The history of the united way
The United Way of Leavenworth County was founded in 1956, and in that first year raised $61,000 for the community.
The organization we know today as United Way began as an effort to coordinate activities among local charitable organizations. The first such activity of which we are aware was held in Denver, Colorado, in 1887 when a priest, two ministers, and a rabbi recognized the need for cooperative action to address their city’s welfare problems. They created the Charity Organizations Society, the first "United Way" organization, to serve as an agent to collect funds for local health and welfare agencies, as well as to coordinate relief services, counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and make emergency assistance grants in cases which could not be referred. In its first effort, the new organization raised $21,700 in a consolidated fund-raising campaign for 22 agencies operating in Denver.
The idea of a coordinated fund drive for local charities soon spread to other communities. Eventually separate organizations were created in each community to handle the fund raising for the local charitable organizations. These individual organizations would become United Way.
However, United Way is about more than just raising money. Another important aspect is the distribution of the funds. The first program for distributing funds among all charities that participated in a joint fund drive was developed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1913. Similar programs were soon established in other communities. As these early programs grew, they also began setting standards and monitoring the performance of the local charities. Local councils were established to prevent overlapping services and to prohibit multiple solicitations by non-profit organizations.
In 1918, leaders of 12 local fund-raising federations from communities across the nation met in Chicago and formed the first national organization linking these local groups. In 1919, Rochester, New York, first used the name Community Chest, a name then widely adopted by similar organizations in other communities and used until the early 1950s.
This was followed by great growth in the number of Community Chests. From 39 such organizations in 1919, the number grew to 353 in 1929. By 1948 more than 1,000 communities had established similar organizations. These organizations had different names (including Community Chest and United Fund) before most adopted the name United Way in 1973.