Tuesday, November 11, 2008

United Way

It’s United Way time again and my inbox is stuffed with solicitations for donations. I don’t take issue with this; I somewhat enjoy the pirate jokes that grace my inbox in the mornings.

I do take issue with the enormous social pressure to contribute. At every turn, we are all but told to contribute and much effort has been taken to make it obvious who is contributing and who is not. As an example, this week and next, all who gave $10 to United Way may wear jeans. While many of my colleagues are walking around in jeans, wearing United Way buttons, I am dressed in my standard one-step-above-business-casual work clothes. This makes it obvious that I did not contribute to United Way and I have been asked by more than one colleague why I’m not participating.

I do not give to United Way and I will not again this year, for the following reasons:

1. United Way supports several charities which discriminate against gays. I can not, in good conscience, support an organization that does this. I hate to pick on the Boy Scouts (I was a Boy Scout) but they have been very publically ant-gay. If I give to organizations that do not spend time (and money) discriminating against gays, then more money goes to providing services.

2. United Way supports a disproportionate number of faith-based organizations. While faith-based organizations often provide valuable support to our communities, they also have a duty to promote their religious beliefs. I believe that this creates a conflict of interest; secular organizations don’t have this conflict of interest. If I give to secular (or more-secular) organizations, then more money goes to providing services.

3. I see no need to give to United Way, when I can give directly to charities, without the 11% overhead. United Way takes 11% of your donation right off the top as an administrative cost, before it reaches any charity. If I give directly to the Red Cross, more money goes to providing services.

You will notice a common theme here . . . this is about more money going to providing services. In the past year, I have made contributions to the Red Cross, Youth Emergency Services and Shelter, and UNICEF. Certainly, I do feel that service organizations play an important role locally and globally, and I am happy to support them in their missions, but I prefer to direct my giving to charities which reflect my values and have less overhead.

If you have been asked to give to United Way in Des Moines, before you write the check, you should look at the charities that United Way in Des Moines supports:


I’d be interested to hear what others (including my colleagues) think. Feel free to comment below or send me an email privately.

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