The seeds for United Way were first planted in Denver, Colorado in 1887 when community leader Frances Wisebart Jacobs, with the assistance of a priest, a rabbi and two ministers, founded the Charity Organization Society. This society coordinated local human service delivery and conducted a single fundraising campaign for 22 local nonprofit agencies.
In 1922, the idea of coordinating fundraising here in Nashville gained support during World War I with the success of the War Chest Campaign. After the war, four men decided to continue this successful concept to support local health and human services. This was the beginning of the Community Chest. Through the 1920’s and 1930’s the Nashville Community Chest continued to draw steady donations of about $250,000 a year. Through the 1940’s local support for the Community Chest grew as companies began to allow once-a-year solicitations of employees in the workplace.
In 1954 community-wide workplace solicitation was the goal when Nashville business leaders established the United Givers Fund (UGF), replacing the Community Chest. Nearly 30 original members of the Chest and 11 new agencies were the recipients of the proceeds from UGF’s first $1 million workplace campaign. By 1965 UGF in Nashville topped the $2million level, and by 1971 was raising over $3 million a year.
The UGF joined with similar organizations nationwide to become United Way in 1974. The name reflected the growth of the organization from a fundraising/allocations mechanism to a system working to solve community human services problems. This was the birth of United Way in Nashville as we know it today, then known as United Way of Middle Tennessee (UWMT).
Since then, the United Way of Metropolitan Nashville (UWMN) has grown steadily. In 1981, Dr. Thomas F. Frist, Jr. founded the first Alexis de Tocqueville Society, a society recognizing donors giving unrestricted gifts of $10,000 or more to UWMN. The group, which continues to have a strong presence today, has raised over $93 million since its inception here in Nashville. Since the program went national in 1984, over $4.8 billion has been raised nationwide. In 1984, UWMN opened a 24-hour referral hotline and established the Volunteer Center of United Way of Middle Tennessee. By 1985, UWMT had the largest campaign increase of any major United Way in the nation – raising a total of $11.1 million, almost $2 million more than the previous year. In 1989, UWMT was running a campaign with eight partner counties (Benton, Davidson, Dickson, Humphreys, Overton, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson) that raised $17.4 million.
Through the 1990’s more middle Tennessee counties joined UWMT and by 1996 the 14 partner counties exceeded their $25 million goal. Other important initiatives, such as the local Community Aids Partnership (now known as the Ryan White Community AIDS Partnership) and SUCCESS By 6, began in the early 1990’s. The Cockrill Chapter was founded in 1991 to recognize donors giving gifts of $5,000 - $9,999 and began with 66 charter members. By United Way’s 75th year in 1997, UWMT was raising an impressive $26 million. It was this year that the Iris Circle Award was introduced to recognize local companies for their exemplary support of UWMT.
In 1999 The United Ways of Middle Tennessee, Inc. was created to serve as a forum for current and future partner United Ways. Its mission is to increase the capacity of each United Way in Middle Tennessee to meet the health and human service needs of the communities they serve locally and collectively throughout the region. A total of 16 county United Ways participate in this forum. As a result of the change in structure, United Way of Middle Tennessee changed its name to United Way of Metropolitan Nashville.
In the early 2000’s UWMN continued to thrive and introduced many new programs and initiatives. In 2002 UWMN launched Read to Succeed, which worked in low-income areas to help children get the literacy skills needed to succeed in school. When this program began, roughly 30% of children had the necessary skills. Today, that number is 99.4%. In 2003, The R.H. Boyd Society was formed to recognize the unique contributions of African Americans and the significant impact they’ve provided to the Nashville community. Membership in the society is based upon annual giving of $1,000 and higher. In 2004, 2-1-1, a community services help line, spearheaded by UWMN in Middle Tennessee, was launched.
In 2005 UWMN was proud to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society. With over 410 Tocqueville Societies nationwide, $430 million was being raised annually for communities across the country. Also in 2005, UWMN formed a partnership with the Nashville Wealth Building Alliance. Now known as the Nashville Alliance for Financial Independence (NAFI), he collaborative effort has put over $44 million back into Nashville’s economy over 5 years through the Earned Income Tax Credit and free income tax preparation services.
In the last half of the decade, UWMN has continued to grow and build support within the community. With budgeted revenue surpassing $27 million in recent years, United Way continues to achieve measurable impact. In 2006 the UWMN-lead 2-1-1 initiative was made available across the state, with access in all 95 counties. Help for all residents of Tennessee is now just a 3-digit phone call away. In 2007 the Sennett Society celebrated its 10th anniversary and raised over $900,000 while the Tocqueville Society surpassed 300 members and raised over $5.6 million.
In 2008 the LIVE UNITED movement was launched along with its first Day of Action. With over 850 volunteers participating and over 1500 volunteer hours donated, these unique volunteer events continue to grow. Focusing on Education, Income, Health and Neighborhoods, Days of Action provide opportunities for volunteers to give additional support and resources to partner.
UWMN has been busy in 2009 as well. Our traditional campaign celebration was transformed into a Day of Action event, focusing on the needs of our clients. In light of the economy, Tools for Tough Times was created as a resource for those in need. The UWMN campaign is projected to grow by 5%, helping those who need it most in these extraordinary times. Read to Succeed, UWMN’s early literacy initiative, rate of success has reached 99.4%, and NAFI helped to return $11.4 million back into the pockets of those who need it most.