United Way Case Study Essay

United Way Case Study Essay.

The United Way is a long established company that is known for helping build stronger communities. Many people may have first been introduced to this organization through their successful commercials featured during professional football games. The ads made many viewers aware of the needs experienced through different areas, and how football players were volunteering to make a difference. This was a great introduction to the United Way, but the organization is much more than what viewers observed.

Vision and Mission Statement

The Vision Statement for the United Way is as follows:

“United Way envisions a world where all individuals and families achieve their human potential through education, income stability and healthy lives.

” The goals for the United Way are reflected in this vision as well. They believe in the importance of education and strive to reduce the number of students who drop out of high school each year. Helping families become economically independent is also of importance. Lastly, they strive to educate individuals to the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

The Vision Statement of the United Way is a summary of organizational goals and is the basis for how they choose their partners and administer their resources. The Mission Statement of the United Way is where the organization expresses their desire to improve worldwide communities. The Mission Statement states: “United Way improves lives by mobilizing the caring power of communities around the world to advance the common good.” This is how the organization works to improve lives. They collaborate with communities and assess their individual needs. Resources can then be allocated accordingly. It is through these unique partnerships that the United Way has attained many years of success in their mission.

SWOT Analysis

The United Way is an organization that has continually sought ways to stay viable in the hearts of communities. Since its inception, there have been changes and challenges to address. For this non-profit to remain significant to its donors and recipients, it is important that it continue in its tradition of self-examination. This can be accomplished through continual inventory of their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats by means of a SWOT analysis.


The strengths of the United Way are many. Their history, size, and reputation are what have contributed to the staying power of this organization. Their roots extend back to 1887 making for 125 solid years of aiding those in need. They have over 3,000 organizations in 45 countries so they are recognized in communities all over the globe. They are unique in their ability to recognize the needs of individual communities and address those needs on a one-on-one basis. They know there is not a single solution to problems plaguing different regions.

The United Way has found strength in some of its donor related partnerships. Many of us recognize the organization from watching NFL football games. The heart wrenching commercials feature star athletes returning to their hometowns and volunteering in their own communities. Seeing the recipients of this attention makes many of us feel respect for the United Way and their contributions. The commercials have a powerful impact on the public.

Another great source of funding for United Way programs is through partnerships with the AFL-CIO labor organization and many large corporations. Among these are Wal-Mart, Exxon-Mobil, Bank of America, and Ford Motor Company. By forming associations with these companies, the United Way benefits by receiving large donations from the companies themselves and individual donations from special programs designed for the employees. This creates a great source of income to help fund programs.


While the strengths of the United Way are long established, there have been a few problems they have been forced to combat. A number of scandals have occurred in the recent history of the organization. One of the largest scandals occurred in 1992 and involved the president and CEO of United Way America. An estimated one million dollars was drained from the organization along with the trust of many donors. While these instances were bad in themselves, the negative press associated with them was even more devastating.

One weakness of the United Way has manifested itself through the desire of the public. People began to want to contribute money to specific charities. The way the United Way was set up, the money went to community programs but it was not always easy to breakdown the exact distribution of the funds. Donors were starting to want their money to go to a specific cause such as pancreatic cancer or diabetes research. A community education program was not necessarily targeted enough.

In addition to this, the marketing of celebrities and big name contributors had a tendency to backfire. Small donors began to question the impact of their contribution. If someone like Bill Gates was giving millions of dollars, they wondered if their gifts were necessary.


Some opportunities for the United Way could be present with the internet and World Wide Web. With many new businesses and the advent of social media, the potential to find new donors is expansive. There are also an array of internet-focused business such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook, with which corporate relationships may potentially form. Having this new source of technology can put the resources right into the hands and homes of individuals and simplify the process of donation. Making it easier could certainly make it profitable.


The threats that loom for the United Way are issues that will remain as long as the organization exists. There will always be competition among other charitable organizations for donations. Maintaining trust and fulfilling goals will help in establishing commitments from donors to secure financial longevity. Keeping their focus on the needs of the communities so the results of their work are evident is also a strong persuader to potential contributors.

Another threat could be an identification issue for the United Way. Identifying the customer and maintaining balance is a delicate issue and how it is handled will affect success. Determining if the customer is the recipient of their services or the donors who fund these services, is a constant situation that can have two sides. Making sure the various organizations are recognized and respected is crucial.

Core Competencies

The United Way of America and the United Way International are non-profit organizations that focus on improving the lives of populations living in more underdeveloped communities. They do so by using the power of their strong volunteer base and the care of its citizens. These organizations establish their core competencies on the over one thousand and three hundred local United Ways operating in the United States, and over three thousand offices operating in over forty-five additional countries worldwide. The United Ways were originally founded by caring people, who understood the need to help and raise awareness of the emotional needs and the living conditions of many neighbors in their own communities. Therefore, these organizations set out to raise funds and to distribute them to local service providers that would distribute them according to the needs of the different communities. It would also seem feasible that these organizations seek the support of the most efficient and effective local providers, who would assure the good use of all the resources made available by the help of volunteers and donors on behalf of the United Way.

This nonprofit organization also works on constructing great alliances with other important charities around the World while coordinating volunteer support groups among them. At the heart of this charity is the strong volunteer presence that helps not only by collecting funds and participating in fund-raising activities, but also contributes countless amount of hours providing services for people in need. Consequently, these volunteers understand the importance of participating in vast amounts of hours of training in order to provide the best quality service as possible. The United Way also sees the importance of building long-lasting relationships with local business communities. Contrary to popular belief, the business community provides more than sixty percent of the donations received by this organization. The business community also assists by promoting and hosting many fund-raising events with the hope of helping the United Way provide services to their own local communities.

Consequently, the importance of establishing long lasting relationships between the United Way and other entities is of vital importance in order to receive the necessary resources and to continue providing services to communities in need. In order for the United Way to continue receiving the necessary funds to operate and provide services for communities in need, it constantly strives to maintain the great amount of trust that exist between this organization, the customers it assists, and the donors who willingly contribute their own earnings.

In the same fashion, this organization must always display good practice models of management and financial accountability in order to maintain this great level of trust. In consequence, it is trust that preserves the existence of this relationship between the charity, the customers, and its donors. This organization also understands the need to behave under the most appropriate and acceptable norms, values, and beliefs according to the majority of its donors. A change in norms, values and beliefs from this institution, may cause many donors to look for other ways of contributing that might be in greater accordance with their set of morals, values and beliefs. Therefore, upholding the trust of the donors is of the upmost importance.

Company Basic Objectives

At the core of the United Way’s basic objectives is the need to increasingly create public awareness of social service issues facing the country today. This organization, through its alliances with other entities, for example the National Football League, strives to bring awareness of the tremendous need some of the local communities are facing each day. The United Way also seeks to become a financial intermediary that provides many vital resources, and participates in fund-raising activities, through the help of donor organizations that participate in payroll deductions programs. This charity also articulates the delivery of these resources to agencies that can actually deliver them to the people in need. Ultimately, the United Way is changing the manner in which it outsources, and intends to have a greater participation in helping communities who are less fortunate. While in the past, this organization was mostly involved with just collecting and distributing funds, today it seeks to make a long lasting impression on people’s lives by addressing and identifying long-term their long-term needs.

Company Basic Business Strategy

American donors have expressed concern about how donations were going to be used and even how their privacy would be protected when giving via the Internet. Due to this the United Way was experiencing problems maintain trust and once that trust was broken it was very difficult to get it back. United Way of America’s CEO, Brian Gallagher, formally initiated a shift in strategy. Responding to the environment, he established new membership standards to enhance the level of accountability and transparency in United Way affiliates’ operations, rebranded United Way as doing “what matters” in the communities it served, and updated the “standards of excellence,” providing a description of benchmark standards and best practices to better reflect the organization’s strategic shift from its traditional role as strictly a fund-raiser to a new mission focused on identifying and addressing the long-term needs of communities. United Way celebrates its 125th anniversary and enters into partnerships with CNN and CNN international to share the LIVE UNITED message in communities around the world (http://www.unitedway.org/pages/history).

Current Strategic Management Issues

  • Financial: Bad Economy
  • Decide where funds are distributed, as many donors have specific areas that they would like to donate to
  • Maintain an inspiring vision for their mainly volunteer workforce, while managing potential conflicts and sharing resources with other United Way in their geographic area

Potential Actions to be Taken to Address Issues

1. Establish New Management Model

There was no accountability and direction at the top which made it easy for all of these scandals to take place. If the management structure at the top was flawed, how could it work at the local level?

2. Conduct a PR Campaign-

United Way needs to boost their image in the wake of these scandals and they need to get themselves back to the top of the charitable organizations in the public eye. Maybe hiring a top PR firm to help them with this? We also think keeping their alliance strong with the NFL would be a beneficial strategy.

3. Set Ethical Standards of Conduct-

They should implement a set of ethical standards that need to be adhered to from the corporate level down to each local chapter. There should also be yearly review measures put in place to determine if the charity is living up to its own ethical standards of conduct.

4. Improve Transparency-

If people are giving significant money to an organization they should be able to see what’s going on inside that organization. They should open up the books. Hire independent auditors? If local chapters were more transparent would local donors be more comfortable giving? If people give money, they should be able to see what % of dollars went towards operating costs and what % actually ended up going to communities in need. 5. Improve Website and Online Presence- They really need to update their website and get current with the times. Their website is hard to navigate and isn’t user friendly at all. When you give money online it is very generic.

It asks for your name and CC# and that’s it. It doesn’t give the option to donate to a specific cause, maybe they can change that? We also discussed that if they couldn’t do that maybe they could send its donors a yearly, personalized letter that thanked them for their donations and told them a specific project in the community in which they helped? (Elgin Boys and Girls Club, for example) 6. Ensure Mission is Clear from the Top Down- Encourge local chapters to buy into the overall mission. Many local chapters had been considered branching out on their own. There is an issue there that needs to be rectified if United Way wants long-term progress and growth. They should involve local chapter leaders in creating their mission and goals and put measures in place to make sure all the local chapters are fulfilling the missions and working towards the goals.

Lessons Learned

The most important lesson we learned what that the managerial framework at the top was broken. The board of directors turned a blind eye to the CEO stealing money because he brought in a lot of money. From there it started happening at the local levels. So, the lesson is that if management at the top is broken, you cannot expect management at the lower levels to be effective.

Another lesson we learned is that United Way needs to change with the time. With so many different charities out there right now, there is increased competition. They need to adapt to the changing times and give donors what they are seeking. Some of the things their donors are seeking are more transparency, in wake of the scandals, and the opportunity to put their money towards a specific cause.


  • http://www.unitedway.org/pages/history/
  • Dess, G.G., Lumkin, G.T., & Eisner, A.B. (2008). Strategic management: Text and cases (5th ed.) (Primus with ten cases). NY: McGraw-Hill. ISBM 10:0390331767

United Way Case Study Essay