Some form of annual community fund drive has existed in Marion County, Ohio since the mid-1930s. The Crusade Foundation, as it was known then, went through numerous mergers and name changes until September 1, 1972, when the name of United Way of Marion County (UWMC) was formally adopted by the local Board of Trustees. That year, United Way raised $347,000 for the agencies in its membership.
For many years, United Way was primarily a fundraiser for community agencies. However, with the changes in technology, economy and marketplace, United Ways all over the country were becoming less and less effective. Donors could easily choose whom to support over a web site – they didn’t need a “middle man.” In addition, the problems in our communities were not improving. Millions of people still suffered from homelessness, hunger and lack of decent employment and health care. The process wasn’t working.
That’s when United Ways realized that they had been raising money for years to treat symptoms rather than root causes. This realization prompted a major shift in philosophy – from fundraiser to problem solver. UWMC, along with thousands of other local United Ways, began to research issues in the community and set priorities. We began to ask questions like, “Why are people homeless and how can we help them to find a home and become self-sufficient?” If they are homeless because they can’t find a job, then we need to help them become employable and find employment. If they are homeless because they don’t understand how to budget, then we need to teach them budgeting skills. The object is not to give them a meal and a bed in a shelter – it’s to make sure they never need a shelter again.
In order to accomplish this kind of lasting community change, we shifted our focus from what agencies need to what our community needs. We have become much more than a fundraiser. We have become a researcher of and educator on community issues, a full partner in addressing those issues and an expert in measuring whether we’re making a progress.
Based on local research, UWMC currently funds programs at area agencies and community initiatives. These programs are designed and required to produce positive impacts for specific strategies in four primary areas: education, financial stability, health and safety net or emergency needs.
Early in 2011, the United Way of Upper Sandusky and Pitt Township made the decision to close its doors. Its aging volunteer staff was tired, and fundraising was quickly dwindling. In April of 2011, after much research and discussion, UWMC took on the responsibility for United Way activities in Wyandot County.
Similarly, in 2016, the Crawford County United Way began discussions with UWMC to merge. UWMC was already providing back office operations, and a history of director turnover had taken its toll. Paperwork was completed in late 2016 to make everything official.
Today, UWMC has become a regional organization, directing the United Way long-term community impact and fundraising activities across three north central Ohio counties. Lessons learned in one location can be applied to another without “reinventing the wheel.” Economies of scale can be employed and training shared to ensure a quality organization and experience for donors and partners.