Fires, Floods, Pestilence Fuel UW Revenue Spike

Emergency relief funding in response to wildfires, hurricanes and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic all factored in some way to a spike in contributions to United Way affiliates around the United States in the past year.

The 352 affiliates that reported contributions of at least $1 million to United Way Worldwide in 2019-20 totaled $3.082 billion, about 10.4 percent more than the $2.791 billion in contributions reported for 2018-19. Four affiliates reported no data for 2019-20 while five affiliates did not report data for 2018-19.

Eight of the top 10 affiliates by total contributions reported increases year-over-year:

  • United Way of Greater Atlanta, $130.4 million, up from $104.8 million, 24.4%
  • United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, $100.9 million, up from $48 million, 110.3%
  • United Way of Greater St. Louis, $95.1 million, up from $89.4 million, 6.3%
  • United Way of Greater Houston, $72.4 million, up from $70.7 million, 2.3%
  • United Way of Central Indiana, Indianapolis, $67.5 million, up from $51.6 million, 30.8%
  • United Way of King County, Seattle, $66.9 million, up from $51.6 million, 29.7%
  • United Way of Southeastern Michigan, Detroit, $49 million, up from $62.6 million, 26.9%
  • Greater Twin Cities United Way, Minneapolis-St. Paul, $65.1 million, down from $57.8 million, or 11.3%
  • United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, $59.3 million, down from $56.5 million, or 4.7%
  • United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, $56.4 million, up from $54.9 million, 2.7%

The primary drivers of revenue growth for the Metropolitan Chicago affiliate were the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund and Chicago Connected, a program that ensures students have access to remote learning by providing high-speed Internet for four years for families that are most in need. Some $47 million was raised for the program.

The Indianapolis-based Central Indiana affiliate also reported a spike primarily in response to the start of the pandemic in March, with its COVID-19 Central Indiana Community Economic Relief Fund.

In Florida, the United Way of Miami-Dade saw a spike in contributions, first in response to Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, followed by another boost in the spring as the pandemic was declared.

“Our donor count has been holding stable, which bucks the trend among United Ways,” said Erica Wiley, vice president, development, at Seattle-based United Way of King County (UWKC). “We’ve pretty much embraced donor-directed giving,” she said, which has allowed them to secure multi-year, seven-figure commitments from corporations like Microsoft and The Ballmer Group.

While it’s not necessarily new to get gifts from local corporations, Wiley said it allows UKWC to do innovative things. “For us, that’s often helping us seed programs that we’re then turning around to get public funding for. Pilot with private investors and private philanthropy and then scale up with public support,” she said, noting an early learning program and rental assistance program that started out as pilots. “It’s something we’re doing more and more,” Wiley said. “Private philanthropy can take the risk that public funds can’t.”

The affiliate also was among the 116 charities to share in $1.7 billion in gifts from MacKenzie Scott; UWKC received $5 million.

The top 10 largest percentage increases in contributions were:

  • United Way of the Inland Valleys, Riverside, Calif., 807%, $3.2 million to $29.6 million;
  • United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties, Leesburg, Fla., 741%, $182,145 to $1.5 million;
  • United Way of Central Florida, Highland City, Fla., 164.5%, $9.6 million to $25.3 million;
  • United Way of Fresno and Madera Counties, Fresno, Calif., 155%, $1.4 million to $3.8 million;
  • United Way of the Ohio Valley, Owensboro, Ky., 125%, $1.6 million to $3.7 million;
  • United Way of Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara, Calif., 124%, $2.7 million to $6.2 million;
  • United Way of Northwest Florida, Panama City, Fla., 122%, $1.25 million to $2.8 million;
  • United Way of El Paso County, El Paso, Texas, 119.5%, $2.9 million to $6.4 million;
  • United Way of St. Joseph County, South Bend, Ind., 116%, $2.2 million to $4.9 million; and,
  • United Way of the Brazos Valley, College Station, Texas, 115%, $1.1 million to $2.5 million

Among the 353 affiliates reporting 2019-20 data, the median affiliate by contributions was Grand Island, Neb-based Heartland United Way, which reported $3.3 million, an increase of 47.1 percent more than the previous year’s $2.243 million.

The median percentage change year over year among 348 affiliates reporting data for both years was about +2.72 percent, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County in Milwaukee, Wisc., and Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based United Way of West Alabama. Among those, 200 reported a percentage increase compared with 148 that reported a percentage decrease.