The Roots of United Way
The concept of United Way dates back to 1887 in Denver, Colorado. With the tremendous growth of the city and increased needs of its poorer citizens, four clergyman and a laywoman decided to combine their efforts in responding to the needs of their community by establishing the Charity Organization Society. Its role was two-fold; one that created a strong social service system and the other that organized their fundraising efforts. Through this first activity the Organization coordinated relief services, counseled and referred clients to participating agencies, and made joint grant assistance to individuals who could not be served by a particular agency. In this second activity, the Organization also served as a collecting agent for a wide-range of charities and itself.
It was this community planning and collaborative fundraising roles that formed the foundation of the modern United Way. As stated in the late 1880s, the Charity Organization Society must not only be a means to collect and disburse a common fund, it must act in an advisory and supervisory direction in securing greater efficiency and creating greater effectiveness in providing services to the community.
As we moved later into the 1800s and early 1900s, United Way’s predecessor organizations were working to create joint planning activities that would respond to the critical issues of the day. These challenges included unregulated child labor, poor sanitation, tuberculosis, delinquency and overcrowded housing among other difficult conditions that developed as America became more industrialized. This, coupled with a joint fundraising effort that became more focused and distinct over time, is the basis of today’s work at the United Way of Central Virginia.