As someone who works in the fundraising field, I would like to set out three misconceptions about United Way, to forestall the inevitable flood of UW defenders who will respond to this thread.
United Way is not a charity, it’s a fundraising consortium. Fundraising consortia collect money from donors, take a cut for “overhead,” and pass the remainder to charities. With a very few exceptions, UW does no actual charitable work of its own.
But, you say, surely UW does a great service by centrally processing donations, right? Some have wondered. Take, for example, this local UW site, which claims:
They’re bragging about how low that is. An organization which I am a member of, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, notes that the average overhead for university fundraising departments is 12.5%. Some organizations have even lower overhead rates. If you’re eating up almost one dollar in five in overhead, you’re not doing that great a job.
- But, and this is the biggest problem of all–if a charity receives money from UW, they still incur overhead costs. At my last job, processing gifts from UW and other fundraising consortia was one of our biggest headaches, what with dealing with tax regulations and filling out endless forms, which ate up staff and mailing costs. Worst of all, it could be months before we actually received any of the money due us from UW donations!
Not to mention all the scandals and problems a disturbing number of UW branches have faced: this one, from Arizona, being an unfortunately typical case. Particularly troubling there was that
Even our five-person office at my last job followed those rules, BTW.
Bottom line? If you want to donate to a charity, write a check to the charity. Don’t go through a middleman, which is what UW is.