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John McMillin: How much do you know about United Way?

John McMillin • Updated May 29, 2018 at 6:00 PM

How much do you know about United Way? One of our state United Way directors has a lead-in to an explanation about this very thing. In his words, he conducted an informal survey in which he asked people he encountered in elevators, on the street and in meetings, what does United Way do? Their answers amazed most other statewide directors at the time.

Basically, few people offered more detail than, “well, they do good things.” That’s a nice compliment, but perhaps it’s time we explain a little more about ourselves. With that in mind, this column and the next one will focus on questions we’re asked quit a lot.

What does United Way do? First, you should know that our local United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland raises funds locally, and that money helps local individuals. We have 13 counties in our area now, but unless you designate your pledge to go elsewhere, it stays here, helping local individuals.  Internationally, United Way is engaged in nearly 1,800 communities across more than 40 countries and territories worldwide. As the largest privately-funded nonprofit in the world, we create solutions that build stronger communities. We're improving education, strengthening financial stability and making communities healthier. But we don't do it alone. Nearly 2.6 million volunteers and 9.6 million donors are engaged with us across the world to advance community-based and community-led solutions.

We bring people and organizations together to do more than any of us can do on our own. Employers, nonprofits, government, faith organizations, educators, labor, health providers, community leaders, youth and many others partner with us. Together, we tackle some of the world's toughest issues. We're after solutions that create real change. It's not simple, or easy. But we're making progress and seeing results.

As you can see from the previous question, with so many local United Ways representing thousands of different communities, many campaigns are different.  However, one question we are asked is, as an employee, will I be forced to give or, sometimes we have heard from an employee who tells us they felt pressure to give at a former workplace.

Here’s how we feel about this. Giving should always be a personal matter and decision, free from coercion. We don't want campaigns using undue pressure in any way, shape or form. That's not what we are, and it's in direct conflict with our operating standards. That's why we conduct training programs for fundraisers. We emphasize the use of information and education, not pressure tactics. We recommend that workplace fundraising be led by peers, not managers. And we discourage the practice of setting 100-percent participation as a campaign fundraising goal.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at [email protected]

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