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Frequently Asked Questions

What is United Way of the Columbia-Willamette?

United Way of the Columbia-Willamette is a local nonprofit working to build a stronger community in the four-county metro area. Together, we're breaking the cycle of poverty for kids and their families by creating successful kids, stable families and connected communities. You can get involved by giving, advocating, volunteering and moving our kids out of poverty!

When was United Way founded?

The very first United Way in the country started as the Denver Charity Organizations Society in 1887. United Way of the Columbia-Willamette was founded in 1920.

So what does United Way really do on the ground to break the cycle of poverty?

Great question! Thanks to your support, we're able to do a lot — and all of it goes back to creating healthy, stable individuals, families and communities.

  • We bring together people, organizations, businesses and more to create change.
  • We invest in nonprofits leading the way in reducing poverty.
  • We help families who are struggling by meeting their basic needs.
  • We provide a range of volunteer opportunities through our Hands On Greater Portland program.

What's new this year?

We recently completed work on our strategic plan, "Breaking the Cycle of Childhood Poverty in our Region." Over the last 18 months, we received incredible input from many people throughout our region, helping to shape this document and our strategic direction moving forward. This plan builds on the strong foundation that your support has helped us create, while bringing a clear focus to our work and our partnerships: breaking the cycle of poverty for kids and families.

Has United Way changed its investment strategy?

Our investment strategy is now more focused on breaking the cycle of poverty for children and families. This came out of conversations we had throughout our community with people like you. The generosity of donors over many years has allowed us to help a lot of people. Yet many told us that too many families in our community are still struggling. That's why we decided to take a stand on this issue. Many things you remember as a United Way donor remain the same, including:

  • We'll continue to deliver excellent customer service.
  • You can still designate your gift to any 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the U.S.
  • Thanks to our Cornerstone Partners, 100 percent of your gift goes directly to the community.
  • We'll still give grants to local nonprofits and report the results to donors and the community.
  • And, most importantly, we'll still offer a range of ways you can give back, including volunteering, based on what you care about.

Learn more by reading about our strategic plan.

How will you be working to break the cycle of poverty?

We'll be focusing on three areas, all of them interconnected.

  • Successful kids: Give kids a fair shot at success in school. We'll give kids the support they need to be successful in school, graduate and be ready for college and career.
  • Stable families: Help low-income families build a strong foundation. We'll connect families to basic resources like health care, housing and jobs.
  • Connected communities: Engage our community as active leaders for positive change. We'll bring together nonprofits, small businesses, corporations, funders and individuals in coalition and collaboration to focus on the long-term prosperity of our communities.

Where will you be investing donations?

We will invest in three broad areas to support the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty:

  • A better safety net for low-income families. We'll promote collaboration throughout the community to strengthen the basic services families turn to when they're in crisis.
  • A stronger network of nonprofits. We'll support the work of nonprofits leading the way in reducing poverty. We'll connect organizations and programs to better integrated approaches and services to get better results.
  • A long-term focus on the root causes of poverty. We'll tackle the hard things that keep families in poverty. We'll improve high school graduation rates, connect kids with colleges and careers, and build strong, connected communities.

Have some of my giving opportunities disappeared?

No, definitely not. You can still give in the same way that you always have. As we move forward over the next few years, we're looking forward to possibly offering new and different ways to invest your time and money

What if I don't think I can afford to give?

A small amount every month can add up by year's end. For example, if you're paid twice a month and you give $5 per pay period, that adds up to $120 per year! There are other ways to give back to the community, too.

  • Your time is valuable. An hour of volunteering is worth $19.33 to a nonprofit, according to Independent Sector. We offer many ways to volunteer through our Hands On Greater Portland program. Search for volunteer opportunities that fit your schedule and interests.
  • You can take a public stand for breaking the cycle of poverty and building a strong community. Follow us on Facebook or on Twitter to get updates on what you can do. Another way to show your commitment to moving families and children out of poverty on social media is to use the hashtag #wemove!

What exactly is payroll deduction?

Payroll deduction allows you to donate quickly and easily and with less effect on your wallet. Just as with your retirement savings, health care premiums and similar payments, your donation to United Way will be taken out of your paycheck each pay period. All you need to do is fill out the print or online pledge form that your Campaign Coordinator will give you.

Is my donation tax-deductible?

Yes, it is. Our tax ID number is 93-0582124.

Can I give in other ways besides payroll deduction?

  • Give online now
  • Cash, check, credit card, debit card
  • Stock, securities or real estate – call us at 503.228.9131.

I'm passionate about a specific nonprofit — can I give to it through United Way?

Yes. Through United Way of the Columbia-Willamette you can designate your gift to any registered tax-exempt 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization in the United States.

Why should I give directly to United Way, rather than designating my gift to another nonprofit?

When it comes to investing in the stock market, some people invest in specific companies, while some invest in portfolios. Giving directly to United Way is essentially like investing in a highly effective portfolio whose goal is to break the cycle of poverty and build a stronger community. Because we're able to bring together so many partners with proven track records, your dollar has a big impact and returns a high value to the community. And because we have vetted our partners and review their results regularly, you can be confident that your dollar is being used wisely.

When you give to United Way, your donation will help knit our community together and marshal many resources to build a stronger home for everyone in our community. Your support goes where it's most needed to break the cycle of poverty for children and families in the four-county region.

How do I know that United Way will use my donation responsibly?

Don't just take our word for it! Learn more about our financials or check out any of these charity evaluators.

Will my donation really make a difference?

Yes! Our projects are effective. For example:

  • Successful Kids: 81 percent of youth in our education projects gained the resources and skills for work and life.
  • Stable Families: 73 percent of people in our financial stability projects achieved their financial goals.
  • Connected Communities: 94 percent of people in our community-building projects strengthened their connections and became more active in the life of their community.**

Plus, when you invest $1 in United Way, you save our community $7-10. That's because helping kids and families thrive now means that in the future, they'll be less likely to serve time in prison, visit the emergency room or need frequent social services.

**All outcomes from fiscal year 2011-12 as assessed by individual partner providers.

How much of my donation goes to cover United Way's operating cost?

Thanks to Cornerstone Partner companies, who cover our operating expenses, every dollar you give goes to fund critical programs in our community. That's right — every penny!

We also work hard to keep costs as low as possible. In the most recent audited fiscal statements (year ending June 30, 2012), United Way's operating cost was 14 percent. Of this, 8 percent was for fundraising and 6 percent for administrative costs, including pledge processing. To put this in context, GuideStar and the Better Business Bureau recommend overhead of under 35 percent, Charity Navigator recommends under 17.5 percent.

Does United Way condone pressure to give?

Absolutely not. United Way is based on the concept of voluntary giving and we believe that no one should ever be pressured into giving. If you feel pressured, we want to know about it. Please contact Jessica Hewitt, Donor Engagement Strategist, at 503.226.9355 or

How many companies run United Way Giving Campaigns?

More than 550 companies and organizations, covering more than 700 total branches/locations, run Giving Campaigns, thanks to the hard work of volunteer Campaign Coordinators.

What guides United Way of the Columbia-Willamette's investment of donor dollars?

When making grant awards, we start with research. We:

  • Look at data on social disparities in our region.
  • Talk with health and human services experts.
  • Learn from community members through conversations about the biggest challenges facing our neighbors.
  • Using all this information, we determine which priorities and strategies will create the biggest change for our community. We all want successful kids, stable families and connected communities.

To guarantee accountability to our community and donors, all funded partners are vetted through GuideStar and an internal review process. We invest in poverty alleviation strategies by engaging community reviewers in consultation to select grant recipients and by investing in strategic partners and collaboratives to catalyze action. Thanks to this process and your support, we're able to leverage the money we invest to make the greatest impact on our community and change lives for the better.

Does United Way invest in my local community?

Yes! We invest in all four counties — Clackamas, Clark, Multnomah and Washington. Go to to read more about our specific investments.

How much does United Way raise each year?

In fiscal year 2012-13, generous donors like you gave a total of $23,686,521 to our community.

How many nonprofits does United Way support?

Currently we invest in 29 nonprofits with one-year grants, plus five Strategic Partnerships. Strategic Partnerships fall under our Safety Net which helps families in the four-county area who are struggling by meeting their basic needs and include:

  • Community Relief: Emergency food, rent, utility and prescription assistance.
  • 211info: Free referral to local resources by phone, web or text.
  • Project Access NOW: Free medical care for low-income uninsured patients.
  • Labor’s Community Service Agency: Emergency assistance for union families in need.
  • Earn It, Keep It, Save It: Free tax-prep and filing help for people with low to moderate incomes.

We also support more than 3,500 nonprofits with essential operating funds, thanks to designated gifts from generous donors.

If your nonprofit received a check or direct deposit from United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, please contact the Agency Portal Team for additional information about donors designating to your organization.

How many people do you help?

In our most recent fiscal year (2011-12), your support allowed us to help connect 138,106 people with life-changing services. We also connected 8,553 volunteers with opportunities to give back through our Hands On Greater Portland program.

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100% of your gift is invested locally.

2008-14 | All Rights Reserved | Serving Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties in Oregon and Clark County in SW Washington | 619 SW 11th Ave, Suite 300 | Portland, OR 97205 | 503.228.9131 | Site Map | United Way of the Columbia-Willamette is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization