United Way Overhead Just 19%? Think Again

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United Way Overhead Just 19%? Think Again

It’s that time of year again, and as people gear up to give to charities in these big annual charity promotions, United Way, a very common choice for third party donation handling, is usually in the spotlight.

One of the big questions is how much of your United Way contributions go to the charity agencies themselves.

How much gets funneled off into overhead, such as salaries and other provisions for United Way’s top corporate managers?

That’s your hard-earned money, so it matters.

As usual, the debate is plagued with ambiguities, doubts, concerns and numbers that can be written so many different ways.

The common consensus on the Internet is that 19% of all United Way funds go to administration, and 70% goes to the agencies in question.

To some people, it looks like a pretty healthy number, although compared to 100% it’s obviously not ideal. But is that the whole story?

You don’t have to go very far on places like Reddit to hear about concerns from individual donors.

A lot of those center around United Way’s internal pay structure as well as the ways in which they solicit funding.

Here are some of the issues that people have with forking over money to a middleman that’s going to forward that money or some percentage of it on to charity agencies themselves.

Running the Numbers

In today’s “post-fact economy,” we know that numbers can be massaged to say many different things.

We see the consensus numbers, that 70% benchmark.

That seems solid, but as some skeptics point out, there have been indicators that United Way pads the numbers.

Some say UW doesn’t really offer a transparent ratio to the outside world. Reports of lavish parties and big administrative salaries also raise eyebrows.

For example, one poster makes a really good point:

If the United Way managers are earning a lot more then the CEOs of the charity agent non-profits, that seems pretty backward. It’s another example of how centralized and corporate type nonprofit action really doesn’t work in favor of the people.

Twisting Arms

You also don’t have to go very far to find stories of people who were strong-armed or coerced into giving money through their jobs.

“I’m not a big fan of being strong-armed for money,” wrote reddit poster vanishing_point years ago protesting UW’s usual MO.

“I only make $8.00 an hour and am struggling to get myself by, let alone give money to other people,” added an anonymous poster, also referencing rumors of UW top brass living high on the hog with donation money.

But workers feel pressured: sometimes it’s as little as $10, but sometimes employees feel pressured into pledging longer-term donations.

Either way, it’s money out of an American’s paycheck. For most of us, that pool of money is fairly small to start with.

Back in the days when people made living wages, things like tithing and charity giving were easier. When you’re squeezed economically just to pay for basics like health insurance and food, you’re less likely to be able to part with more of that money especially on a longer-term basis.

But that’s what United Way tends to demand from low-wage workers when their companies sign up for annual giving programs.

If somebody making eight dollars an hour contributes $100 to the United Way, and somebody making $100,000 year gets five or ten percent, you start seeing a really different picture of how corporate style non-profit charity really works.

Try Direct Giving

There’s nothing as efficient as picking out your own charity agency and giving to them.

Look at your local community. What’s needed? Help out with your time or give money directly to that grassroots effort. You’ll be sure that your money is actually going to the causes that you believe in.

At GTKYF, we’re also running our own charity program, where we pledge an hour of our professional time toward local charity operations. There are two ways to do this: you can sign up for volunteer work for an hour every week, or you can pledge the equivalent of one work hour according to your hourly wage or compensation. Either way, you’re making a big contribution to the well-being of others – without the red tape and potential inefficiencies.

Think about it – you can’t go wrong with direct giving. It’s like making your own food, rather than taking what you can get from a closed kitchen. When you order from that kitchen, how do you know they didn’t wipe raw chicken all over the cutting board or drop your entrée on the floor? When you give through a corporate-type third party donation program, how do you know if that money is really going to put smiles on people’s faces?

So for this year’s Big Give, make GTKYF your charity choice –and sign up to get more news about all of the programs we run to help others and improve our Farms, Food, Families, and Freedoms.

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