Friday, August 18, 2006

Why United Way Sucks


I have been asked why the United Way is on my evil list in an earlier post. Also another blogger said she was going to write about the United Way a couple weeks ago, and asked me to share my opinion when she did write it. It hasn’t shown up on her blog and I’m tired of waiting for it so here are my ideas on the institution.

I stated then that the United Way still support the Boy Scouts after the Scouts disclosed their discrimination policies. I also think that charging 14% for their administrative fee is way too high for what they actually do.

Here are some other problems. They are a charity monopoly. In many big business, County, City and State offices they have an annual drive. Someone who has been a bad employee and needs to be punished gets asked to become the Chair or the Team Leader for the United Way in their organization. Now this person on company time, uses company stationary and company email to send messages to all the employees. Note, none of the 14% indirect funds that United Way collects is used for this, company funds or tax payer funds are used. No other fund raisers are granted this privilege of total access, all expense paid by the business who is collecting money for them.

So do you think that 14% is what it takes to have a goal sign in Warrenton and a glossy flier they put out? Would you be willing to pay 14% interest on anything? If not than why do you support the United Way?

Is it because it is automatically deducted and you think they support worthy causes? Why you lazy bastard! Send a check every pay day to your favorite cause. Pick 12 and every month send one out. If you don’t have the discipline, write out all the checks in the beginning of the year, stick them in your bill pile or on the fridge and send one off every month. If you don’t support twelve causes, pick six, or three, or two, or one. In the end that extra 14% will benefit something real rather than a tote board and a glossy flier.

Also your payroll clerk will thank you for not making their job any more difficult than it already is.

45 Comments:

Anonymous Bayou said...

Hey Guy, thanks for the recent comment! I'm always happy to find new bloggers in the PNW.

My company is one of those that has a United Way drive every year and last year, I was the director of mass planning. (Note that this is for the local King County United Way in Seattle, not the national organization.) I'm gay, so of course the first questions that I asked of the representative was about the Boy Scouts and GLBT issues- where does the UWKC stand?

I was very pleased to learn that the King County chapter only supports a couple of local divisons of the scouts, all of which have non-discrimination policies. They also raised hundreds of dollars last year for GLBT support centers such as a counseling service for sexual minorities and NW network for GLBT survivors of abuse.

I agree that the admin fees are high, but there is still alot of money (in the millions) going to where it needs to- the struggling members of our community.

8:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Guy,

I like your suggestion. Admin fees way to high. The real work is done by non-paid help.
What about the schools "asking students to sell candy, mags, etc"? The rewards are just junk! Very, very little goes back to the schools. Why bother?

8:59 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Our local UW still supports questionable organizations. I didn't write this so much to put down the questionable organizations, but more of a point that people are paying a 14% stupid/lazy tax just for being kind.

Just in the event you are curious who Astoria Rust donates to: KMUN, The River Theatre, Women's Resource Center, Free Speech TV, OPB, Pioneer House, The Liberty Theater, The Food Bank, The Animal Shelter and any causes that come up that need immediate attention.

And I don't know what all that school fundraising is about. Maybe it's a discipline in humbling the students just the same way as Zen monks go out to beg on a daily basis.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous gearhead said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Moosehead said...

Not much to add to United Way but could not resist a comment on the screw picture. Why is it that in the U S most screws are of the star (Philips) type. Up here in Canuck land, we have a screw called the Robertson which is square and all around a much better screw for working with. Could the reluctance of the U S to use it be because it was invented by a Canadian?? I mean... if you're going to get screwed... I kinda get the feeling that I may have started something that could hit the fan here..

6:43 PM  
Anonymous gearhead said...

Star would be Torks.
The squarehead is widley used in manufactured housing, rv industry, cabinetry, and audio speaker mfg to name a few.
Philips is not the most popular in the US, rather the hexhead.
Aren't you glad you asked?

10:56 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Funny you bring this up because I was going to use a photo with square head screws, but decided to go with the phillips head because I was sure someone would ask about the square head.

I've used square heads on a couple projects. Lots of power there, but I would not use them again on any outdoor project like a deck because once the heads fill with dirt it's hard to clean them out for removal, where with a phillips head the star point pushes dirt out of the sloped slots.

Also it's easier to keep everything uniform and I don't need to bring a kit with me if I want to unscrew something.

6:22 AM  
Blogger tf said...

To Bayou- So you're saying we're paying 14% on millions? Jeez. I just never realized it was that much. As far as those points about
being a charity monopoly go..yes.
It is, during blackout time. Its fundraising those organizations don't have to do on their own though. That takes a lot of time away from what they are really around to do. Know what I mean? Direct donation is obviously the way to go.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do your homework. The average overhead for most charities is far above 14%.

10:42 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

That's why it is important to support the charity of your choice directly.

6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

United Way doesn't support Planned Parenthood either. They ain't getting my $.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are many reasons to dis United Way. However you only tapped but a few. You left out the most common reason that everyone should be aware of. United Way and the company you work for coerces you to give. I’ve worked at several companies. And here are but a few of the things that have been done to influence giving.

1. Manager says you will give, the boss gets a list of participation and I have to have full participation or I have to explain it.
2. Departments that have 100% giving get a bonus, and everyone will know who gave and didn’t. One of my favorite type of coercion, a bit like the military forcing everyone to do push ups because one guy screwed up.
3. Being told that people that don’t give wont get a raise.
4. Being told that people that don’t give wont get promotions. (and yes number 3 and 4 were at different companies, I’m not sure which was worse).

I’m sure other people can add to this list, but the bottom line is that the United Way is nothing more than a racketeering organization that extorts protection money from American workers. It ranks right up there with the mob asking business owners for protection money. Well actually it is even worse. The mob asks the business owners that can then raise their prices to cover the cost, employees are just forced to pay.

Stop the madness, start a petition to ban United Way solicitation in the workplace or by employers.

12:37 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

I tried unsuccessfully to get a company I worked for break its association with Untied Way. A lot of people agreed with me and we just ended up not donating to them. That was the most that could be done, and it all went pretty high up the food chain.

Hopefully someone will read all this and realize that at least tax payer based employeers should not be giving this company a leg up. It is simply unfair to other charity organizations that do not make the UW cut.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as someone who was previously employed at United Way let me give you another reason to think that they suck. Now this is in no way a discruntalted thing just an ethics issue. I bet you also didn't know that as an employee you get oppertuniyies to join clubs organizations that benifit "the county issues" but did you know that for you director of or other empoyees of United Way to join these clubs there are dues and guess who pay for those, you do part of the donations help them to join more clubs. No realy fair for your money you worked hard for to go to someone else to eat lavish lunches with and talk about "county issues". I think that the best way for anyone to spend there money is to donate directly. Alot of organizations take think like diapers, clothes, food, and money. An even better way to cut out the admin fees is to donate your time, searve food hand out blankets, answer phone at you charity of choice. Just know that there are other way then to give to United Way.

8:43 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Thanks for the comment. Yes it sure is another reason why they suck.

I find it interesting how often people come here to view this article. I check my stats to see what search criteria people enter who find my blog and there are at least four people a day who come from all over the country to read this article "Why United Way Sucks."

Too often people eat what they are fed, and we are fed things such as the United Way is a good organization. They are well organized, I'll give them that, but so is the mob. I can only imagine what goes on in that smoke filled board room.

By the way, WY is starting their new campaign in Dried Salmon County, spread the word when you can.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, RIGHT ON!!!!!

My hatred for the united way runs deep.

I used to work for Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Park Service. One day, in my paycheck, I got this thingy asking how I wanted to donate to the United Way. There was no "no" box, so I simply traced my middle finger over the form and sent it back. I thought that would suffice. Two weeks later, I found out that the head of the United Way of Florida had been appointed by Jeb Bush as head of the Florida Park Service and now they were fleecing us for contributions to the United Way.

Fast forward a few years. Today I run a local, (nameless for the time being), non-for-profit organization in a town in Florida. I hate being anonymous, but you'll find out why shortly. I am trying to raise money to put together several programs for low income communities in this city. Things like credit counseling, financial literacy, stuff like that. My board wants it done. We need money to hire people to do it, we could do it now but it would be too small to be effective. TRY GETTING SEED MONEY FROM THE UNITED WAY SOMETIME!!!!!!!!! TRY IT!!!! I issue everyone who reads this a challenge. Organize your community, come up with a project, and try to get funding for it from the United Way! I DARE YOU! If you ain't in the United Way's incrowd, they aint giving you a dime. But guess what? They are so hooked up that to get any cash....you have to go through them....at least you do in this area if you want GOVERNMENT MONEY to help you out.

So, I gotta deal with em....hence the anonymous...but thanx for letting me vent. I needed that!

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was curious, has anyone every sat-in on a United Way meeting? Has anyone on this blog besides the disgruntled United Way employee ever looked at their local United Way chapter and really seen what it takes to run an organization this size with less than the national average for administrative fees? Have you even called or emailed any current board members and explained your concerns about the boy scouts or planned parenthood? Or do you just keep coming up with these issues and low attacks on any organization that does not immediately cater to your own ideas or suggestions on a moments notice? Even United Way, yes has problems, but only from a very few chapters. Do you even know all the 1000's of hours of FREE FREE FREE volunteer work that the United Way does that does not even come from the funding coffers that you all suggest is too high at 14%?....You don't, because your not informed, you use these blogs and websites to hammer a group that has parents, but the children are running their lives different. Not all chapters are bad, not all chapters cater to what the national organization requires, not all chapters bet businesses to make their employees pay.

And don't even get me started on the guy that suggested if he did not give money to united way, would not get a promotion...My god man, do you think we are that dumb? What is happening to this country? We are less than 300 years old, more than 200, but we are all acting like we are 5 years old and someone stole our candy....If you don't want to support a group don't, if you do then great, but get ALL your facts straight before you voice an opinion that is so farce that you end up cutting off funding to an organization that funds crisis centers, shelters, abused children recovery centers and such much more. Think before you act, think before you cut the throat of another homeless person or a battered woman...you have no idea what you are talking about, so get involved, get on a board, show up to meetings, listen, learn and get educated.....

10:18 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Actually I have, and I feel sorry for all the people who are duped by this organization. I campare it to brainwashing, like everyone thinks Bill Cosby is funny because he is suposed to be, but in reality he hasn't done anything funny since the 60s. United Way is suposed to be a charity, and it is far from it, but they've convinced everyone they are good.

10:36 AM  
Blogger dssquirt said...

I cannot agree more that the United Way sucks. We are in a smaller community. I volunteered for the United Way to design and maintain their website. I did these for 3 years at no charge. Then some supposed marketing guru got onto the United Way Board. Guess what? She had a buddy that was a web designer and so the United Way decided to pay someone to maintain their website.

They did not offer me the job, but instead just offered it to the buddy of this marketing guru. When I confronted the director she said the marketing committee of the United Way could not get along with me. That was news to me!

I have also had problems with the fact that want to give money to your favorite charity. But the United Way takes their cut and also has to take a cut for the national chapter. Then money gets handed out to the agencies the United Way feel are deserving.

I will never give to the United Way again - I don't care if I work at a place that tries to demand it. I will give to the charities that I think are deserving, not that the United Way says has satisfied their requirements.

8:17 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

I guess it's time I update my annual United Way bitch.

2:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the united way takes it's 14% then gives the money to the local charities. Then the local charities have their overhead to deal with to handle the money, sounds like the United way just adds overhead. Might be better to just give the local charities 14% more money directly.

12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should also know that they have to pay a percentage to the national United Way for using their name and for 1 million raised they pay $20,000 of that I use to work a local UW and did the bills payable.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I simply will not support their campaign because only a small percentage of what you "give" ever actually makes it to the organization you select. Screw that...direct donations to the charitable organization of your choice is the way to go.

8:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Admin fees too high? Try too low.

The United Way saves local organizations lots of money. If the United Way did not raise funds, these organizations would have to hire fundraising professionals and they would have to pay for processing and auditing. Get your facts straight.

3:07 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Oh Bullshit. The only reason for United Way is to make money for themselves.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Steev said...

The UW is an unnecessary middle man. It takes your money, TAKES THEIR CUT (yes, this is how they make money), and splits it up (at the UW's discretion of course).

If you want to give to a charity, give it directly to that charity so that 100% of it goes to them.

The UW may have served a purpose in the past when giving to charities was not easy to donate to. But we now live in an online world, and every charity worth its salt has a website and a big DONATE button.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How are they supposed to function without the 14%? Are they supposed to work for free? Without the United Way the partner organizations would suffer; the agencies that they fund do not have the means to raise funds as many of them are very small.

6:51 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Let's see what they spend it on now... Hosting companies pay for all the photo copies and donate one of their employees (most often at tax payers expense) to coordinate the campaign. United way often gets free advertising, they even have a USPS cancellation mark for free. So where does their money go? SIX FIGURED SALARIES FOR THEIR REGIONAL DIRECTORS. Anyone that supports United Way is a chump.

5:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your comments in relation to the national United Way but not with regard to local chapters...at least not with mine. Our local United Way has an average of 9% in overhead costs, one paid part time staff person, an all volunteer board (none of whom get reimbursed for lunches, etc.), and at least 5 organizations that receive funds who do not have the capacity to do much outreach or fundraising for that matter. And with the exception of the funds that go to the national United Way for the privilege of using their name (and this chapter barely raises $100,000let alone $1,000,000 so the annual cost is $1000.00)even the overhead goes back to the community through local businesses. You can yell propaganda all you like but I suspect it will be because it goes against your point, not because it isn't true. But the fact of the matter is, the point is to donate - whether it is time, energy or money, support a cause that is important to you. If United Way helps you touch more people, great. If you would rather give to a specific organization, great. But do it and quit belly aching about it. And, just an aside, our local United Way does not allow any agency that does not have an anti-discrimination policy in place that prohibits discrimination against race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, etc., to receive funds. Maybe our local chapter is unique - if so, that is a sad state of affairs. But, I doubt it. There are a lot of good people out there doing good things. Focus on the real issues and back off of everybody else. All this time you have spent complaining probably could have been used volunteering for something useful. Which is what I am going to do now.

5:55 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

They stopped giving to the Boy Scouts? Good for them.

I volunteer at least 20 hours every week to three different organizations.

Still 14% indirect is 14%. Lots of people getting fat on that one. I would support UW if they cut it to a reasonable 5%. If non profits are unable to raise their own funds, maybe they should re-examine
the nobility of their cause. Good causes attract funds.

6:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How much do you tip when dining out. Professionally, in non-profits 20% is the general line - anything under 20% overhead is considered good.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Jay Godse said...

This is an interesting discussion. The most common complaints boils down to a few main ideas.

1) United Way is a useless middleman. If that is the case then why do charities continue to use them? How do charities that don't use UW fare?

2) United Way's overheads are too high. If that is the case, what are the combined overheads of United Way and the charities that are funded by them. e.g. If I donate $100 to UW, how much do Charity X's recipients get?

3) United Way is monopolistic and opaque, in its access to corporations and in its ability to determine a charity's worthiness, and in its criteria for procuring goods & services. Is there a better solution that delivers comparable benefits to the beneficiaries of the charities funded by UW?


Complaining about monopolistic middlemen is a national pastime. However, a better alternative has not yet emerged, besides donating directly to your charity of choice. The problem with that is that people need to be made aware of various charities, their relative merits, and their provable overheads. With the internet and e-commerce, one could funnel money directly to charities without touching the middleman, and then use an affiliate commission (similar to that used by amazon.com) to pay the middleman.

Maybe I should start a non-profit service to market charities to donors in exchange for a commission of ... 13.9%.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Hi!

It's so nice to finally read a blog about United Way that has done their research and has all of their facts straight (please note the sarcasm in that statement).

FACT: our local UW has a 9.4% overhead and raises over $6M annually.

FACT: UW does not have any say in where the dollars they raise actually go. Volunteers and donors make those decisions based on their research and financial analysis. If you are unhappy about where your UW dollars are going, why don't you take it up with those volunteers...or heaven forbid take part in that process yourself?

FACT: UW dollars support PROGRAMS, not agencies. That means that overhead dollars are not taken out of your donation twice. Granted, that is not the case if you designate your gift.

FACT: No UW anywhere gets free postage. Many do, however, get bulk mail rates (for bulk mailings). Would you prefer that they paid full price for the postage with donor dollars?

As for your complaint that employee campaign coordinators are doing most of the fundraising - that's true. If it wasn't, then UW overhead really would be high. But as far as I know, no employee has ever had their workload lightened or been paid more to take on this extra task - so what possible extra expense to the tax payer could you be referring to? And as for being "punished" by having to run a company's UW campaign? Well good grief - that is your company's fault, not UWs. And I'm sure that UW hated working with you at least as much as you hated working with them.

And to the absolute gem of a man working for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection: FL D.E.P. DOESN'T RUN A UNITED WAY CAMPAIGN. They participate in the Florida State Employees Charitable Campaign which is legislatively mandated and nothing at all like a United Way campaign. For the love of all that is good in the world.

And finally if you want to give to an organization directly - DO IT! Stop complaining and just do it! UW doesn't care! But don't forget! If you give through your company's UW campaign then you don't even have to think about it -it's easy. But for pete's sake, don't use your unfounded and baseless hatred of United Way as an excuse not to give at campaign time and then just not give at all.

There are millions of people out there who would not give at all if UW wasn't there to remind them every year. And there are local charities all over the U.S. receiving Billions of dollars in funding that I would wager are incredibly grateful that UW exists.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I donate to lots of charities - NPR, PBS, both my alma maters, Planned Parenthood, a no-kill pet shelter, youth arts associations, American Kidney Fund... I don't have my 1040 in front of me, but I know I'm forgetting several!

So, yes, I agree with everyone saying "please donate."

The part of United Way that bothers me is I think it is very regionally influenced. When I worked in a conservative city in the Midwest, United Way gave to Catholic Charities, but not Planned Parenthood, etc. I realize that was a decision made by the UW advisory board, but in this conservative town, nothing was going to change.

What bothers me most is that the line in our corporate campaign was "these orgs were picked by the board... they are all really good orgs." Not saying they don't do some good, I just passionately disagree with their politics and would choose not to financially support them.

In fact, I started making donations to Planned Parenthood specifically b/c of my frustration.

Trouble is, the corporate powers that be just want to see that 100% donation line.... "pressure, pressure, they're all good orgs."

I respect that for those who would perhaps not answer the phone or return the mailing or jump online and donate that choosing to donate via UW is a viable alternative... It is better to donate something to someone than nothing to no one.

But: I do donate. To places I care about. And I don't want the Corporate UW campaign putting a guilt trip on me b/c I didn't donate to their causes.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Guy said...

This post was written back in 2006. How come I had three replies to it this week, three years later?

5:55 AM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

I'm guessing that is because Christmas is coming, which means it's time for the Annual UW Push in a lot of places. (Or maybe the posts were made earlier in the year and I'm just late to the party - I can only see times, not dates). I myself arrived here after Googling "United Way Sucks." My rant? If you choose a charity off the list, the first $20 of your donation go to the UW "general fund." Which means that if I made a $25 donation to an animal shelter, only $5 would make it there. No thanks, I'll just cut a check directly to the shelter. But of course, that won't suffice when it comes to the 100% UW participation BS that they do here.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Guy said...

That's the right thing to do. Give wisely, not lazily.

5:36 PM  
Blogger tinkonthebrink said...

I think there are a couple of points here that are being given short shrift - one is that regardless of what the "usual" nonprofit overhead cost is, you are ADDING the UW percentage BEFORE the other overhead even comes into play. Clearly, math is pretty simple, donate directly.
The other issue is that workplace coercion is wrong and anyone who thinks it doesn't happen has never had a regular job.
I also have a further issue with the fact that UW chapters have subsidized organizations I consider politically way incorrect (eg the boy scouts) and I have the right to that opinion and to not donate in the workplace if in fact it is a "donation" and not force feeding.
For those people who are enthused about UW, spend your own money however you want.
By the way, I'm one of those who got here by googling "why United Way sucks." Because I was trying to explain quickly to someone why I don't every donate to them.

8:49 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

I actually have a a charity I really support, and they too have a high overhead, but unlike UW that just takes a big % for redistributing money, Heifer International actually does things to put livestock in the hands of people.Organizational Efficiency
Program Expenses 77.5%
Administrative Expenses 6.4%
Fundraising Expenses 16.0%
Fundraising Efficiency $0.14

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have an annual drive where I work too, and I'm sick of it. I haven't given anything for the last two years, and I'm not going to. They harassed me with daily emails saying give give give. I say no no no. UW can kiss my butt.

9:44 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Right on!

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work for a non-profit organization that receives united way funding. Our leadership each year holds an employed luncheon every year and at the end of it they pass out the donation cards and ask staff to raise there own contribution to united way. Every year we are expected to meet a goal. Last year I heard we didn't make from our accounting department and the CEO had used program reserves to cover the goal amount that employees had not contributed. So basically our non-profit has to pay United Way to give us money each year. Yes it would way better if people just got online and did a direct donation.

5:04 PM  
Blogger tinkonthebrink said...

I'm convinced more than ever that United Way and other organizations that milk the non-profit, charitable gig are doing more harm than good. Here's why. A good friend of mine is doing the Off The Mat, Into the World Challenge. Yoga teachers commit to taking their practice a step further, to do seva (service) in the real world. Virtually ALL of the money goes to the organizations who are part of the challenge. My friend has driven a pedal cab, had a gigantic fundraiser doing 108 sun salutations which she organized and is leading, recruited other yoga teachers...in February she is going to Africa to work with people in the HIV/AIDS community as part of this. She is a glowing example of someone who does her research, does the work, invests her own time and energy and inspires people in the process. But...a friend emailed her and told her that it's pointless to donate to causes, you can't control what they're going to do with your donation, they'll just squander it and use it to shore up their own organization and besides, you probably can't help anyway. It's organizations that operate like United Way that engender this kind of attitude and it hurts everyone.
Thank you for writing this.

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can say i was a huge giver to the united way many years ago. Our company would pressure all to give. I gave the higest level for a long time. I fell on hard times many years down the road and asked for some help from united way on a small scale. They had every excuse and did nothing. other charitys i had not given to helped me right away. I am back on my feet now raising 4 children on my own. I am however bitter to the united way , they reaaly do suck.

5:41 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

The Suckatude of United Was is never ceasing. Sorry they screwed you, but that's all they know how to do.

11:17 AM  

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