In a world of one-click giving and mobile app philanthropy, United Way is still relevant.
For decades, United Ways across the country have stood tall on the accomplishment of being the nonprofit that topped the list for most money raised.
Year after year, United Ways have collected billions of dollars nationwide for investment in local communities. United Ways raise funds through the generosity of community members and then invest that money in agencies doing great work and having a positive effect on people’s lives.
United Way’s bread and butter comes from the workplace campaigns where participating employees can give a set amount of their paycheck and direct it to their local United Way.
The process works for the donor, as he or she does not have to “front” the money but rather has it spread out over a year of payroll deductions.
The donor trusts United Way to invest the money where it is most needed in the community.
That reinvestment is part of the community impact process. United Way vets applicant organizational programs exhaustively. Over the past several years, United Way used almost 300 volunteers and spent hundreds of volunteer hours with Community Investment Panels that walk through the program funding process and determined which agencies receive funding and how much. Those volunteer-led panels review agency financial records, consider overhead costs and view the effect of the dollars invested on critical community issues.
United Way is more than a funding source to community organizations — it is a partnership. Those funded programs are part of our network that continually work to create collaborations and capacity where we are diligent and determined to minimize duplication of services. Through this partnership United Way also leverages those dollars by using them as matching funds for grants, state and federal funds, such as funds available through the Victims of Crime Act. By doing so, United Way contributions bring much needed dollars into our community from outside sources.
Is United Way the only way to give in your community and make a positive impact? Absolutely not. We are not the only game in town. But we are strong, efficient and a life-changing option for philanthropy.
United Way makes educated decisions on investing for community changes while maintaining 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 community resources.
Is United Way still necessary? Are we still relevant? Unequivocally, yes.
Giving to United Way helps ensure a stronger, healthier and safer community — and our community is better because it has a strong United Way. We are better when we work together to be the faces of changes.
Jeffrey Zimmerman is dean of Plaster School of Business at Missouri Southern State University and chairman of the United Way campaign.
Duane Dreiling is executive director of the United Way of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas.