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History

United Way of Missoula County

 

For nearly 90 years, United Way of Missoula County has served as one of western Montana’s leading health and human service organizations.

Our mission is to harness the caring power of community to improve conditions in education, financial stability, and health – the building blocks of a good life.  Our vision is of a western Montana where everyone, especially our most vulnerable neighbors, are healthy, educated, and thriving.  Toward that end, United Way serves as a convener, leader, collaborator, champion and/or creator of broad, community-wide initiatives that find, implement, and evaluate solutions to pressing challenges in the areas of education, financial stability and health.  In partnership with the business, philanthropic, public-sector, faith, nonprofit, educational, and medical communities, United Way programs and initiatives are working to decrease childhood obesity, reduce suicide, start children on the path to lifelong learning, improve health equity, end homelessness, and improve outcomes for children 0-5.  

We also are the fiscal sponsor of the new Missoula Nonprofit Center, a virtual hub connecting the nonprofit community in Missoula, Mineral and Ravalli counties to volunteers, resources, trainings, networking opportunities, and more.  Combining the Missoula Nonprofit Network with Volunteer Missoula, the Missoula Nonprofit Center serves as a connection site for nonprofit professionals and potential volunteers. 

United Way of Missoula County raises approximately one million dollars from private sources annually.  Although funds raised in Missoula are invested in Missoula, and we operate with substantial autonomy, United Way of Missoula County is one of 1,800 community-based affiliates of United Way Worldwide, the nation’s largest privately supported nonprofit organization. With collective revenues of $4 billion+, and a substantive presence in 45 countries, United Way Worldwide sets rigorous membership criteria and aspirational standards of excellence for its local affiliates.  United Way Worldwide also provides its members with access to significant funds, training and networking opportunities, and award-winning branded materials and programs.  Annually, all United Ways certify their adherence to high standards and comprehensive requirements in the areas of financial reporting, governance, ethics, diversity, and operations.

The evolution of our programming. 

For our first seven decades, United Way was known principally as a clearinghouse that distributed charitable contributions.  Funds raised – principally through payroll-deduction campaigns in workplaces (as described below) – were granted to a variety of other health and human-service nonprofits.  Over the past 10+ years, however, our programmatic emphasis shifted – deliberately – from making grants to other nonprofits to supporting the broad, community-driven initiatives described in the above section.  This reflects a shift from focusing on agency needs to focusing on community needs.  

Following the lead of, and with guidance from, United Way Worldwide, we also narrowed our focus to education, financial stability, and health, in order to better deploy our limited funds where they can make the most difference.  We deliberately transitioned from funding short-term strategies and unaligned programs to a collective impact model, where the entire community works together to develop and implement prevention-focused strategies that lead to effective, measurable long-term solutions to deeply entrenched problems.  

Although we continue to honor donor designations to qualified 501(c)3 organizations in Missoula and Ravalli counties, United Way’s work in the 21st Century centers on supporting – with funding, volunteers, in-kind support, and networking – this community-developed, community-driven work.  We believe these investments provide donors with a better return on their contributions.  We are seeing results that bear this out:  for example, more than 3,000 young children receiving free books in the mail each month; a three-year decline in Missoula’s suicide rate, and an increase of nearly 100% in people seeking help for suicide crises; a decrease in childhood obesity; more people in housing.  United Way holds ourselves accountable to our donors and our entire community through our steadfast commitment to continually measure – in real terms – improvements in education, financial stability, and health.  

The evolution of our fundraising. 

Historically, the majority of United Way’s funds were raised through payroll-deduction campaigns in local workplaces, including businesses, the public sector (city, county, state, university, school district) and through the Combined Federal Campaign (payroll-deduction in the federal workplace).  Workplace fundraising and, in fact, all United Way fundraising, took place in the last quarter of the calendar year, in what was called “campaign.”  Other sources of funds included corporate and foundation gifts, and gifts from individual donors not in the workplace (principally retirees). Campaign results determined the amount of grants United Way approved and disbursed to qualified nonprofit charities in Missoula and Ravalli counties.

Over the past 10-12 years, as our programmatic focus shifted, so, too, has our fundraising model. This was in response to changing demographics and changes in the workplace.  The aging and retirement  of the Baby Boom generation (the core of our workplace donors), the rise of the Millennial Generation, the evolution of the entrepreneurial economy, and the explosive growth of the nonprofit sector all compelled United Way to rethink our fundraising approaches in order to remain relevant and healthy.

  United Way now engages in year-round fundraising from a variety of sources.  Although workplace campaigns remain a major source of United Way’s support, we now use the term “campaign” only in reference to workplace giving.  Our focus is on building and maintaining lasting relationships with donors and volunteers, rather than our past focus on building relationships with companies/organizations.  In order to reach individuals outside of the traditional workplace, we have stepped up our media, public outreach, communication, and marketing efforts, and implemented innovative fundraising and volunteer-engagement events (such as Over The Edge and University United Food Friday).  We have a small staff that includes two full-time development professionals.  

 

But United Way is more than a fundraising organization.  We do not wait for problems to land in our laps.  Instead, we dig for the challenges that need us most, and we marshal our collective resources – our funds, our hands, our heads, our networks – to solve them.  In collaboration with diverse partners, and in a variety of ways, we continually aspire to excellence as we work to build a better, stronger, healthier Missoula for all.

 

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