The United Way of Dane County’s first fundraising drive in the Madison area collected $67,674, according to a front-page Wisconsin State Journal report on Oct. 1, 1922.
August Cornelius Larson, a Madison banker who chaired the effort, thanked “his army of coworkers” for their “zeal,” and he praised the public for its generosity.
“The great throng of workers” who had sought donations across the community for three days “disbanded tired, but happy,” according to the article.
State Journal editorials soon followed, championing the cause of the Community Union, as the local United Way was originally called. An editorial on Dec. 30, 1923, praised the group’s professional and broad effort to pull people together to help the less fortunate, the young and wayward.
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“The milk of human kindness flowed throughout its proceedings,” the editorial declared.
“It was vastly better than the old hit-or-miss, overlapping, unscientific method of permitting a large number of unassociated, often untrained and sometimes unreliable groups to stumble over each other in their annual myriad of ‘movements’ and ‘causes.’”
Fast-forward a century, and the United Way of Dane County is celebrating its 100th birthday at 5 p.m. tonight at the Orpheum Theater in Madison.
A lot has changed over the years. Instead of passing a hat at parades or going door to door to collect donations, the United Way seeks support through hundreds of employers and tens of thousands of individuals at work and online. And instead of focusing solely on the immediate needs of struggling people, it strives to address the root causes behind suffering, using research and data to inform its programming decisions.
The United Way’s “Schools of Hope” tutoring program, for example, has helped 96,000 students improve at reading and math in area schools, thanks to more than 21,000 trained and mostly volunteer tutors over the last quarter century. (The State Journal and WISC-TV (Ch. 3) began Schools of Hope as a civic journalism project in 1995.)
The United Way and its many partners help house, protect, employ, treat and encourage tens of thousands of adults, children and families in our area. Just as important, they track their progress, and change what they’re doing if it isn’t working.
American Family Insurance just provide quite a birthday gift to the local United Way: $5 million in help it fund another century of work. Other big and small donors are joining the cause. You should, too, at go.madison.com/unitedway. Giving what you can will help ensure this kind-hearted and smart organization carries on its work with as much impact as possible.
The United Way of Dane County has raised $528 million for our community since 1922. More than 20,000 individuals and 500 businesses provided $18.1 million during its 2021 fundraiser alone. Most of the money goes in a coordinated way to 850 nonprofits, including 112 programs and 52 local agencies.
But more work lies ahead, and the organization faces increasing competition for dollars from worthy causes.
If you can’t make it to tonight’s century celebration, show your appreciation by pledging a gift or donate your time at go.madison.com/GetInvolved. Either way, you’ll be helping to ensure this superb social service organization continues to make Madison and Dane County a better place to live for everyone.