the United Way scam

At work they used a mandatory meeting to promote the United Way. While there is nothing wrong with giving to charity, the United Way is run more like a mafia than a charitable organization. United Way’s goal is to embed themselves with employers. They then use fear and intimidation to extract money from employees. Donations are expected from the entire workforce, and those who do not contribute are singled out as outliers. They might be skipped up for promotion or not given good assignments. After giving to the United Way, one feels more like they just got done with a mugging then a charitable donation.

The strong-arming is one thing, but the end projects for these donations range from worthless to absurd. No one in their right mind would claim that $100 donation to the United Way is the most efficient and sociality beneficial use of that $100.

The above video is for the South Dakota region. Excluding data from the Indian reservations (aka Tragedy of the Commons / Moral Hazard problems), not only does South Dakota have an extremely low poverty rate but also a minuscule unemployment rate as well. For example, Sioux Falls, the largest urban area in South Dakota, has a poverty rate of 8.4% compared to a national average of about 13% and also an unemployment rate of 4.4% compared to the national average of 9%. Usually urban rates tend to be higher than the rural rates.

This is also using the US definition of poverty ($22k per year) which is radically different than the world definition of poverty ($1.25 per day).

If any South Dakotan is in need of help, it would be the American Indians on the reservations. But, chances that the United Way would not just contribute to the problem are slim to none.

Instead, the United Way gives lavish food to rich Americans, all the while fostering pride in taking handouts (I wonder who they will vote for when they grow up). Other programs apparently involving following around janitors with video cameras and also stashing away the elderly. Does one think that this is the best use per dollar. I can think of a few much better uses off the top of my head.

The particular speaker to whom I listened stated that the backpack food program usage rose from 45% to 60% of children at his school. He said that this shows the US is increasing in poverty and that there is also a greater need for donations. Oddly, he also claimed this increase shows success, showing the usefulness of his organization. When a sign of “needing more money” is a sign of a successful program, that indicates that the program is broken.

Giving to the United Way is a scam.

About christopher fisher

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31 Responses to the United Way scam

  1. Maria says:

    Wow, just… wow. If this is the Biblical view of reality, I have never never been happier not to be a Christian.

    I have never worked for an employer that partners with the United Way and asks employees for money, so I can’t really comment on that, even though your statements seem unlikely and possibly just your feelings based on your views about charitable giving.

    However, I do work and volunteer with several of the “worthless” and “absurd” causes/organizations that receive funding from the United Way.

    I volunteer with a rape crisis center. I am an advocate that goes into hospitals after someone has been sexually assaulted. United Way funding helps us provide the victim with a change of clothing after his/her clothes are taken for evidence collection.

    The United Way also gives funding to where I work. Their funding allows us to help victims of intimate partner violence by providing free legal representation, court advocacy, help filing for orders of protection, and safety planning.

    The United Way also helps fund an organization that I volunteer with that provides batterer intervention programs to help those that abuse their partners end violent behavior. Their programs also include outreach and education in the community about intimate partner violence.

    You wrote this post about two years ago, so the stats have changed, but it seems strange to me that you think those living in South Dakota dont need help because only 8% live in poverty and 4% are unemployed. If you are in those percentages – your need for help isn’t dependent on how many other people need help.

    Also, I wanted to point out that $22,000 is the federal poverty line for a family, not an individual. The way this amount was derived has not caught up with modern costs of living in the US and should in fact be adjusted to reflect rising costs.

    There are people in the US who live on less than $1 a day, but to compare world extreme rates of poverty to the US is “absurd” and “worthless”. Why should one of the most affluent countries in the world compare itself to the poorest? That would be like saying, “Our schools are fine, there is no need for reform or improvement – our schools are better than in Afghanistan!” Countries with high extreme poverty rates are apples and the US and other wealthy countries are oranges.

    People living in extreme poverty need help, certainly. However, that doesn’t mean other people don’t need help. I hear the argument you are making often. It isn’t new or uncommon. If someone says we should feed the elderly, someone will say “What about children?” as if that somehow negates the need of the elderly suffering from food scarcity. It doesn’t make sense unless you truly just don’t want to help anyone.

    • Ma’am,

      What does the term “opportunity cost” mean to you? In standard economics it is known as what you are giving up to do something. If I spend one hour playing video games, the opportunity cost is one hour mowing the lawn or one hour spending time with my children.

      Now think about this in relation to the United Way: what is the opportunity cost of 1 dollar spent on “the United Way”. If your goal is to help “the impoverished”, “the downtrodden”, or “the abused”, how could you possibly think that the one dollar spent on the “United Way” represents the best dollar spent? The United Way, while being rife with corruption, overhead costs, and directing its charity to people who are more well off than 90% of the world’s population, is about least utility you can get for your dollar. You might get warm fuzzies by wasting your money, but I don’t.

      A family of 4 making $23,050 in America is super rich compared to the rest of the world (part of the richest 4.3%), but that level is masked by all the wealth transfers that do not add into income (food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, ect). As Jesus said “the poor will always be with you”, and that is statistically true in America by the way we define “poor”. If the government paid $1 million dollars to each America “poor” family through transfers, this still would not count towards their income and they would still be classified as “poor”. Wow!

      Besides this, “how deserving are American poor”:

      And, by giving charity to those who are poor, are you perpetuating that poverty?

      You reveal yourself as xenophobic when you ignore the rest of the world, who live in poverty not because they value instant gratification too much (unlike the American “poor”). They are poor because they are truly OPPRESSED by their governments, under socialism, communism and other forms of fascism. I assume you are fine with the increasing fascism in this country, such as ethanol subsidies that increase food costs. I bet you support many of the government interventions that cause a culture of instant gratification and wealth destruction.

      I am not saying everything done by United Way is wrong or evil, nor am I saying that every charity for Americans is bad. I am saying you need to re-evaluate how to maximize your resources. You also need to re-evaluate what “poor” is. Could one of your “poor” families live at a 1950s standard of living at their current wage? Better yet, how many of them would volunteer to time travel back to the 1950s, keeping their current income? The more you understand about how miserably impoverished these years were, the more you will realize how you over-emphasize the increased costs of living.

      The link is by economist and anti-Christian Bryan Caplan.

  2. Steve Brett says:

    The United Way does not provide any services they fund Agencies. As for “everyone gives” that is absurd as there are those in the workforce that receive help from the funded agencies. Your facts are very biased and outdated. I participate in a United Way campaign at work and have never been been put under pressure to donate. Granted some companies want to look good with a high participation rate however this is not the United Way expectancy or message, it is the company.

    • Sir,

      I thank you for your consideration. This article was written in 2010, and represents my experiences with the United Way. Before that job, I held no opinion of United Way (only tenuously knowing they give money to this nation’s largest child killer (Planned Parenthood)).

      If I am “biased” it is because I have experienced United Way first hand, just as a witness of a murder might be “biased”.

      I do not believe my facts are outdated. United Way is still actively pursuing the same strong-arm tactics. I am not saying they strong-arm everyone, but just the fact that they strong-arm large amounts of people should give us pause. Just a few weeks ago this was posted on a similar site:

      robert 5 weeks ago
      i worked for the us government in a civil service position. one year i just could not afoort to give my “fair share” to united way i was ordered to the comanders office, and was told to borrow the money or forfite my position . my “fair share” was $400.00. i borred and gave.

      My facts about “opportunity cost” (if you read the comments) will never go out of date. Look at the activities funded by United Way and then tell me again how that is the best use of your dollar?

      Thank you.

  3. Casper says:

    Planned parenthood is not a funded agency. However, donors are given the ability to designate where they want their contributions to go. If I contribute and designate it to planned parenthood then the united way must give the contribution to planned parenthood. You clearly are not educated enough to have an opinion on this subject. Frankly, you sound foolish.

    • Yes, PP is funded. And money is fungible.Here is from United Way’s website:

      “United Way funded programs through Planned Parenthood include community health maintenance, e.g. communicable disease prevention; medical care service; family planning; health education; public awareness services; and family preservation and strengthening services, e.g. counseling and family life education.”

      So I am going to take this time to call you a liar. Here is an article that can help you on your path to honesty:

    • Steve says:

      United Way is the most efficient way to fund agencies. The overhead is low and each United Way funds local agencies. Through a small United Way in South Sarasota over 66,000 children, families and seniors were assisted by one of twenty seven funded agencies. Please don;t tell me that this effort is a sham and worthless. I suggest you call your local United Way and ask questions. Your opinion will change dramatically.

      • United Way does have low overhead. My objection has not been graft or cronyism. My objections to United Way, if you read the article and comments, are: 1. Their strong arm tactics against employees 2. The low value of their end product 3. Their support of abortion

        If you were raising a family of 3 children, and an outside agency coerced you through threats to donate to their “worthy cause”, you too would call “scam”.

        • Steve says:

          It is not the United Way that strong arms donors it is the companies that the donors work for. I am well aware of some companies that want 100% participation however this is the CEO, President or company leader wanting to be over zealous and look good. United Way in my neck of the woods always advocates choice. After all it is your money and your choice where to invest it. If the employee sees the value of their dollar helping a special needs child then it is their choice not the mandate of the United Way. Planned Parenthood when funded is not for the obvious reasons. Education of youngsters is generally the reason. If you have ever sat in a room full of 13-16 year old girls who are a attending school through a special class for pregnant teens and asked the question ” If you had known would you be here”? and received the reply resoundingly “No” then you may understand the program and the value of education. The parents unfortunately don’t always provide the knowledge. As far as the low end value of the product tell that to a senior whose only contact is with Meals on Wheels and their only meal each day is the one provided. Tell it to an abused woman or child desperately needing a safe place and serious counseling.

          • More about my own situation. My employer was the government. This was a federal agency jumping into bed with United Way and using strong arm tactics to press for donations. Not only was there the implicit understanding that everyone had to give (or face consequences), but each person deciding not to give had to sign a paper explicitly stating that they chose not to contribute. It is illegal for the government to endorse charities, but they did. It was a scam of epic proportions.

            The government and businesses usually are not this adimate about pressing paticular chairties unless there is some catch. Otherwise they would encourage giving but be happy with any charity. My guess is that there was a Good Old Boys club somewhere that included United Way employees. Having read other testimonials, this seems to be a fairly systematic practice for United Way. I would not be suprised if they were not also getting some sort of kickbacks.

            I will also note that this problem is not in every United Way. A couple of months ago, after I moved to another state, a United Way rep asked me how the previous state achieved their numbers. I straight out explained the situation, and he seemed fazed with the impropriety of it all.

            About Planned Parenthood: money is fungible. Pretend you have an axe murderer. He has to use his own money to both feed himself and buy axes for his murderinig hobby. If you are a good Samaritian you might give him a Subway gift card thinking “he can’t use this money on axes.” But what you do not realise is that you are offseting his food costs. Money he would before have to use on food, he now can use on axes. The same holds for any Planned Parenthood money coded for other activities. We should not fund abortonists.

            Because the United Way distributes some uncoded money to Planned Parenthood, this same rule applies. Some Pro-life groups boycot the United Way for this very reason.

            As to value, value is subjective. But I will ask you what I asked a previous commentor: “Is that dollar you are giving to United Way the most productive use of that dollar?”. For example, 3 billion people in the world live on less than $2.50 per day. At the same price of feeding one American you could feed half a dozen people living in poverty. These are people living in world poverty; they would kill to live in American poverty. Now it is your own money, you can do what you want. I would not fault anyone for spending their money on the American poor. But I ask you, “does United Way represent the optimal use of that dollar if your goal is to help people?”.

            Even if you prioritize Americans over other people. You can fund education for students and food for the elderly through other avenues than United Way. That way you can ensure your funds are being used for your project, and not offsetting funds for projects you do not support.

  4. poquimoqui says:

    I too work for a large corporation that has made it a corporate goal to donate to UW 100%. Well, they haven’t reached that goal yet because there are a handful of people like me who refuse to donate to UW. We have taken our donation money and have donated it directly to a local charity. My department has become like a bully on UW donations. They hold 3-4 meetings during the campaign of 1-2 hours long where we hear sad stories of people in dire circumstances. Most of the people in the room have tears in their eyes and rush to donate part of their paycheck after those meetings. At our last meeting, they said that we were at 97% and really needed to reach the 100% mark but some selfish employees were not willing to be part of a good cause. So the company donated money in behalf of us “selfish” employees so that we could claim 100% donation to UW. I spoke with HR and asked that no donation be done in my name and they have since removed my name from the list, yet the company still claims 100% donations.

    Thanks for the article and for making a very clear argument of why Christians should donate to causes directly rather than to the UW.

  5. jim in Texas says:

    I have worked for several companies, including my present employer, who have annual “giving campaigns” that are pushed on employees with a fervency that has always made me suspicious. Why is it always just United Way? Why does my boss all but insist that his employees give?
    We are currently going through our annual “giving” campaign, and have almost daily meetings and social events to promote this charity. I’d love to see a good piece of investigative journalism into their practices. They’ve had disgraced CEOs in the past, but for personal reasons, like bilking money out of the organization, but they seem to be above recrimination based solely on the fact that they “do good.” This doesn’t mean they “do good” well or ethically, by any means. It seems very odd that this one organization should be so prevalent and dominant in this arena, and very suspicious that companies almost foam at the mouth about getting their employees to contribute. The dynamic is the same at every company that’s done this where I’ve worked. Management preys on their positions of power over employees to “suggest” donations, making departments and divisions compete against each other, creating a climate where you are seen as the bad guy if you choose not to contribute. There may not be any laws being broken, but that very fact may be the largest factor contributing to their success; that they can extort money from employees in ways that are fully legal, but ethically questionable. Why does my employer concern himself with my charitably giving at all?

  6. Susan says:

    Your employer concerns himself with your charitable giving because some people are never taught the importance of giving at home. Large companies function as ethical organizations hopefully. From my view at the United Way of Orange County California, we are rated very highly by Charity Navigator. We send 82 cents of every dollar in our local community. Our financials are transparent. We send employees home when there is not enough to do. One CEO out of hundreds was arrested and charged with fraud and put in jail, where he died in the last several years. One man out of many good people who work very hard at this organization. I think you should come visit us here, where integrity is born out of hard work and the commitment to treat all human beings with respect. Whether you are asking them to give to a campaign or helping them with a hand up. I should know. I was helped by the United Way, and I now work for the United Way. And the people here do nothing but work hard to for lasting change.

    • I am glad you guys are working for good. The argument here is not that you are not doing good things, but that the way you do good things is through threats and coercion.

      My experience and the experience of several commenters here (and elsewhere) is that United Way embeds itself with employers in an almost mafia type manner, extracting money by threats. I mean, it is good for organizations to help people, but if they are doing so by forcibly extracting money from others then their good deed is turned into an evil act. As I mention in the comments, my organization was a government entity, which makes the acts of the organization and the United Way highly illegal as well.

      • Susan says:

        Being bullied by an employer or individuals in an organization, be it United Way or otherwise, is not the way forward. Did you speak out? Did you address it at the time? Did you offer alternatives? Are we victims of our system or do we act to make it better. We are invited to come to the companies that I present at, and we do seek to engage employees during regular meetings because we don’t use up extra time. I ask for support from the people who I speak to, but there is never a guarantee they will give. What is sad Christopher, is that I often hear people speaking the words you say, but what I see from the inside of United Way doesn’t match what you are saying. I think what you are up against has more to do with the people you are working with ( or worked with) than with the organization. Blaming United Way doesn’t seem to be the right answer to me.

        • Ma’am, You are correct, of course. At the time I could not challenge the system for fear of reprisals. I should have filed a formal complaint with the IG as I left. I missed that opportunity and others to expose corruption. In a way, this post serves as reconciliation for that mistake.

      • jermel blockton says:

        I’ve donated to unitedway for three years every paycheck so have 90 % of the company employees. I know people who were in bad situations needed help unitedway never helped. But yet at these meetings I’m seeing family’s who are getting help getting out hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. But they can help someone pay a 300$ light bill.

        • Steve says:

          You are misinformed. United Way does not help people – the agency’s who are funded by the United Way help. In most United Way communities there is a 211 phone number where those in need can call and be directed to an agency that can help. If help is not given by an agency then there is generally a reason why not. Someone behind on a light bill but spending excessive amounts of money on alcohol probably needs counseling and priorities need to be set. I have heard this comment, United Way did not help me many, many times.
          I also comment that each United Way is autonomous from other United Way’s as the donations raised are strictly used for helping agencies serve people in their geographic area. In other words what is raised in each individual United Way stays in the community. I have been associated with many United Way’s and before assuming what is returned to the community through agency’s ask for a copy of the 990. The majority of United Way’s are returning 80 – 85% of donations directly back to the agencies who provide the help.

    • brian crockett says:

      the ceo of the united way makes 500,000 per year, how exactly is that ok??

  7. hitrestart1 says:

    I see a lot of people here making the classic UW defense: “It’s not United Way pressuring employees to relinquish $ to UW, it’s the EMPLOYER.”

    But it’s United Way crawling into bed with these mega-corporations and big businesses while being fully aware these tactics have been and continue to be employed that makes UW equally culpable.

    Having been on the receiving end of that strong-arming, and being intimidated into pledging a portion of the meager fruits of my labors under the implied threat of losing my job left a lasting impression. Furthermore, it happened at 3 different companies, so rather than being rare this is a theme.

    I escaped the corporate world years ago. I got out of giving to United Way long before that.

  8. Paul S. says:

    The United Way is known for fraud at the national and local levels. We know about employees and CEOs embezzling money, but what about the accounting practices overall? Charity Navigator posted an article by the New York Times regarding the shady accounting practices of local United Way agencies. The article is from 2002, but the executives at the United Way admitted it does not have strict accounting standards for local agencies to follow, thus I doubt the culture of double counting has changed.

    Snippets from the article:
    “Some United Way organizations, trying to appear more successful and more efficient with their donors’ money, are counting contributions in ways that make the numbers look more robust — and expenses look smaller.”

    “Moreover, the United Way of America’s reporting guidelines direct its 1,400 members to count as their own contributions money that was actually handled by or raised for competing organizations in shared campaigns, the executives said. The guidelines also tell members to count as contributions the value of volunteers’ time, a practice many other charities frown on, although it is permissible in limited circumstances.”

    “No one disputes its good intent. But its accounting practices raise questions for potential donors who want to know precisely how much of their contributions go to people in need rather than the organization helping them. In effect, these practices, by artificially inflating reported contributions, make it seem as if expenses consume a smaller portion of donor dollars. That makes United Way look better against competing charities at a time when more and more donors are relying on services that rate charities.
    ”Because they miscount the totals, they start off with a faulty number,” said Rick Cohen, president of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog group in Washington. ”That’s their fundamental flaw.”

    Therefore, if you check websites like Charity Navigator to see what percentage of donations go to people in need, and what percentage goes to administration fees/advertising/fundraising, the United Way’s numbers cannot be trusted.

    Also, if you earmark your donation for a specific charity that amount is simply subtracted from United Way’s budgeted to Charity A. Net result Charity A received the same amount from United Way.

    • Andrew B says:

      “No one disputes its good intent.” I doubt their good intent, very much so. Forcing people to do “good” isn’t good, though the idea sounds quite seductive. And people who try to seduce have no good intentions.

  9. Chris says:

    I too am again being pressured as are my peers to contribute to the United Way. This includes a talk from my direct supervisor and a letter addressed to me from our CEO. My peers have received the same letter and many of us feel the pressure of reprisals if we do not contribute to maximizing the company’s participation rate (pointed out in the letter). This is not our charity of choice as many of us tithe and give to other charities and ministries. You can’t help but to be suspicious of tactics that the company would otherwise claim as unethical and/or discriminatory. As a matter of fact, the company has been emphasizing the use of the ethics hot line for just these types of bullying situations.

    • I am glad to hear that there is at least some recourse, unless that is meant as some sort of placebo. One has to wonder if anyone in these companies are getting kickbacks, with how emphatically they press for donations.

  10. L.G. says:

    United Way is not helping people in need. And I have experienced the strong arming, the incredibly militaristic enforcement of deductions from paychecks to the United Way, perpetrated by many corporations. Nordstrom was one of them. I refused to let them deduct from my meager paycheck (most of my salary was lost every week at Nordstrom due to customer returns, anyway. I certainly couldn’t afford anymore deductions! Nordstrom customers aren’t aware that their returns come out of employee paychecks.) But Nordstrom insisted I must give to the United Way, when my take home wasn’t enough to keep me living like a rat!
    Clearly, the billions that are coerced from hardworking poor Americans fof this FARCE are being spent for something other than helping Americans. The onlslaught of daily/nightly United Way advertising is nothing less than evil.
    The single biggest regret of my life is that while employed by one corporation for 14 years, I gave weekly contributions, totalling nearly $10,000, to the United Way, believing what I now know was propaganda/lies, that the United Way helps individuals in need and communities. Now that I”m over 60 and can’t find affordable housing or employment, when I’ve called the United WAy for help, all I get is a Satanic voice telling me to try every thing I’ve already done.
    LOOK AROUND YOU, FELLOW AMERICANS. America has become the kind of shithole that Trump claims is only in African countries and Haiti. Why? So that 1% of the population can be billionaries. If the United Way was doing anything to help the needy, why has America become such a shithole?

  11. Eva. says:

    This is just a very mild form of what y’alls went through… but I felt very pressured to sign up for United Way during orientation for my first job. Our instructor, a super sweet lady, did mention that this was completely voluntary and whatever you put in was “between you and the computer” but all the same, there she was, right over my shoulder. I should have said something… but y’know, you don’t want to cause a scene. Especially on your first job. 🙂
    But as soon as I got home, I switched my donations and am now giving double the amount to a company fund for my fellow employees who are going through tough times.
    So I was a UW donor for all of one afternoon.
    When I found this post I crossed my fingers hoping that since it’s been a few years, things have changed, but looking at all the comments, evidently not. It’s a pity.

  12. Liz says:

    I live in Toronto. Although there is also 100% participation expected for every year’s United Way campaign, it takes two to tango. Company’s top management has to agree with that concept for it to work.

    Having said that, United Way compensates their employees too well though. Just to have United Way Toronto as an example. Their total compensation for all positions in 2018 is close to 25 millions ($24,896,894.00) for 221 full time employees and 62 part-time. Two employees got paid over $350,000 and 4 got paid at $250,000-$299,9994. All those information are transparent on Canada CRA Charity Listing web page.

    To be honest, I know many CEOs or EDs of front line service agencies (who are great speakers and pull in many overtime hours) get paid less than a United Way manager (who basically assigns work to continuous supply of volunteers and intern students). Not to mention the service and resources provided to those in need are peanuts (as demands are high). It is like a pyramid with United Way on top, then their partner agencies in the middle and clients at the bottom. That is pretty sad.

    As an employee who knows my organization would never be able to catch up with United Way’s compensation to their staff, I am not motivated to give at all. Yes my organization does emphasize 100% donation but I usually give either $20 lump-sum or $1 per pay cycle just to get it over with. I myself will not encourage people who makes less than 6 figures to donate to United Way (better to save it for family or friends in need). But I do agree United Way has served the community for many years and should have certain expertise on its needs. Hence I pray that people who makes huge salary will give generously to United Way to continue its operation while people who barely makes enough (i.e. me) should be spared.

  13. If we do or don’t do it, someone will laugh

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