Lighthizer-Schmidt: What is the United Way?

Published 6:17 am Monday, November 18, 2013

By Mandi Lighthizer-Schmidt

Executive Director, United Way of Mower County

United Way is a nonprofit, 501 (c) (3) agency that brings people and communities together to advance the common good.  We partner with local nonprofits, businesses, government and social service agencies to address our community’s most pressing needs.

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Our mission is to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities.  Our roles are to be pro-active in moving people forward on our mission and goals while providing for their basic needs and to connect community members with community services.

Our primary goals are to:

  1. Provide for the basic needs of people to stabilize lives.
  2. Increase healthy behaviors, wellness, and health care access.
  3. Decrease the number of individuals and families classified as living in poverty or the working poor.
  4. Improve learning and development of children pre-K through 12th grade.

United Way of Mower County is working to change the odds for families by focusing on the basic building blocks of a self-sufficient life: Education, Income, Health & Basic Needs.  We all win when students succeed in school, families are financially stable and people are healthy.

In philanthropy, United Way does what no single donor or entity can do alone.  We galvanize and connect all sectors of society – individuals, businesses, nonprofits and governments to raise the resources needed to create long-term social change that produces health, educated and financially-stable individuals and families.  Together, we can accomplish more than any single person, group or organization.

United Way of Mower County serves people living in Mower County.  Our staff works with well-trained volunteers who represent our community.  They carry out the planning and implementation of United Way functions.  A volunteer Board of Directors sets policy and strategic direction.  Various volunteer committees oversee financial practices and provide counsel on operational issues.  Our volunteer network is a key reason why our administrative and fundraising costs are among the lowest of any nonprofit.  More of your contribution goes directly to help people.

There are 1,400 community-based United Ways across the country and each is separately incorporated and independently governed by local volunteers.  Many of these organization are similar in their mission and structure, but some are very different.

We pay a voluntary membership contribution to United Way Worldwide for the rights to use the name and logo.  United Way Worldwide also provides guidance and training/development services to local United Ways.  These dues are less than 1 percent.

Contributions raised in Mower County stay here and decisions about which programs to invest in and which partnership to pursue are made here in our local community.

Knowledgeable volunteers/donors carefully screen and select the program funded by your contribution. Their recommendations are reviewed and approved by our volunteer Board of Directors. After selection, these programs are monitored to ensure they produce positive, measurable results. Every year, all of our programs go through and open and competitive review process to ensure that the most effective programs in our community are receiving support.

You, a family member, friend or coworker may have already used the services of United Way partner agencies without realizing it.

Our work focuses on four areas:  Education, Income, Health and Basic Needs.  All of our partner programs and initiatives support these areas.  Our comprehensive plan — the Agenda for Change — outlines our goals.

Basic Needs: Increase access to nutritious meals, personal care items and shelter for people in need.  Increase children’s access to a safe environment.

Health: Increase access to affordable basic health care and non-hospital mental illness programs.  Increase healthy behaviors.

Income: Increase financial literacy skills, increase access to basic needs for employment and education and/or job training.

Education: Increase access to quality early learning, academic support and post-secondary and career options.

Making a gift to United Way is the most effective way to help our whole community.  Our unique ability to work across complex issues with hundreds of community partners is unmatched. Our programs help people in crisis get back on their feet, help prevent future programs and build a stronger community for all of us.