United Way’s have faced all kinds of challenges since the Community Chest concept arose in the 1930’s. The greatest strength of the United Way movement has always been its flexibility to meet changing conditions.

Never before have we been presented with so many opportunities for imaginative new solutions to ever changing conditions.

Fortunately the United Way can build on decades of campaign and community experience and can learn from the work of many dedicated volunteers. But these past experiences must be viewed as the propellers and not the anchors for future campaigns.

I would like to look at a few of the broad challenges that are now facing the United Way and how we can make these challenges into opportunities.


• We are viewed as being just another campaign.

• We are facing incredible inflation rates.

• Government programmes are threatening to over shadow the work of the voluntary sector.

• There are some elements of the ‘Me’ generation affecting the voluntary movement.

• We face aging support for aging agencies.

These are the positive kinds of challenges that keep the United Way young and vigorous. It is worth taking a look at some of them in more detail.


Whether it was called the Community Chest, the Red Feather, the United Appeal or, most recently, the United Way, the concept has always been to run one efficient, cost effective campaign for all the worthwhile needs in the community, except for those specifically covered by capital campaigns and for religious purposes.

I believe that our number one challenge is to make this one campaign concept a reality.

The challenge we face is that other major fund raising organisations appealing to similar publics have been doing a significantly better job at raising money than the United Way/Centraide. Although heart and cancer’s combined public campaigns amounted to $29,000,000 in 1980 compared to the United Way/Centraide’s $92,000,000, the campaigns of these two organisations have been significantly more successful over the past decade. The 1980 Canadian Heart Fund Campaign total represented a 78.5% increase over its 1970 campaign in constant dollars. The Canadian Cancer Society’s 1980 campaign total represented a 65.7% increase.

The 1980 United Way National Campaign represented 14.5% decrease in constant dollars over the 1970 campaign.

It is clear that these campaigns appeal to the emotions. As has often been said, “no-one dies from the United Way,” although this is hardly accurate when one looks at the blood donor campaigns through the Red Cross and other services.

It would be very advantageous if we could encourage the other major funds, principally heart, cancer and Salvation Army, to join once again with the United Way in a composite campaign.

This process is often called ‘inclusiveness’.

There is no doubt, however, that these campaigns will not join unless there is a clear advantage for them to do so.

The advantage may not come so much in additional dollars raised as in lowered campaign costs.

Last year in Vancouver I approached the other funds and received at best a lukewarm reception. However, I did get a somewhat more enthusiastic reception from corporations who were becoming increasingly tired of multiple campaigns that took excessive amounts of executive time, to say nothing of other costs.

I believe the time is right for a major push for the single campaign concept that has always been our strength. However, if this is going to be a reality we are going to have to show much greater flexibility than we have in the past.

There is no way that these organisations would consider becoming agencies of the United Way. They have been that route. They might, however, consider running joint campaigns as independent but cooperative organisations.

We have to use somewhat this approach with the Red Cross which in many United Ways is a partner in the fund raising process.

The advantage would be that we could assist these organisations in reaching corporations and employee groups that they could not otherwise reach, the cost to the United Way would be minimal as the same pledge cards, public relations, programmes and media presentations could be used.

I would go further to suggest that it would not be necessary for these organisations to drop their own campaigns, particularly if they felt they had to do some campaigning to maintain their own profiles. We did not object to the Boy Scouts continuing to run their Apple Day. We should not object to the heart fund continuing a home mailing programme with requests for donations if this is part of their public relations programme. Nor should we object to the Salvation Army doing street corner solicitations as this is part of their community image.

I would encourage the United Way of Canada and individual United Ways to open up such lines of communication with the other funds. If we do not take the initiative then I could see the United Way gradually losing its principal role of offering the public a truly United Way of supporting voluntary agencies.

It would cost the United Way next to nothing to give people an option of contributing to other campaigns on a single pledge card – a little accounting for a big benefit to everyone.


The second biggest problem is getting donors to reassess the base from which they are starting.

As noted earlier, the United Way has been losing ground to inflation since 1970. In fact, only in 1972 and 1978 were the nationwide United Way campaign increases greater than the annual rate of inflation.

I believe the solution to this problem must be to get the public to completely reassess the basis on which they give their United Way contribution. Last year I implemented a variation on the campaign to potential donors.

I instituted the idea of the United Way Day. The purpose was to get everyone in the community to consider giving one day’s pay a year for the work of the United Way agencies.

The advantage is obvious. As pay scales increase with inflation, so automatically would the annual donations to the United Way.

Of more importance, however, is the impact of people no longer thinking in terms of a percentage increase on a totally inadequate base.

We got the government of British Columbia to declare the opening day of the campaign United Way Day. On that day we conceptually asked everyone to consider that they were working for the agencies, and were doing this by working at their normal jobs but donating that day’s pay before tax, (it is tax deductible), for the agencies.

The results were fairly dramatic. We experienced about a 27% increase in employee giving. This helped to offset the difficulties we were encountering in a shaky economic climate in the province.

As I have often pointed out, people effectively work a third to a half of their working lives for the government, i.e. this is what they pay in taxes. Asking them to work one additional day for the United Way voluntary agencies is not too much to ask. I believe the approach was received in this way by the community.

There are of course other public relations advantages to this approach. It led to a much sharper focus on publicity. I still believe that our campaigns are drawn out over too long a period of time, and with some work we should be able to get shorter, snappier campaigns.

Naturally, this is not a one day campaign. The normal process leading up to payroll deduction and the use of household mailers would proceed as usual, i.e. people could still contribute on a year round basis.

However, with a little work, I believe we could get the United Way Day to be a major public relations push. We might consider phone-ins with pledges or other high profile approaches. We might use this to inject into the United Way some of the emotional attraction that Miles for Millions or other such pinpointed campaigns seem to have.

I am sure that the media would appreciate a new approach.


At our own United Way Annual Meeting I noted Grace McCarthy’s comment when she and I were discussing the United Way that, despite the $6.5 million raised in the Lower Mainland, this only amounted to several days expenditure from her Ministry of Human Resources.

I of course pointed out that there is a 5 to 1 leverage on the money raised through the United Way because of its support of volunteer effort in the community. I also noted that there are many agencies which should never be run by the government. I doubt if many of us would want the Boy Scouts or the Girl Guides or similar organisations to be totally funded by government.

However, if we are going to continue to co-exist with government programmes and find a role in parallel to what they do, then we are going to have to continue to be innovative in our approach to agencies.

I believe that one of the most effective uses of United Way funds is as ‘seed money’. The flexibility available from United Way funds can demonstrate the need for new services which ultimately may be or even should be supported by tax dollars.

I believe that we should not look upon all our current agencies as being the right ones to be supported by voluntary dollars.

It is very important to understand that if we are trying to keep up with inflation and we get ourselves tied to the ongoing support of agencies which are themselves very inflation prone, we may simply never be able to keep up, we should be ready to reassess the agencies we support to ensure that they are:

a) The kind that should never be wholly supported by the government; or

b) They are of the startup kind where some government support should be encouraged; or

c) Are those for which complete government support should be encouraged.

Like the Scouts we too must ‘be prepared’ to reassess and take action where need be. By the same token, it is vital that we look for new agencies to join the United Way family to ensure that we are presenting a well-rounded and well thought through programme for our communities.

The relationship with government goes even farther, in some communities such as the United Way of the Lower Mainland, our Social Planning Council is an integrated part of the organisation. This has its advantages, but it can make fund raising difficult if the roles are not well defined or each side is insensitive to the needs of the other.

Obviously we all promote the concept of constructive criticism. But being an advocate does not mean being an adversary. We would only be properly fulfilling our role as social critics if we are constructively complimentary to governments when they do a good job, just as we should be complimentary to other agencies whether they are part of the United Way movement or not.

It is up to us to show how we fill a parallel role to that of the government. If we do this then our fund raising will be better understood and hence more productive.


I simply do not believe that people are any less generous of their time and money than they ever were. However, they are becoming more selective.

As inflation puts pressure on their pocket books, we must expect them to shop around for the best buy for their charitable donations, just as they shop carefully for anything else.

It is becoming more vital than ever that we show that we provide value and that the cost/benefit is readily apparent.

We must emphasise the efficient 5 to 1 leverage on dollars expended through voluntary agencies.

But if we are to continue to get the right kinds of volunteers we must make them feel and be in a position of influence. The staff of the United Way agencies and the United Way itself does an excellent job, but it is a mistake to assume that the staff can run a campaign.

It is important that they see their role as being largely to educate, assist and involve their volunteers. But it is not fair to the staff to expect them to do our job.

One of the great advantages of the United Way is that it offers to business and labour leaders the opportunity to help their community by doing what they do best – organising and motivating.

Labour and business people are not by and large trained social workers but they can still participate in this way. They must, however, be recognised by the community for what they do. Further, we must broaden the base. How often have we all commented that we see the same old faces in every voluntary movement in our community. It is essential that we ask more people to get involved. We must also go after the younger executives rather than we old retreads.

It is important within your campaigns for the 80’s that you get a strong campaign advisory council to survey the communities and make sure that we are getting the new, younger leaders involved so that they can work up through the organisations and become the campaign leaders for the late 80’s and 90’s.


I have not seen any recent surveys, but I know when I was Campaign Chairman in Ottawa my greatest concern was that most of the support for the United Way came from people over thirty. This is hardly surprising because, of course, young families getting started have got major financial commitments, but we must avoid being in the position of Chiang Kai-shek’s army on Taiwan waiting for years to invade China – they were there in numbers but were getting less effective with every passing year!

In British Columbia we have had a great deal of success in getting youth involved through the universities. The enthusiasm of these groups is infectious. But this is a programme that we must concentrate on as these people are the donors and the community leaders of the future.

I have already emphasised the need for re-examining our agency portfolio. I believe that one way of keeping the United Way young is to recognise the trend in society toward Donor Option. The public may accept a package of agencies put together by volunteers in the community, but many wish to either opt out of donations to certain agencies or may wish to give only to some. For years the United Way has been concerned about this, but in fact if we were more flexible we would stand a much better chance of retaining such diverse groups as Catholic charities and Planned Parenthood. We should recognise a trend in some cities in the United States for the United Way to become the community fund raising body for any accredited cause, and should re-examine the concept of the ‘take it or leave it’ package.


There are many things we can do to keep the United Way young and vibrant. The idea of the One Campaign efficiently run on behalf of all worthwhile causes is as valid as it ever was. But we must face the challenges of the eighties by using our greatest traditional strength – the flexibility to meet changing conditions.

Good luck with your campaigns for the Eighties.