Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Flying in the Face of United

I like donating money to causes important to me, from Planned Parenthood to the local Food Bank, from Direct Relief International to the Nation Associates. I don't like my employer and its representatives harping on me to give. I don't like giving to an organization that then gives my money out as it sees fit.

I don't like the United Way.

There, I've said it. I'm sure most of the people involved are genuinely altruistic, good-hearted, kind to puppies, recyclers of all their paper scraps, etc. Still, the organization drives me nuts. It makes giving seem corporate, somehow. Or that we need an intermediary to get between us and our possible goodness.

For instance on their SB site they write:

If you want to give a one-time gift directly to one charity, it might be easier for you to do so directly – United Way supports your desire for charitable giving no matter how you choose to make it. But we truly believe that partnering with us, by donating to our community care fund, is the best way to help the most people and your gift through United Way will bring real, meaningful change to issues affecting quality living for Santa Barbara County residents who need help.

So I guess my direct donation gives unreal, insignificant change. That I don't care about my community. That I'm niggardly with my partnering skills. That when I give on my own it's the worst way for the fewest people.

Yeah, I guess part of what irks me is that to do what United Way does they have to turn on the marketing BS and that in and of itself cheapens things. After all, I'm in the business, so when I'm given the business I get a bit touchy. Particularly when they come in twice weekly emails from a coworker roped into being a department rep for the campaign. It does seem as if you don't belong if you don't take part--like maybe you're not even worth working where you do if you don't cough up the cash.

Ultimately it's so very corporate--too much a product of our age. We can't even be charitable without an entire apparatus of middle-people pushing us to give, planning our benificence, hyping us up, repackaging our hope as something we can not just believe but truly believe.

I, for one, in my own far from united and stubborn way, believe I won't.



Blogger Ironicus Maximus said...

Right on George!
We've hated UW ever since we were accosted by them on our very first job.

That whole idea of charity as a competition never smelled right to us. Silver this and gold that made giving seem more about the givers than those in need. Not the way our momma brought us up.

And don't even get us started on that whole guilt trip laid down every year for 100% involvement. And you have to sign and return your form anyway even if you don't want to participate!


8:20 AM  
Blogger Christy said...

Thank you! The strongly encouraged United Way participation was one of my least favorite things about working at the university. I prefer to donate directly as well.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous kusala said...

You're maybe taking their hype a bit too personally and reading between the lines too much; I don't think their marketing copy is necessarily any worse than any other organization that competes for (and gets) our funds.

That being said, I ended my measly payroll deduction support of UW several years ago when they were still supporting the Boy Scouts after they fired Leonard Lanzi. I keep meaning to find out if UW still supports the BSA. If they've discontinued support, sometimes I feel like maybe I should restart my giving, if only because most of the funds are "distributed locally", and the other charities I give to tend to be further afield.

Either way, I'm not sure how UW got a monopoly on UCSB employees in the first place. One thing I do like about the program is that you can earmark your contribution to one specific cause if you want to. Still, the whole "Campaign! for! Giving!" always seems a little overblown, but it feels curmudgeonly to say that.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Trekking Left said...

I totally agree, George. It never sits well with me that -- with all the great organtizations out there -- this one seems worthy of "pressure" by your company to donate.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have supported the United Way in the past, and I think they do help the community. But the thing that bothers me, and prevents me from giving to them now, is their refusal to publish a complete financial statement. Check out most other non-profits (such as the Santa Barbara Foundation, which does an excellent job). Wouldn't it be great if the UW published a full and detailed "Sources and Uses of Funds," or a complete "Balance Sheet"? Seems like with all the CPA's and CEO's on their board, they'd insist on it!

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with all of the above but will not give a dime to United Way for an additional but very different reason. Does the name William Aramony ring any bells? He was the President and CEO of United Way for 22 years, a reign which came to an end in 1995, when Aramony was indicted and convicted by the Federal Government on 25 counts, including fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion, and sent to federal prison for seven years. During the trial, Aramony was shown to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of United Way's money to finance flings with teen-age girls, including receiving oral sex in the back of limousines he rented with the charity's funds, and of traveling all over the world using United Way monies. I am not making this up - read the New York Times account of his sentencing and related articles at

Aramony defrauded United Way of approximately $1.2 million, but following his conviction, he demanded to be paid his lavish United Way pension. Despite this horrendous and tawdry episode, a series of other scandals were found to have been occurred at United Way even after Aramony's reign.

Need I say more? I will never give another dime to United Way and sincerely hope they will not EVER come knocking on my door again, at my home or at the office.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Rickey Henderson said...

Here, here George: the UW allocates far too much of its donations to overhead and annoying marketing campaigns.

10:01 AM  
Blogger BG said...

The best reason to not give to the United Way is that 20% of your contribution goes to administrative expenses. By giving directly to the charitable organization of your choice, you're not wasting 20 cents on each dollar.

10:08 AM  
Blogger regina said...

I, too, resent the attempts at force-feeding UCSB employees on this United Way thing. In departments I've worked, no one is ever keen on being the department contact, as we all prefer to give to charities of our choosing independently. (I want my $ to go to my organization of choice, and not have some middle person slippig in, trying to get a cut.)

Also, I was told years ago by someone who used to work in the Chancellor's office that there is a tradition among the UC chancellors to try to outraise one another during the UW drive. And I'm not down with being a pawn in their game. How about trying to outdo the others by compensating staff on their respective campuses with the best salaries?

11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Based on the Charity Navigator website the United Way of Santa Barbara is one of the lowest rated charities in our area based on various criteria.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

I don't care what anyone says...

United Way is the best candy bar you can buy.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing us to the Charity Navigator site.

UW of SB County gets one star, out of a possible four. Their administrative expenses are 11.8% of their total, and their fundraising expenses are 22.0% (amazingly high, considering how much of the load is done by volunteers!).

It's a lot more efficient to give directly to your favorite agency, or to some place like the Santa Barbara Foundation.

Incidentally, the UWSB distances themselves from the national UW scandal of a decade ago very well, if you bother to ask.

4:02 PM  
Blogger George said...

What fine commenters I have--you just keep coming up with more reasons not to like United Way. With stats and references and everything.

Hugs all around.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you look further into the Charity Navigator rating of UWSB, you will see that the 1 star out out of 4 rating is an average of various criteria. Their actual "Efficiency Rating" is 0 stars!

10:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked for United Way for more years than I like to admit.

In its time, it was a great way to raise a lot of money at low cost for local charities.

Each United Way is independently governed, which is both good and bad. Some United Ways are well run, others very badly. California's are the worst run.

Today it is rattled by scandals from coast to coast. The latest are pension swindles by the local organization's CEOs amounting to millions in each case....Atlanta and Charlotte. The dude in Santa Barbara has been in his job 30 years and is considered a weird old duck by any standard. Santa Barbara's overhead is outrageous.

United Way is the Wall Street greed machine of the Charity Industry . Only the coercion of employees at work keeps it going. Workplace solicitation should be forbidden.

I should and do know the truth.

I give directly to my favorite causes. Not a penny to United Way. I'm embarassed to say I even worked there, and lie if people ask.

10:56 AM  

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