We have a joke in our office: “United Way…Good.”
What that means is that most people have heard of the United Way and know that it is good, but when pressed for details, they confess that they don’t really know what we do. In the advertising world, that type of strong positive association means we have a strong brand image, but we get frustrated that there is not much depth of understanding behind that image.
Many people think of us as a branch or chapter of some large, national organization, but the truth is that United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area was formed in 1943 by the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce as the Charlottesville and Albemarle War and Community Fund. We belong to a national trade association called the United Way of America along with about 1200 similar, local organizations across the country. Our dues pay for the use the United Way name and logo and mean that we have to meet certain standards of excellence and stringent accounting, but all else is completely local. One aspect I enjoy are the list-serves on which we can share ideas and get answers to questions from other people in United Ways across the country. We all openly borrow each other’s great ideas.
People also assume that we are solely a fundraising entity. While we have a strong history of raising funds and providing grants to effective and efficient local programs, we have also initiated many important programs to meet local needs. At present, about half of what we do can be termed local outreach: The Volunteer Center, Information & Referral Center, Child Care Scholarship Program, the United Way Laurence E. Richardson Day of Caring, and The United Way Awards of Excellence are just a few of the programs located in our office.
In addition, we have initiated or participate in several collaborations and partnerships with other nonprofits and businesses:
- The Initiative for Effective Nonprofits with the Wardle Family Foundation;
- Leadership Charlottesville with the Chamber of Commerce;
- RxRelief Prescription Assistance Program with Martha Jefferson Hospital, Region Ten Community Services Board, the Charlottesville Free Clinic and the Virginia Health Care Foundation;
- The Santa Fund with The Daily Progress and WINA;
- Smart Beginnings Initiative with the 15 local organizations that form the Charlottesville/Albemarle Partnership for Children and the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation;
- United Way Student Service Awards with the Commission on Children and Families;
- Thomas Jefferson EITC Coalition;
- Women United in Philanthropy.
In addition, for six years, we conducted outreach to sign up eligible children for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, signing up more than 3,000 local kids for health insurance. We then successfully trained other community partners to continue the program.
Just a fundraiser? I don’t think so.
At any given time, our 12 staff members are meeting with local organizations: giving advice; encouraging collaborations of similar local programs; serving on committees; connecting people and ideas with resources; and expecting accountability and high standards and - most of all - results from programs we work with, whether through partnerships or grants. It is all about making our community a better place to live – for everyone.
So now you know: United Way…Good.
Posted by Kim Connolly.