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United Way of America, based in Alexandria, Virginiamarker, 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. However, the main focus areas include Education, Income and Health.


The organization has roots in Denver, Coloradomarker, 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, Ohiomarker, 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. After Walter C. Laidlaw fell ill, 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 Citymarker to Alexandria, Virginiamarker in 1971.

In the 2007 Philanthropy 400, United Way of America was again the largest charity in the United States, with 1,285 local United Ways reporting over $4.2 billion in contributions, a 2.2% increase over 2006.

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 Coastmarker to sponsor four Alternative Spring Break programs in 2005, 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 is 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

National partnerships

  • 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. NFL 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 employers offer "perks" to employees based upon their donating to United Way, which is often construed as preferential treatment.

  • 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.marker chapter, were convicted of misuse of donations. Norman O. Taylor, Oral Suer's replacement, was never charged with misconduct, but was forced to resign.

See also


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