A Better Way To Help The United Way

An abstract drawing of a hand giving a gift

By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

From the time I got my first job through yesterday, United Way has been an enduring feature of my work life. Here are some tips to know for how to make this case of charitable giving the best it can possibly be. The first thing to know is that United Way is an organization you can trust. The second thing to know is how to make the best possible contribution for what you support.

During my senior year in college, I was lucky to land a paid internship with USAA, at a time when youth unemployment was very high. It was during the early 1990s recession, where many companies had hiring freezes instead of massive layoffs. That was not a good time to be a college senior.

I landed a position with employee communications, perfect for a communications major. A few months into the job, they gave me an assignment: cover our company’s United Way campaign. I jumped at the chance, but a day or so later, I wish I hadn’t. I would read the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and follow CNN. A very small story began with allegations of corruption scandal at United Way involving the CEO and his activities. What would we do?

A debate erupted over our strategy. There was a recession, and fears of a big decline in contributions to United Way were real. As an idealistic college student, I insisted we cover the scandal (still backpage material at the time), and show that United Way had taken steps to address the problem, and our donations would be secure. I found myself in my dad’s hand-me-down suit, presenting to the board, while experienced people on the other side debated our strategy.

I felt like David, minus the slingshot.

But our board agreed that we should cover the scandal, but emphasize the positive steps taken to correct the problem. Sure enough, when the corruption became front-page news, we were ready. And despite the recession, our company set a record for corporate giving. It’s given me the confidence to know that United Way contributions are secure, and that they’re prepared to address problems, not hide them. I even interviewed for a job with them a few months later.

If you’re like me and work for a company (or nonprofit institution), you get an annual solicitation to donate. It’s easier now with payroll deductions. But the ease of donation may obscure a critical detail. Who can you give your donation to? Most people don’t know that they can choose.

Before you check your box, do a little research. There are all kinds of chapters of United Way (like the United Way of Greater Atlanta, which serves Cobb County), those eligible to receive your generosity. It’s not the same across the country. You could donate to some causes in other regions in other states, but maybe not your own. I know that’s led to some consternation in some circles about omitted groups. But look at your list before you go over to human resources to make your donation. Like me, you’ll probably find a really good group which could use your help. United Way Cobb County’s office can be found here.

If that’s more work than can fit in your schedule, you can always let United Way decide, and they are pretty good at making choices. But remember that you have the power to pick where your donation dollars will go to. And though we’re not in a recession any more, the need is still very great this Fall.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.