Our History

For more than 125 years, United Way has evolved to meet the needs of the times. Today, the world needs United Way more than ever.

In 1887, a Denver woman, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi got together... It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but they didn't walk into a bar; what they did do was recognize the need to work together in new ways to make Denver a better place.

Frances Wisebart Jacobs, the Rev. Myron W. Reed, Msgr. William J.O’Ryan, Dean H. Martyn Hart and Rabbi William S. Friedman put together an idea that became the nation's first united campaign, benefitting 10 area health and welfare agencies. They created an organization to collect the funds for local charities, to coordinate relief services, to counsel and refer clients to cooperating agencies, and to make emergency assistance grants for cases that could not be referred. That year, Denver raised $21,700 for this greater good, and created a movement that would become United Way.

United Way still provides solutions to communities' toughest problems. But we're not your grandfather's United Way.

Today's United Way is bringing people, organizations and communities together around a common cause, a common vision, and a common path forward. In many communities, we're the only nonprofit building up the cornerstones of education, financial stability and health—and the only nonprofit bringing people together from all walks of life to be a part of local solutions. We're engaged in nearly 1,800 communities across more than 40 countries and territories, where people are powering big ideas and big action by donating, volunteering and speaking out through United Way.

We're not doing it alone. United Way is able to make a lasting difference because we work together with strategic partners who share our vision. Partners like the NFL. Back in 1973, we joined forces with the NFL to boost awareness of what was then called social service issues. Together, we created public service announcements and programs featuring NFL players, coaches and owners.

From this partnership—the longest running of its kind—we’ve drafted 39,000 people to serve as readers, tutors and mentors. Since 2007, our nationwide Play60 campaign has also encouraged kids and families to make healthy food choices and get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

As we've grown up, we've become more than a fundraising organization. Rather than measuring our success in dollars raised, we measure our success in actual lives changed.

United Way impacts 61 million lives every year. We can do this because we have spent more than a century developing deep roots and trust in the communities we serve. That strong foundation provides us with the resources, reputation and relationships needed to bring people and organizations together around innovative solutions.

For example, we partnered with the Ad Council back in 2005 to create Born Learning, the first early learning public service advertising campaign. Born Learning is no longer an ad campaign; to date, it has empowered more than 15 million parents and other caregivers with online tips, tools and other resources to ensure kids start school equipped for success. We have now expanded Born Learning to thousands of children in Asia, Australia and Latin America.

As you can see, we've changed over the years to address the challenges of a changing world. But the one that thing hasn't changed is our focus on improving lives and strengthening communities. There are lots of ways you can be part of this change. Join us!

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