United Ways Beat Inflation, Giving Up 7%

Contributions to the largest United Way campaigns in 2020 were up 7% from the previous year, driven by millions in unrestricted gifts from MacKenzie Scott and COVID relief funds to battle the pandemic. However, three of the top five revenue producers were down, some by almost one-third, from the previous year.

The 7% overall increase significantly beat the 1.25% rate of inflation.

There were 331 affiliates out of the more than 1,000 in the United States that reported at least $1 million raised for the 2020 campaign, according to data provided by United Way Worldwide (UWW) in Alexandria, Va. The increase in contributions among the affiliates as a whole jumped by almost $210 million, from $3.05 billion to $3.26 billion.

Affiliates reporting the largest campaigns to UWW, by dollars raised, were:

  1. United Way of Greater Houston, $94.01 million, +30%
  2. United Way of Greater Atlanta, $90.34 million, -31%
  3. United Way of Greater St. Louis, $81.8 million, -14%
  4. United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, $78.68 million, +39.5%
  5. United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, $74.37 million, -26%
  6. United Way of Greater Cincinnati, $74.09 million, +53.5%
  7. United Way of Central Indiana, Indianapolis, $68.9 million, +2%
  8. United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Detroit, $68.41 million, +10%
  9. United Way of Greater Los Angeles, $60.875 million, +27%
  10. United Way of Southwest Louisiana, Lake Charles, La., $58.91 million, +1,054%

Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and her husband, Dan Jewett, doled out more than $8.5 billion to 786 organizations in three rounds of unrestricted gifts since July 2020, including major gifts to 44 local United Way affiliates.

United Way of Southwest Louisiana (UWSL), which is the smallest of three affiliates in the Pelican State, had the largest jump by percentage of any affiliate, from $5.4 million to almost $60 million. Much of that was in the form of Gifts-In-Kind (GIK), according to President and CEO Denise Durel. The Lake Charles, La.-based affiliate received a $5-million gift from Scott but even taking that out of the equation, Durel said contributions were up from $5.4 million to about $7.5 million. The work around COVID, she said, prepared the United Way affiliate for hurricanes and winter storms that struck the region.

For United Way of King County (UWKC), the difference in year-over-year campaigns comes from a shifting of where resources are coming from in response to the pandemic over the last year, according to Jared Erlandson, a spokesman for the Seattle-based affiliate.

In the first year there was a tremendous amount of individual and corporate support to meet the needs from the economic impact of COVID-19. “That has slowed down but we’ve seen a tremendous increase in government funding for COVID response, particularly rental assistance,” he said. The bigger year for individual and corporate gifts in response to COVID was 2019, primarily through the Community Relief Fund, and also a gift from Scott. Government grants and GIK have been backed out from the UWW reports, he said.

By percentage increase in dollars raised, the largest affiliates were:

  1. United Way of Southwest Louisiana, Lake Charles, La., +1,054% – $5.1 million to $58.9 million
  2. United Way of Southern Cameron County, Brownsville, Texas, 297% – $1.7 million to $7 million
  3. United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, Portland, Ore., +174%, $27.798 million
  4. United Way of Jackson County, Medford, Ore., +158%, $4.23 million
  5. United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley, Salem, Ore., +150%, $6.113 million
  6. United Way of Westchester and Putnam, White Plains, N.Y., +140%, $11.25 million
  7. United Way of the Greater Capital Region, Albany, N.Y., +138%, $9.218 million
  8. United Way of Midland County, Midland, Mich., +137.6%, $12.484 million
  9. Heart of Florida United Way, Orlando, Fla., +126%, $29.9 million
  10. United Way of Northern New Jersey, Morristown, N.J., +121%, $16.185 million

United Way of Southern Cameron County received an unrestricted $5-million gift from Scott. The Brownsville, Texas-based affiliate also raised $1.754 million in COVID-19 relief funds which were mostly used for a United Against Hunger initiative, according to President and CEO Traci Wickett.

The significant increase in donations last year for United Way of the Columbia-Willamette in Portland, Ore., was mostly from the one-time gift from Scott as well as specific appeals for COVID relief and wildfire relief and recovery in Oregon, according to Chief Development Officer Dave Rogers.