Learn more about our history. It just might inspire you to help us build a better future.
A Woman, a Priest, Two Ministers and a Rabbi...
In 1887, a Denver woman, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi got together... It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but they didn't walk into a bar; what they did do was recognize the need to work together in new ways to make Denver a better place.
Frances Wisebart Jacobs, the Rev. Myron W. Reed, Msgr. William J.O’Ryan, Dean H. Martyn Hart and Rabbi William S. Friedman put together an idea that became the nation's first united campaign, benefitting 10 area health and welfare agencies. They created an organization to collect the funds for local charities, to coordinate relief services, to counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and to make emergency assistance grants for cases that could not be referred. That year, Denver raised $21,700 for this greater good, and created a movement that would become United Way.
Not Your Grandfather's United Way
United Way still provides solutions to communities' toughest problems. But we're not your grandfather's United Way.
Today's United Way is bringing people, organizations and communities together around a common cause, a common vision, and a common path forward. In many communities, we're the only nonprofit building up the cornerstones of education, financial stability and health—and the only nonprofit bringing people together from all walks of life to be a part of local solutions. We're engaged in nearly 1,800 communities across more than 40 countries and territories, where people are powering big ideas and big action by donating, volunteering and speaking out through United Way.
It's a Team Effort
We're not doing it alone. United Way is able to make a lasting difference because we work together with strategic partners who share our vision. Partners like the NFL. Back in 1973, we joined forces with the NFL to boost awareness of what was then called social service issues. Together, we created public service announcements and programs featuring NFL players, coaches and owners.
From this partnership—the longest running of its kind—we’ve drafted 39,000 people to serve as readers, tutors and mentors. Since 2007, our nationwide Play60 campaign has also encouraged kids and families to make healthy food choices and get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
You can see our evolution through the lens of 2-1-1, a free and confidential hotline that helps millions of people find resources they need, 24-7.
In 2000, we joined with the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems to successfully petition the Federal Communications Commission to designate 2-1-1 as a health and human services information hotline. Originally created by United Way of Atlanta, 2-1-1 is an easy-to- remember and universally recognizable telephone number. Like 911 and 411, it helped people reach out in times of crisis to find local support and services.
In the years that followed, 2-1-1 grew into an essential post-disaster resource, providing emergency assistance for victims of 9-11 and relief for communities devastated by hurricanes, floods, mudslides, tornadoes and man-made disasters in the U.S. On the other side of the globe, United Way coordinated efforts to help Indian Ocean communities in the wake of 2004’s tragic tsunami in South Asia.
50 Million Lives
As we've grown up, we've become more than a fundraising organization. Rather than measuring our success in dollars raised, we measure our success in actual lives changed.
United Way impacts up to 50 million lives every year. We can do this because we have spent more than a century developing deep roots and trust in the communities we serve. That strong foundation provides us with the resources, reputation and relationships needed to bring people and organizations together around innovative solutions.
For example, we partnered with the Ad Council back in 2005 to create Born Learning, the first early learning public service advertising campaign. Born Learning is no longer an ad campaign; to date, it has empowered more than 15 million parents and other caregivers with online tips, tools and other resources to ensure kids start school equipped for success. We have now expanded Born Learning to thousands of children in Asia, Australia and Latin America.
United Way: The Next Generation
We don't just focus on little kids; we empower people to succeed at every stage of their lives. College students are fueling some of our most inspiring work. Since we started United Way’s Alternative Spring Break in 2006, more than 4,000 students have traded in their beach towels for tool belts.
Born out of a partnership with MTV, Alternative Spring Break has generated more than 130,000 hours of volunteer service and new bonds between like-minded college students. Many young leaders come back with a better sense of their own path forward, and how they can contribute to the world.
$10 Billion Saved for Taxpayers
One challenge for young professionals is doing taxes. If you make $60,000 or less, you can file your taxes online for free with MyFreeTaxes. That's another sign of United Way's evolution. In 2008, we joined forces with H&R Block, the Walmart Foundation, Goodwill Industries International, and the National Disability Institute to launch a campaign designed to connect low-wage families and individuals with free tax preparation and filing assistance services. Today, United Way is helping more people file taxes for free—online, at home, at a community center or with the help of a nonprofit partner—than any other organization. So far, millions of taxpayers have saved over $10 billion using MyFreeTaxes and our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites.
A Strong Foundation for Success
In 2013, United Way joined with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and Scholastic to create Club Connect, which enables donors to adopt a struggling elementary school for $10,000 per year (individual donors can contribute as little as $10).
Each Club Connect school “adopted” by donors receives much-needed resources like books, online reading resources and parent engagement tools to help improve early grade reading levels. Currently, 15,000 children in 30 schools benefit from Club Connect; by 2016 we intend to raise that number to 41,500 students in 83 schools.
To Be Continued...
As you can see, we've changed over the years to address the challenges of a changing world. But the one that thing hasn't changed is our focus on improving lives and strengthening communities. There are lots of ways you can be part of this change. Join us!