United Way

United Way

United Way was founded in 1887 in the Denver area when a woman, two priests, and a minister saw a need to provide community services and support that transcended religious lines. Since then, United Way has grown to be the national support and leadership hub for over 1,200 individually-run local chapters. United Way is unique in that its mission and program is designed to support local communities; it does not offer programs as a “one size fits all” solution. This allows individual chapters to focus on offering programs that are custom-designed for their community. 

The Good

  • Total income
  • Administrative expenses
  • Fundraising expenses
  • Program percentage
  • Accessible financial information
  • Donor communication
  • Awards

Total Income

United Way Worldwide reported a total income of $98,998,918 in 2015. For the most part, the annual reported total income has grown from the prior year's level. The following are the reported income figures for the last several years:

  • 2014: $89,307,915
  • 2013: $80,661,236
  • 2012: $95,532,043
  • 2011: $96,808,405

Administrative Expenses

United Way Worldwide reported that it spent $4,367,243, or 4.9 percent of revenue, on general and administrative efforts in 2015. The CEO of the national chapter, Brian A Gallagher, earned a salary of $1,136,619 in 2014, which was 1.41 percent of total revenue.

Fundraising Expenses

United Way Worldwide reported fundraising expenses of $3,264,614 across all chapters in 2015, which was approximately 3.29 percent of total revenue.

Program Percentage

Each chapter of United Way Worldwide is run independently, so averages can vary. The national headquarters reported that 82 percent of total revenue was spent supporting its programs, but some chapters have reported upwards of 90 percent of revenue being used for program delivery.

Accessible Financial Information

United Way Worldwide is extremely transparent with its financial records. The organization has published reports on its website from 2000 to present. This information is comprehensive and easy to find.

Donor Communication

As is the case with most other charitable organizations, donors and volunteers can expect to be included in future communications through email, phone, and postal mail from both the national and local chapters of United Way. Those wishing to discontinue contact from the organization may do so by contacting United Way via phone or mail. United Way operates the three-digit phone number, 2-1-1, which provides referrals to community resources.

Awards

Although United Way gives many awards in the communities which are being served by its chapters, the organization does not publish awards for which it has been recognized on its website.

The Bad

  • Negative press

Negative Press

United Way Worldwide has been the center of a few controversies. A scandal in 1992 involving then-CEO William Aramony involved him being convicted of fraud, serving a seven-year prison sentence, and being fined $300,000. Mr. Aramony had embezzled funds from the National Headquarters of the United Way to support lavish trips and give financial support to his mistress. Additionally, Mr. Aramony allegedly sexually harassed several female employees, offering them monetary rewards if they would engage in sexual relations with him, and having them transferred or reducing their pay if they did not agree.

There are similar scandals involving individuals acting as CEOs for United Way affiliates. Ralph Dickerson, Jr., former chairman of New York City United Way, diverted $227,000 in funds from the organization for his personal use. Mr. Dickerson did not face charges and repaid the organization $300,000. In 2004, CEO of Washington, D.C. United Way Oral Suer was convicted of misusing funds and was sentenced to 27 months in prison.

There are several internet statements which accuse United Way of giving money to Planned Parenthood, which in turn uses United Way funds to provide abortions. There is partial truth to this statement. United Way Worldwide, the national chapter, does not give funds to Planned Parenthood. However, some of the 1,200 local chapters do provide funding and support for Planned Parenthood. The percentage of those chapters giving money to Planned Parenthood is less than six percent, as stated by United Way Worldwide, and the percentage of funds being given to Planned Parenthood is less than one-tenth of one percent of all revenue received by United Way Worldwide. Funding may be used for family planning, but there is no definitive statement as to whether or not abortions are included in the family planning services.

Perhaps the most bizarre scandal United Way has ever encountered resulted in tragedy. The scandal, nicknamed "Balloonfest '86," was a result of the Cleveland Chapter of the United Way attempting to set a world record by releasing 1.5 million helium balloons at one time in downtown Cleveland. This resulted in automobile crashes, ecological problems in Lake Erie, significant injury to two purebred horses, the shutdown of the Burke Lakefront Airport, and the inability of search and rescue crews to use helicopters to continue their search for two missing fishermen, who were later found dead. The agency was sued and reached undisclosed settlements with several parties, including one of the widows of the deceased fishermen.

The Bottom Line

United Way has been working in individual communities since 1887. The organization is very transparent with its financial information and its program delivery percentage indicates fiscal responsibility. However, United Way has been involved in several controversies and scandals.

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