Our Mission, Facts & History

Our Mission
We mobilize people, organizations and resources in a focused effort to advance education, income and health in our Greater Cleveland community.
Your Cleveland-area United Way:  A proud heritage of community service
The red feather, the torch, the helping hand...all symbols of the evolution of today's United Way and of the generosity and dedication of generations of Cleveland-area volunteers.

From its inception, the Cleveland-area volunteers were the first in the country to set up a volunteer-driven system to study human care needs, to allocate funds, and monitor their use. This "citizen review process" became the model for United Way organizations across the country.

For the first fund-raising campaign in 1913, for the Federation for Charity and Philanthropy, there was no dollar goal. The only goal was to involve as many contributors as possible. More than 6,000 individuals and organizations responded. The movement had begun. The benefits of a collective volunteer effort were realized dramatically during World War I as the War Commission and the Cleveland Welfare Federation joined the movement, and in 1917 together raised $4.5 million.

The peacetime Community Fund continued the human care effort in the decade following the war. As the Great Depression hit, the Community Fund became the first place to turn for the multitude of people and families without jobs. In 1929, more than 6,000 Cleveland-area families were provided with the basics of existence -- food, clothing, and shelter. Another 28,000 were taught how to feed, clothe, and care for their children. The efforts of this volunteer organization were appreciated, and 25 years after its inauguration -- in 1938 -- there were nearly a half million contributors, with close to 100 human care agencies benefiting. World War II refocused the efforts as the Community Fund became the War Chest, which supported relief work both at home and abroad.

Victory brought home the troops, and new human care needs were born, literally. The population boom and the need for job training added a different dimension to the demands for human care services. The new symbol of a generous America was the red feather, embellished in the late fifties with the symbol of the Red Cross.

Nearly 130 agencies were now benefiting from the funds raised during one, single, unified campaign, which raised close to $10 million. Each agency was reviewed, and programs and budgets scrutinized by teams of volunteers to make certain the money available served the most people possible.

In the decade of the 1960s, the newly named United Appeal (also called, for a time, the United Torch) began working with adjacent Geauga and Medina Counties and the City of Wickliffe in Lake County, just as the population itself spread to the suburbs.

Then, in the 1970s, the organization adopted a new symbol -- the helping hand -- and a new name -- United Way Services.

Through the 1980s and the '90s, United Way Services continued to be a catalyst for bringing together volunteers and community organizations, government officials, and others in partnerships to find community solutions to some tough problems but focused most funding within the United Way network of care.

In 1995, the Cleveland-area United Way underwent some dynamic changes. A strategic plan was formulated from an organizational study conducted by McKinsey and Co. to address the issues of a changing economic environment and increased competition for charitable dollars. New leadership followed with the appointment of K. Michael Benz as the new President of United Way by the United Way Board of Trustees. And, in late April, 1995 United Way moved to its new downtown headquarters at 1331 Euclid Ave., thanks to the generosity of a group of local benefactors. 

To better prepare our community and United Way for a new millennium, in late 1999 United Way began to look beyond traditional funding and allocation approaches to maximize the impact of limited health and human resources. What emerged as the vehicle for change was the well-tested and successful public-private partnership, a dramatic shift for United Way Services via a recommendation by an ad hoc blue ribbon, volunter task force called the Community Vision Leadership Council.

In the spring of 2001, the Council and its four coordinating committees of volunteer community leaders were made permanent by the Board of Directors at the business meeting preceding the official announcement of Community Vision Councils at United Way's Annual Meeting. In announcing United Way being in the business of solutions, its Chairman shared a new mission statement: United Way is a leading convener and funder of partnerships focused on solutions for our community's health and human service priorities. After having been a key funder of United Way programs, United Way became a committed partner in a unified community agenda where collaboration was the norm with all community funders and providers of health and human care services. In addition to protecting the safety net of core services, United Way and its partners focused on long-term solutions, guaranteeing donors and the entire community measurable results around four priorities: strong families = successful children, senior success, learning and earning for life, and health and caring for all.

In 2002, United Way of Greater Cleveland initiated the Core Services Planning Project, a three-year body of research that identified our community's health and human service needs. This project was undertaken with the support of the Board of Cuyahoga County Commissioners, the Mt. Sinai Healthcare Foundation and St. Luke's Foundation. The results: an in-depth analysis of 80 core community services and 21 health and human service consumer groups.

These reports provided the basis for United Way volunteers to determine which core services for which consumer groups at which stage of intervention would result in the most strategic approach to funding.

In 2006, United Way hosted a Community Dialogue with more than 500 health and human service stakeholders in attendance.

In early 2007, the Core Service Reports were released and publicly shared.

In the fall of 2007, United Way of Greater Cleveland's Board of Directors voted to adopt a new community investment strategy proposed by its Community Investment Division based on the Core Service Reports. This put into action policies that would change and strengthen the investment process that United Way had historically practiced in Cuyahoga County. Although United Way's allocation process had been sound and volunteer-driven, our community had changed, and the funding strategies needed to change to meet the needs of our residents.

The new investment strategy looks holistically at service alignment for consumers of services. It takes into consideration other public and private funding, and seeks to complement, rather than duplicate, what is being financed by others.

In the summer of 2008, United Way of Greater Cleveland Community Investment volunteers determined the agency's investments for fiscal year 2009 (June 30, 2008 through July 1, 2009) to fund providers of services aligned with the new strategies.  

Each year since, Community Investment volunteers have visited funded agencies to see how people and programs are working to improve lives. Through these visits and a review of agency budgets, volunteers evaluate the effectiveness of the programs fulfilling the community need and use this information when making future funding decisions.  

In 2010, $18.7 million was allocated to fund 202 health and human service programs and three federated agencies that serve more than 450,000 Greater Clevelander’s each year. And despite ongoing economic challenges that forced government, public and philanthropic funders to reduce or cut support to health and human service programs, thanks to the generosity of United Way of Greater Cleveland‘s 80,000 donors, United Way programs received no cuts.

In 2011, United Way revised its funding strategies. The decision making process encompassed information from two research studies: a demographic analysis was conducted by the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, and a public policy and funding analysis was prepared by the Center for Community Solutions. United Way also conducted 17 focus group conversations with currently-funded health and human service program executive directors to take the pulse of the current environment. Additional data gained through continuous monitoring and site visits of currently-funded programs also were considered in the decision making process. The result: United Way invested $18,172,860 to support 215 health and human service programs. 

In 2013, the Board of Directors moved to change the name of United Way’s investment area to Community Impact and transitioned from the previous six investment areas: Aging and Special Needs; Education, Children and Families; Community Health; Behavioral Health; Self Sufficiency and Basic Needs; and Capacity Building, to simply education, income and health. Although the names changed, the programs being funded did not. They were redistributed into the three new areas. United Way also continues to fund three federated agencies: Catholic Charities Health and Human Services, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and United Black Fund.

Give Now

United Way of Greater Cleveland mobilizes our community to give, volunteer and advocate to advance education, income and health. But we can’t do it without you. Whether you are a new donor or a loyal contributor, your support can help strengthen our community at this critical time.

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How I Live United

When we reach out a hand
to one, we influence the
condition of all. That's what
it means to LIVE UNITED.

We want to know how you
LIVE UNITED. How do you get involved? What organizations, causes and communities are close to your heart? How do you "Give. Advocate. Volunteer."?

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Upcoming Events

Rock the Catwalk
A Spring Fashion Show and fundraiser will be held at The Cleveland Museum of Art Thursday, May 14, 2015. Hosted by the Women's Leadership Council. Details >>

Our Mission

We mobilize people, organizations and resources in a focused effort to advance education, income and health in our Greater Cleveland community.