Why Give to the United Way?

A Christian ministry I once interned with chose not to participate, as a charity, in United Way fundraisers, because they didn’t like the way in which the United Way operated. (When I say that they didn’t participate as a charity, what I mean is that they were not one of the charities money raised by the United Way went to.) According to what I was told then, the United Way sits down and decides how they are going to disburse the funds they raise – 5% to charity A, 7% to charity B, and so on. Now, when you as an individual donate to the United Way, you can either make a general donation (which the United Way will break up), or choose to have all of your donation given to some specific United Way charity – but, should you choose the latter option, the United Way makes sure your wishes don’t really matter. If you say “give all my money to charity A”, they say OK, but then reduce the amount given to charity A in general donations so that they still get their desired percentages in the end. (In other words, because you give more to charity A than you “should”, they make everyone else give less. Surely this was not your desire.)

Besides that – why not do the research and donate to the charities that you personally think would make the best use of your money? I guess I can understand why cities and businesses might work with the United Way – because it literally stands for nothing except, in the most general sense of the word, “charity”. If the city or business tried to raise funds for a specific charity they would greatly increase the risk of offending someone who didn’t like the specifics of that charity. The United Way has very few “specifics”. But as an individual, I can’t imagine why I would ever contribute to (or through) them.

Please correct me if I’m mistaken.

(This post motivated by a giant United Way sign I biked past on the way home from church today!)

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