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
Today, United Way is still fueling 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 just doing it by ourselves. United Way is able to make a 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 – Play60 was created to encourage kids and families to make healthy food choices and get 60 minutes+ of physical activity daily.
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.
Back 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 offer the first early learning public service advertising campaign to help parents help their kids start school ready to succeed. Born Learning is no longer an ad campaign, but some 600 United Ways and community partners have used its parent education and community engagement tools to help more and more kids start school equipped for success. Now working in Australia and Latin America as well, United Way Born Learning continues to help families give their kids the best start in life possible.
United Way: The Next Generation
We don't just focus on little kids; we empower people to succeed at every stage of their lives. Some of United Way's most inspiring work is fueled by college students who choose to spend their Spring Break making a difference in the world. Some 3,500 students have taken part in United Way's Alternative Spring Break across the globe. Born out of a partnership with MTV in 2006, the experience has generated more than 112,000 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 claimed over $10 billion using MyFreeTaxes.
A Strong Foundation for Success
When it comes to reading, studies show that low-wage kids are often behind in reading because their families don't have books, their local libraries don't have enough resources and their schools often lack enough books. We all know reading matters, but you may not know that if kids aren't reading well by 3rd grade, they'll struggle in school -- and have a higher chance of dropping out later on. In 2013, United Way joined with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and Scholastic to create Club Connect, which gives people a way to provide online and offline resources for kids who need help with reading. Whether it's a Reading Oasis (complete with new books) at an elementary school, or parent engagement tools or the online “book club” where kids can boost their reading skills, Club Connect is on track to help struggling readers get back on track.
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 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!