If you're anything like me, when your HR department sends out information on the annual United Way campaign, you dutifully fill out your three-part form, turn it in before the deadline, and go on about your day. After all, since donations are spread across an entire year of pay periods, it's one of those things you just set and forget.
Last week I discovered how wrong I was. Not about the giving--definitely not. I found out just how wrong it is for me to forget.
A group of our team members had the opportunity to visit with twelve representatives from some of the organizations supported by our local United Way chapter, United Way of Northwest Alabama. Boy, was it ever eye-opening. The work that is done by these agencies with help from our United Way donations is simply incredible and too often overlooked, although you never know when we, a family member, a friend or a neighbor will need this assistance.
So here's what I think everyone who has the opportunity to participate in a United Way program should know about your donation:
1. 99% of donations to United Way are used locally.
The United Way agency based in the Shoals supports 39 different agencies in Colbert, Franklin, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Marion, and Winston Counties. Only one percent of donations are paid to the national United Way organization.
2. Yes, I said United Way supports 39 different agencies in six counties.
I admit that for years I've ignored the brochures that come with my United Way form. PLEASE don't make that mistake! You'll probably be surprised at the diversity of organizations and groups that your donation serves. From Big Brothers to ARC of the Shoals to Safeplace to Hospice to Meals on Wheels...chances are you either know of or support at least one of these programs. In fact...
3. One in THREE residents of Northwest Alabama are touched by a United Way partner!
I can vouch for that--I'm a proud Girl Scout alum (a large portion of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts funding comes from United Way). How about the YMCA and the American Red Cross? And organizations like Rape Response, the Salvation Army, Easter Seals, Boys & Girls Clubs... Some of these programs could not exist without United Way support!
4. "I give directly to the organization" is NOT a good excuse to opt out of United Way giving.
Why? Because donations given through the United Way program can be leveraged through grants and other programs and doubled, tripled, quadrupled...or even, as with one agency grant, increased seven-fold! Your one annual gift can provide an exponential return on investment benefiting 39 organizations.
5. Your gifts are tax-deductible.
OK, you may already know this one. But think beyond the number in the "deductions" column of your paystub. Because all United Way partners are 501(c)3 organizations, both your monetary and in-kind donations (think mileage you drive delivering for Meals on Wheels, furniture donations to Habitat for Humanity, or clothing donations to the Attention Homes of Northwest Alabama) count, too!
6. There is a SIMPLE way to learn more or get help--Dial 2-1-1.
Call 211, download the "211 Connects Alabama" mobile app or go to www.211connectsalabama.org to find help locally, get help during a crisis, or find out how you can provide help by sharing your time and talents. The line is manned 24/7 and will connect you with folks that help with basic human needs, physical and mental health, employment support, support for senior citizens, support for children, youth and families, and much, much more.
I'm lucky to work for a business that allows employees to not only learn more about the needs in our communities, but to give back (Bank Independent gives each employee eight hours of paid volunteer time every year through our Helping Hands program). After our United Way visits last week, I'm even more energized and passionate about giving back to the communities we serve, and I'm going to be much more thoughtful about my United Way pledge this year. I really hope that you'll do the same.