About United Way

So, after reading this IMHO thread, I understand there are some strong feelings about the United Way. I have no idea what United Way does, but someone I know has become involved with the local one and so far that has been all I’ve heard about for the past few weeks. I honestly figure this board is the best place to learn about UW, and why the sound so evil in the thread linked earlier in this post. Of course, I tried the generic stuff (googling and looking at their site and a few other opinions) but I want some more information if possible (preferably from those that feel strongly one way or another, but I don’t want a GD thread, just what do they do and are they evil).

Brendon Small

ETA: This may be better suited for IMHO. Sorry Mods. If it is, move it please! :slight_smile:

Keeping this as factual as possible: They’re a clearinghouse for charities. They get folks to give them money (often in group contexts, like getting business drives with set goals), and then they pass on that money to the actual charities themselves, who do various good works. United Way doesn’t engage in any charity themselves; they’re just a middleman. And they take out a very significant chunk of the money they collect to cover their overhead, in addition to the overhead of the charities they give to. The only differences between giving to United Way and giving directly to charities you like are, first, that it’s less efficient, second, you don’t have any control over where your money actually goes, and third, you’re likely to have a manager at work who’s pressuring you strongly to give to the office United Way fund.

The latter is really about the workplace rather than UW itself.

As for where the money goes, that’s not true. You can direct your contribution to a specific charity or a group of charities, at least in the cities where I’ve worked.

The United Way is a fundraising organization for local charities. Most nonprofit organizations are eligible to join. The money goes to the organizations; administration costs are small, so a larger percent of your donated money goes to them than for other fundraisers. It allows small nonprofits to raise funds more easily than having to do it independently.

If not specified, the United Way funds are divided up relatively evenly among the organizations, but there are ways to specify the funds going to particular charities or types of charities, and not to other charities. It also allows you to have your donation taken out of your paycheck over several pay periods.

The evil comes in when it becomes a contest to raise the most money, usually within a corporation. The United Way is usually not behind that, but the United Way volunteer for your company can become very gung ho and annoying, insisting they get 100% participation or that they donate a set amount.

That hasn’t happened in the places I’ve worked. There’d be a reminder or two, but no one comes in saying, “I see you haven’t donated, you bad person.” However, there are places where a lot of pressure is put on donors. I don’t think the United Way condones this sort of thing, but it still happens.

Thanks Chronos. That honestly sums up what I thought was going on, but had no real confirmation of. Truth is, if I was going to give to charity, it would be a specific one, but the idea of a clearinghouse seems like a way for a lot of people to make money off of other people’s charitable donations to me. Since you mentioned the manager at work and the business drives, it is starting to make more sense. I work for a non-profit charitable organization, but we don’t really rely on donations. I had always heard of the United Way, but had no idea up to this point what they did.

Also, since the other responses came as I was typing, it seems that maybe the United Way isn’t so evil, but the workplaces or specific volunteers may be, right?

I also want to add that the % taken off the top varies from city to city (each local UW is largely independent). A website like Charity Navigator can show you what percentage of their money goes to services and how that compares to other charities in your area. Here’s the UW of Cincinnati, for example, which spends 4.0% on administrative expenses, compared to 14.3% for the Cincinnati SPCA.

I have mixed feelings about the United Way. There is no doubt about the huge sums of money they have raised nearly all of which has gone to worthy causes. However, like everything else now, they have become politicized, politically correct and agenda driven. The other thing is that what worked well in the past, industrial payroll deductions and massive pressure to take part has declined along with our industrial base. I am not what the solution to that is. But then, unlike the UW national president, I am not being paid over 7 million dollars to lead the organization. They need new ideas and their highly paid leaders aren’t providing them.

You can tell them to do this, but if the particular charity is pledged more money than they were budgeted to receive from UW, they will not get any extra. One cite.

This is awesome. It actually answers exactly what I was looking at for several other things, and I really appreciate it. Also, I didn’t realize that the UWs were independent. Ours isn’t on there, but it is a local organization probably connected to another one in a larger area. We are in some of the least populated parts of Ohio, so it makes sense for us to connect with others with more resources. Thanks for the great responses everyone. This is one of the reasons I’m thankful for this board.


It’s not the United Way itself that is the problem for most people. It’s the pressure in the workplace, sometimes including veiled or not so veiled threats to performance evaluations (i.e., bonuses and raises) if you don’t kick in.

Of course the UW contributes to this by trying getting local companies/CEOs into a financial penis measuring contest. They try to outperform each other for golf course bragging rights, and punish their employees in the process.

At our company there used to be lots of pressure to GIVE. Not sure if it was from UW or the company but probably both as it benefited both. The preliminary sign-up form that they sent around each year had no way to opt out, but only to increase your deduction and it was printed by UW. Oh, you had to sign the form anyway whether you ‘increased’ or not. Proof that you were a scum, or a good guy.

This is all in the past, of course, as UW got the boot 10 or 15 years ago as more and more people decided that they wanted to decrease or eliminate their deduction. My co-worker had contributed in the past and so could not opt-out, so he had to take his case to the boss and I think that started the ball rolling to get UW out of our company.

I’m not sure of the year but I do remember an incident at the national level in which the head of UW (nationally) took his girlfriend on a trip to Europe and paid for it with UW funds. I think that trigged my co-worker’s opting out.

UW may not be scum, but I see no point in using a middle man when you can give direct with no middle man. I have a few national charities that I give to and mail them checks directly, also I have my own Church and some local charities that I give to directly…no middle man. UW never really made sense to me.

Funny, we now have an annual food drive at Chrismas time for the local Food Bank, I think in place of the old UW drive. We have competition in that and divide into four or so groups to compete with each other. The group with the least has do some silly thing such as dress up as Santa Claus and sing Christmas Carols to the 0ther groups. Anyway, most people give to that!

UW decides how much $$ each charity gets. If you direct your donation to a particular charity, UW just decreases the other money allocated to them.

Just write a check and mail it to the charity. They’ll get all of the money (instead of a chunk going to UW) and they’ll still get the UW money too.

Yes, some UW chapters are more effective than others. But they still take a chunk out of the donation. Admittedly, not as much of a chunk as some of the scam artists that totally bilk the charity (like take 80% of the donations for “overhead”).

And there have been multiple scandals of various sorts surrounding the UW over the past several decades.

I will admit that my biggest gripe with them is the workplace donations. As far as UW “not condoning” workplace pressure - yeah, right. It just somehow has spontaneously happened across the country at gazillions of workplaces for several decades. But UW doesn’t encourage it, oh no. :rolleyes:

This is one of those oft-repeated phrases that’s simply not true. It’s certainly what United Way says, but they’re a bunch of lying jerkasses.

What United Way is counting on is that most people don’t realize that money is fungible.

If there were 10 charities and 100 people donating $10 each, each charity would get $100, right? (We’re ignoring size of the charitable organization, just to simplify).

Let’s say 10 people say “Donate my money to charity A”, you’d think that Charity A would get an extra $100, and all the other charities would get $90 each, right? Wrong. Because money is fungible, they lower everyone else’s contribution to Charity A so they still all end up with $100.

Because each United Way is independent, there are as many operating procedures as there are organizations. Asking whether they are good or evil is the same as asking whether the city or country governments in each of those places are good or evil. You’ll get both answers, even for the same cities, and those answers might reverse over time. Another parallel is to the Red Cross, which once had a sterling reputation but recently has run into a string of scandals and cries of inefficiencies.

Rochester used to be a Kodak company town and that attitude filtered down to all the other major employers. They were highly paternalistic, but also committed to a public image of charity. Rochester prided itself on having the highest per capita contributions of any UW in the country. So as recently as 40 years ago, United Way contributions were essentially mandatory. You were told to give and you were told how much and your job rating would depend on your doing so.

Then came the revolt. Part of it was the changing community. The local UW, naturally, was as conservative as could be. It wouldn’t fund Planned Parenthood, e.g. And lots of smaller organizations that were not on the approved list happened, just happened, to serve and be run by minorities. The UW, for some reason, wasn’t run by minorities. And as businesses started cutting jobs and giving up on promises of lifetime employment with large pensions, employees gave up on acquiescing to paternalist bosses.

So at about the same time, UW contributions became more realistically voluntary. And they allowed directed contributions, even to groups that weren’t on the official approved list. People could allocate a piece of their UW money to Planned Parenthood while still knowing that the other groups would be covered. Sure they could give to PP directly, but UW contributions could be taken directly out of a paycheck with no effort on the individual’s part. That was guaranteed money. The non-approved agencies jumped at that. The money that comes from UW is actually cheaper than the money raised directly after the huge costs of begging for it through mailings.

If you asked me 30 years ago whether the UW was good or evil, I would have said evil. Today I have no problem with contributions. They cleaned up their act, IMO. Of course, the people who think PP is evil now hate the UW for collecting money for them. (There are other such groups as well, but PP was the one that caught the brunt of the lightning.)

Something similar probably can be said of every UW in the country.

Funny, I recall just the opposite - UW in many Canadian cities would support a large number of member charities; at the time I went to a Catholic college and IIRC they got their panties in a twist in the conservative Catholic heirarchy over UW funding Planned Parenthood. There was talk of withdrawing or boycotting UW, but in the end the furor died down.

UW is good in that (theoretically) they are a publishers’ clearinghouse of giving, so you don’t have ths or that charity drive from every sad charity every week. (but we do). One big event a year and that’s it. As for overhead, it’s one thing to run a clearinghouse office for a few months, it’s another thing to run a large organization like the SPCA with payroll and accounting costs year round, power, lights and heat and office space rental, licensing, plus things like publicity campaigns etc. 14% doesn’t seem to excessive either. The worst is those telethon or telephone “charities” that do contract fundraising and can take 60% or more of the total haul.

Fortunately, I was never on the receiving end of any severe corporate pressure tactics for UW; things were pretty lacksadaisical. If you want to give to a charity, give to a charity. If you want to cover all the bases and don’t have a special cause, give to the UW.

Trust me, as a former “volunteer”, we weren’t happy about it either. My first year at GE, I was informed that I was now the UW collector for my department. I was also informed that my target was 100% participation, and that I was expected to set an example by contributing a minimum of 3% of my salary. I was informed, not hinted at, but informed, that my review would absolutely take both those targets into account. So yes, people probably found me annoying when I tried to protect my own job by getting them to donate. Of course, United Way hasn’t gotten a penny out of me since.

I used to be CEO of a non-profit that was a United Way agency. The original premise behind UW was that people would only have to give to one agency (UW) instead of having charities knocking at their doors all the time: one drive, done. However, in my town, UW couldn’t raise enough money to fully fund all the non-profits, so there was a big UW drive PLUS a bunch of fund-raisers from different charities. Thus, UW reduced the number of times individuals and businesses were solicited but far from eliminated them.

That irritated a number of people, to the point where some of them stopped giving to either UW or to the individual non-profits. Some people also didn’t like the fact that UW has its own staff and expenses (necessities), so not all the money donated goes directly to charities–and of course, each non-profit has ITS own staff and operating expenses, so a little less of the money goes directly to the goods and services provided to the less fortunate.

That’s definitely not universal. The UW where I live says they pass the money directly to the charity I designate, and that the designation does not affect how much they receive from the general fund. They even process donations for hundreds of local charities that receive no money from the general fund.

I would definitely encourage people to check out the facts about their local UW agency before making a decision one way or the other.

That’s been our experience with UW, too - the strong-arming, the coercion, the complete, bald-assed invasion of privacy (“You’re the only one in your department who hasn’t donated - you don’t want to screw everyone else over for their 100% participation awards, do you?”).

With all the problems with United Way, I don’t see any reason to donate to them when I can write a cheque to the charity of my choice in about 30 seconds. Oh my God, I have to pay for an envelope and a stamp, too?!? Yeah, I can cough up for that, too.

So moved!