The United Way
The precursor of the United Way of America was founded on October 16, 1887, in Denver, Colorado.
On that day, a priest, two ministers, and a rabbi met over concerns relating to Denver’s welfare problems. At the time, many in the city were struggling in the wake of the gold and silver booms. These clergy members recognized that sporadic collections were not enough to meet the needs of Denver’s poor.
Together, they conceived of the Charity Organizations Society, a united campaign for ten health and welfare agencies. Their group would collect funds for local charities, and coordinate relief service. They would also help people in need find the agencies that could best help them and provide emergency assistance grants to those who couldn’t get aid from other organizations. During that first year, the people of Denver raised $21,700 for 22 different agencies. This provided much needed funds for food, shelter, and medical supplies.
While the Charity Organizations Society continued to carry out its good works in Denver, like-minded people elsewhere in the country began founding similar organizations. In 1913, the first Community Chest was established in Cleveland, Ohio. Five years later, representatives from 12 fund-raising groups met in Chicago to form the American Association for Community Organizations (AACO), the direct predecessor to the United Way. In the meantime, Community Chests were created in a number of cities, expanding significantly from 39 in 1919 to 353 in 1929. By 1948, there were over 1,000.
Organizations with similar goals formed elsewhere, such as Red Feather Drive and United Fund. In 1948, Detroit’s Community Chest was merged with other area charities to become the United Foundation. Many of these programs adopted the title United Way in 1963. The national organization became known as the United Community Funds Council of America until 1970 when it was renamed United Way of America.
In 1973, the United Way began a long-standing partnership with the NFL. This partnership was established to increase public knowledge of social service issues across the country. NFL players, coaches, and owners offered public service announcements and helped raise funds and awareness through personal appearances.
Within a few years, there were a number of international United Way groups, leading to the founding of United Way Worldwide in 1974. That same year United Way in the US and Canada raised over $1 billion – the first time a single organization raised that much in one year.
In 2009, United Way International and United Way of American joined together to form United Way World. The largest privately-funded nonprofit on the planet, it consists of 1,800 United Ways in 41 countries and territories. Today, 2.9 million volunteers and 9 million donors, raising an average of $4.7 billion every year, support the United Way.
Click here for more from the United Way website.