The concept of United Way originated in Denver, Colorado in 1887 when four clergymen and one public-spirited woman formed the first joint appeal for organized help in the United States. Their immediate goal was to help people who came searching for riches in the gold mines but instead, found misfortune. The philosophy that launched that first federated fundraising effort is still true of United Way today. Contributions are sought from everyone – not just the wealthy, and the money is distributed where it is needed most.
United Way born in Cumberland County
The United Way ideal took root in Cumberland County in April 13, 1939. Representatives of the YMCA, The Salvation Army, Boy Scouts and Cumberland County Association for the Blind (known today as the Vision Resource Center) met at the former Anderson Street YMCA Building to lay the foundation for a Community Chest in Fayetteville. They were motivated by a “spontaneous demand on the part of the citizens for an organization to combine drives for all worthy purposes on one big campaign,” according to a news report in the Fayetteville Observer. By the time of the first Community Chest drive, three other organizations became affiliates, Girl Scouts, Travelers Aid and the PTA free lunch program. The first funds drive goal was $18,399.
In the 1950’s, the Community Chest hired its first full-time professional director and the name of the organization was changed to United Services Fund. Known also as the United Fund, the organization operated under strong business principles and the key to its fundraising success was payroll deductions. Ft. Bragg launched its first funds drive to benefit the United Fund. Following a national trend, the Cumberland County Chapter of the American Red Cross became affiliated with the United Fund.
In the 1960’s, President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order making health and welfare agencies eligible to receive gifts from federal employees through payroll deduction. As a result, what is now the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) started when three fundraising campaigns were consolidated into one.
The 1970’s was a time of change. The United Fund helped to establish an independent Planning Council, whose purpose was to study human-care problems and resources in the community, in order to help the Fund Distribution Committee spend fundraising dollars wisely. The United Fund Board of Directors voted to change the organization’s name to United Way. The Planning Council merged with United Way, which accepted a larger role in solving the community human-care problems. United Way services expanded over the next decade.
In the 1980’s, United Way became administrator for distribution of funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and initiated Response Grants to meet specific needs. The 1990’s were banner years for United Way. The organization began administration of the Youth Growth Stock Trust. By the late 1990’s, the United Way of Cumberland County’s general campaign fund grew to more than $4 million.
In 2003, United Way of Cumberland County completed its first needs assessment in over 7 years. Over 4,000 household surveys and an additional 100 surveys to key informants were mailed. Results showed that the five focus areas that the United Way of Cumberland County introduced in 1991, continue to be current human service issues and needs in our community. The results also showed an emerging issue in addressing family violence.
Today, United Way of Cumberland County continues to conduct needs assessments and work with local leaders to further understand local issues. Through wise investments of donor dollars, United Way of Cumberland County is leading the effort to meet priority and emerging needs in our community.