doing the most good in those same communities.
United Way’s bread and butter came from the workplace campaigns where participating employees could give a set amount of their paycheck and direct it to their local United Way. The process worked for the donor as they did not have to “front” the money but rather had it spread out over a year of payroll deductions. The donor trusted United Way to spend the money where it was most needed in the community. The system thrived because we have a culture of giving and United Way presented a system that allowed that generous spirit to flourish in both an effective an efficient manner. People were enabled to give — it was convenient. Even research supported the model, telling us that friends and community members are the two factors that appeared most often when the researchers studied what or who most influenced higher giving levels. A workplace campaign can capitalize on both, since many people are friends with their co-workers. Giving to United Way became a somewhat reflexive action for many people whose employers solicit contributions via payroll deduction.
But just as we thought we would ALWAYS need a VCR, a fax machine and a stereo, then so goes the way of United Way. With newsfeeds inundating our daily lives and data at our constant fingertips, do we really need United Way to direct our charitable giving? Can’t we just choose on our own, research it ourselves; draft it monthly from our bank accounts? Do we really need a philanthropic middleman? Does United Way really make a significant impact any longer? Is it actually essential that our community has a strong and thriving United Way?
When you survey the needs of a community, you quickly realize that no single gift or donor can address all of the needs. How do you know where to start to make a change? What is the most critical need? What is the first step towards progress?
At United Way we work hard to determine those very things. We hold community conversations and participate in research based community needs assessments to ensure that our investment is directed to meet the most critical needs of the community first.
If you are going to invest your hard earned dollars, you most likely want an assurance that your someone is going to be a good steward of your gift.
United Way vets applicant organizations exhaustively. Last year our local United Way spent more than 1,300 clock hours and utilized more than 100 volunteers to walk through the funding allocation process that determines which agencies receive funding, and how much. When an agency applies for United Way funding, financial records are reviewed, organizational overhead is considered, impact in the community AND impact per dollar invested is viewed. We look for the strongest, most solvent and thriving programs to invest the community’s dollars in each year. United Way funding is more than a paycheck — it’s a partnership. Those funded agencies become a part of the United Way family where we continually work to create collaborations and capacity — where we are diligent and determined to minimize duplication of services. We support the strongest agencies and then we come together to ensure that everyone grows and develops to become even stronger and more vibrant.
When you make a donation, it feels important to know how that money was used and how much difference it really made. At United Way we provide follow up. We maintain a relationship with those who receive our support and we constantly measure the progress and impact being made as a result of our funding. We have the ability to report that to our donors and help connect them to the impact that their gift made possible.
Is United Way to only way to give to your community and make a positive impact? Absolutely not. We aren’t the only game in town and we recognize that. Are we a strong, efficient, effective and a life changing option for philanthropy? 150% YES!
We make educated choices and we maintain a finger on the community pulse. We keep a seat at the proverbial table so that we ARE always aware of critical needs and best practices to address them. We are good stewards of the community’s money. We create capacity within the non-profit organization and we help agencies grow to their higher potential. Are we still necessary? Are we still relevant? Unequivocally, YES! Giving to United Way helps to ensure a stronger, healthier and safe community — and I can assure you that our community is better because it has a strong United Way.