Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How United Way Works


Instead of having one set of leaders or one common goal, United Way is community-based -- each group's standards and goals are specifically tailored to its interests.
Instead of having one set of leaders or one common goal, United Way is community-based -- each group's standards and goals are specifically tailored to its interests.
SW Productions /Photodisc/Getty Images

Donating money or volunteering for distant, unfamiliar organizations can make you feel a bit detached from your charitable intentions. Sure, it's nice to get a newsletter update or a press release from the group, but you can't really participate if you don't live near the organization. Because of these issues, it often feels most rewarding to help out your local community. A great way to get directly involved is to join your local United Way.

United Way is a little different than most charitable organizations. Instead of having one set of leaders or one common goal, United Way is community-based. This means that each United Way group maintains its own standards and goals specifically tailored to its interests. United Way of America is comprised of nearly 1,300 local sects [source: UWA] United Way International is the leadership blanket for 46 countries that have roughly 4,000 United Way organizations [source: UWW]. United Way Worldwide describes each group as "A volunteer-led, nonprofit organization located in a geographic community that seeks and addresses the root causes of key issues, is accountable for stewardship of resources, and is accountable for short-term and long-term results" [source: UWW]. Essentially, United Way is by the people, for the people.

United Way America focuses on the three major elements of a prosperous community: education, income and health [source: UWA]. It believes working on these core issues creates a win-win situation for the majority of the community. It's not so much one-on-one as it is all-for-one.

In this article, we'll discuss the history of United Way organizations. Then we'll take a look at United Way in local communities and how you can volunteer. Finally, we'll discuss a United Way mission as an Alternative Spring Break. Read on to learn about the history of this incredible organization.