In Case You Wondered Whether the United Way Was Increasingly Competing with You…

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United Way

April 21, 2014; Ocala Star Banner

Yesterday, NPQ published a newswire alluding to the marked 19 percent decline of giving through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC). The Nonprofit Quarterly has focused on this issue because we think it has more far-reaching implications; specifically, it may be the best and most clear indicator we have about what is happening in the area of workplace giving.

For some years, NPQ has been warning community groups that as the United Way’s workplace solicitation model produces less, they may end up in increasingly more direct competition for the attention of large donors and local corporations. A case in point is evident in the United Way of Marion County, Florida, which is being pressured to alter its business model by losses related to the recession and because they are finding that other charities are making their way into the workplace.

As this article documents, the United Way of Marion County was at its peak earning in 2006 and 2007, collecting a record $2.5 million each year. But after the start of the recession, the take declined and was below $2 million in both 2012 and 2013. So now, the United Way of Marion County is planning an upscale, invitation-only meeting for donors at the local art museum. It sent out 1,100 invitations and is hoping for 200 attendees.

The donors are described as people who do not now give to United Way—not people who are not now donors to local charity. The benefit as described here is an extra layer of strategy and vetting, but is this a needed intermediary position? We would love to hear from readers.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Margot Haliday Knight

    As the veteran of 14 years of managing workplace giving plans for the arts, the key to this approach working is to develop a collaborative approach WITH the United Way grantees. There are many strategies to do this, e.g. Incentivizing donors to give by matching designations to individual organizations, focusing on new donors, reducing administrative fees, etc.

    When any united-style fund enters into a competitive vs a collaborative approach, trouble follows. And the ultimate losers are the beneficiaries of the united fund AND the people served by its grantees.

    United funds should always be collaborative in word and deed to maintain the trust and respect of its organizational partners, its donors and the broader public.

  • Bobby Welch

    In my opinion, the decline in giving goes beyond workplace matters and economic down-turns, the current attitude of directors of the United Way will eventually destroy the spirit of giving. It is clear to me that the governing body seeks to reduce the numbers of charities served in order to deal only with the larger charities that require less time to administer. It appears to me that the current trend is to move away from serving the charities and start serving United Way staff. Many of our agencies have left United Way and formed a separate support group. It appears that United Way is actively trying to consolidate.very successful small units and will not allow any new units to be formed. This adds to my concern about the future of United Way.

  • Alex Martinez

    I think what is missing, is the purpose of the the upscale invitation only meeting? Is it a funder’s briefing on a particular issue? Is it trying to mobilize a greater group of wealthy individuals with a call to action or a community conversation, something that cant be addressed by one non- profit but instead requires a community-wide approach? Clearly United Ways will always do their work in collaboration with other community based partners, but that shouldn’t preclude their taking new approaches to fundraising or strategies to address pressing community needs.

  • Margot Haliday Knight

    I think the point is that United Ways might THINK they are behaving collaboratively and give the word lip-service but when push comes to shove, often reach out in new directions for themselves without considering the ripple effect on their purported partners.
    Your point about the stratgy for the new event is on point. New donors? Fair game especially when working hand in hand with local charities? But poaching donors or urging donors to split their charitable pies differently? Somehow, that doesn’t feel like a partnership to me

  • Elaine Gerdine

    If you’re watching workplace giving, I wonder if you saw the April 1 article in the NY Times about RaisedBy.Us, a workplace fundraising platform aimed at tech startups. The Times article ( charity/) reports their campaigns are having a 50% participation rate and an average pledge above $500. What do you suppose they’re doing right?

    BTW, my organization, the Workplace Giving Alliance, ( helps administer the Combined Federal Campaign. In fact, on March 25, you reported on our compilation of 2013 CFC results published by the government, which showed a 19% drop in pledges.

    We care a lot about the CFC and workplace giving in general. We believe that, done right, it is a great thing, not just for supporting charity but for building community. And we are dismayed by its recent decline. I personally was excited to learn about RaisedByUs. I gather the solicitations they facilitate operate similarly to the CFC. Might it be interesting to ask them why they think they’re succeeding where other workplace giving efforts struggle?

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if it is time for United Way to begin to scale back and move towards shuttering some of the local United Way chapters. As giving goes digital and donors have a multitude of opportunities to give, the United Way model ceases to remain relevant. More and more, the United Way model serves only the staff it employs, taking a cut from the philanthropic dollar for themselves before passing it along to the charity that actually makes the change.