Our mission

United Way of Metro Chicago fights for the health, education, financial stability and safety of every person in every neighborhood across the region. We advance the common good on both a regional and neighborhood level by focusing on the building blocks for thriving people and communities: access to quality health care, a good education, financial stability and ensuring basic needs are met.

Who we help

At United Way, our goal is to see every neighborhood across the Chicago region become a place where individuals and families can thrive. We serve the entire Chicago metropolitan area, including all of Cook and DuPage counties. We support 60 partner communities—19 city and 41 suburban—and we are strategically invested in 10 neighborhood coalitions through our Neighborhood Network Initiative.

How we help

Something powerful happens when people unite around a common goal. At United Way, we take a collaborative approach to creating change. Using decades of fundraising experience and community engagement expertise, we connect advocates, volunteers, donors and local agencies to build a stronger Chicago. Together, we are able to meet a wide range of needs that create a foundation from which families and individuals can reach their full potential.

New and noteworthy

BCG’s Center for Illinois' Future

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)’s Center for Illinois’ Future report analyzed Chicago’s outcomes across key dimensions, from education and infrastructure to public safety and wealth disparity. BCG recognized United Way as a leader in community development and cited our Neighborhood Network Initiative as a best-in-class approach. In 2018, we were able to tap into their knowledge and expertise to further develop and improve upon our strategy. 

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RWJF Culture of Health Prize

Cicero, a United Way Neighborhood Network, was named a 2018 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Culture of Health Prize award winner. Cicero was one of four award winners out of nearly 200 applicant communities. This prestigious prize honors communities for their unwavering efforts to ensure all residents have the opportunity to live healthier lives. Cicero is the first community in Illinois to win the prize. 

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A look at our history

1887

A new movement

In Denver, a woman, a priest, two ministers and a rabbi got together. Though it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, they met to develop new ways of working together to improve the lives of Denver residents. That year, they raised $21,700, benefiting 10 area welfare agencies. Their work laid the foundation for what would eventually become the global United Way movement.

1929

The crash

The U.S. stock market crashed on Black Tuesday (October 29), heralding the beginning of the Great Depression. In Chicago, countless businesses found themselves “in the red” and were forced to permanently close. This left 700,000 people unemployed. In response, a group of business and civic leaders gathered to create a committee and laid the foundation for what is now known as United Way of Metro Chicago.

1930-1932

Illinois relief

Illinois Governor Emmerson created the Commission on Unemployment and Relief to organize temporary relief efforts for the depression. The commission received funds through a payroll deduction system that set aside employee contributions and employer-matched dollars—the prototype for United Way’s payroll deduction process. The Commission soon evolved into a more centralized fundraising entity and was renamed the Emergency Welfare Fund. The Fund, which would come to be known as United Way of Metro Chicago, linked together communities to create lasting change.

1933

First community partners

The first nonprofit agencies to submit for membership to the Fund were United Charities, Jewish Charities, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army of Chicago and the Chicago chapter of the American Red Cross. The Chicago Urban League was the first agency serving minority people to be funded. These partners continued to be United Way of Metro Chicago funded agencies for decades to come.

1935

Women make a difference

While Chicago businessmen led the Fund’s board, the Women’s Division ran its own campaign to help achieve fundraising goals. They solicited contributions from 10,000-15,000 women from other local women’s groups.

1941-1942

The city that works

The Chicago Federation of Labor helped the Community Fund of Chicago (formerly the Emergency Welfare Fund) raise more than $3.5 million and increased the number of donors to a record 23,095. These milestones marked a movement of labor unions investing in local communities, sowing the seeds for a relationship between United Way and labor unions that continues today. America entered World War II in 1941. The demand for labor increased and the depression ended. War became the priority, and Chicagoans came forward to assist.

1947

Peacetime challenges

Following the war, the suburbs grew rapidly, and the Suburban Community Chest Council was created. This consolidated disparate community chests that had been established since 1934 outside the City of Chicago, specifically Berwyn, Brookfield, Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Hinsdale, Lombard, Maywood, Oak Park/River Forest, Riverside, Stickney and Western Springs.

1963

A way forward

America’s national community chest system consolidated and became the United Way of America. As a community chest organization, the Community Fund became an affiliate of the newly formed United Way.

1976-1977

United we stand

In 1977, the Community Fund and the Council for Community Services combined to officially form United Way of Chicago. A year earlier, in 1976, The Suburban Community Chest Council became the United Way of Suburban Chicago.

1983

Public service

When the local unemployment rate rose 7 percentage points above the national average, Chicagoans responded with overwhelming generosity. They collected $75 million in donations and aided 375 local social services agencies. United Way of Chicago launched a new initiative known as the Special Grants and Incentives Program (also known as Priority Grants or Venture Grants) that targeted funds for severely underserved communities.

1984

Civic society

The United Way Tocqueville Society was founded by United Way of America in 1984 to recognize outstanding philanthropists across the country. It was named after Alexis de Tocqueville, the French author of “Democracy in America.” Tocqueville was an advocate for democracy, federalism and philanthropy. His focus on collaboration through associations made him an ideal namesake for this esteemed giving society. The Chicago chapter of the Tocqueville Society began in 1989. It enables prominent Chicago area residents to deepen their commitment to civic leadership and community service while providing an opportunity for public recognition.

1988

Issue areas

United Way’s Environmental Analysis Committee concluded that the focus of the campaign and allocation process needed to change to center around five issue areas: human capital development, community development, family life, health and disability, and discrimination. United Way established three-year priority grants to help fund agencies that directly addressed these issues—marking the beginning of an issue-based funding strategy.

1990s

Reaching out

In an effort to better serve the diverse region, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago began connecting with minority business leaders and creating outreach committees. By 1994, about 90 percent of United Way’s fund recipients were organizations that served minority communities.

2003

United as one

By 2003, 55 individual United Way chapters existed in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Under President and CEO Janet Froetscher, they consolidated into one chapter and took the name United Way of Metro Chicago. This was the largest nonprofit merger in history.

2005-2007

Taking initiative

United Way of Metro Chicago launched its African American and Latin American Initiatives. Developed to address the specific needs of the black and Latino communities, these programs aimed to put young African-American males and Latinos on track for success as adults.

2011-2016

Transition to impact

In 2011, United Way of Metro Chicago launched the LIVE UNITED 2020 community impact plan to make more substantial, lasting change through focused, well-researched strategies in the communities. LIVE UNITED 2020 sought to meet the following goals by the year 2020:
Put 50,000 middle school students on track to graduate high school
Provide 100,000 households with improved economic stability
Connect more than 200,000 people with a doctor
Provide a million people with food, shelter and safety from abuse

By 2016, United Way had not only met its goals, it had exceeded them.

2013

Focus on neighborhoods

In partnership with lead neighborhood agencies, United Way of Metro Chicago launched the Neighborhood Network Initiative. Along with a lead agency and other community partners, United Way worked with these neighborhoods to assist them in achieving goals they were already aiming to accomplish. Neighborhood Networks exist in the following 10 communities: Auburn Gresham, Austin, Bronzeville, Brighton Park, Cicero, Evanston, Little Village, Robbins/Blue Island, South Chicago and West Chicago.

2014

United Pride

United Way of Metro Chicago launched United Pride, an affinity group for members of the LGBTQ community and allies to come together around issues affecting the LGBTQ community. United Pride reflects United Way’s value of diversity in sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, age, religion, and other qualities that unite our region.

2015-2016

A state in crisis

United Way of Metro Chicago joined forces with United Way of Illinois to execute a series of surveys and bring attention to the impact that the state’s budget impasse had on the most vulnerable citizens across Illinois and on the human service sector overall.

2017 and beyond

A stronger Chicago

After achieving the LIVE UNITED 2020 goals four years ahead of schedule, United Way of Metro Chicago shifted focus to the Stronger Neighborhoods Community Impact Plan. This new plan works to bring resources together that support neighborhood leaders, residents and organizations to create stronger communities for all. United Way remains committed to the betterment of the region by bringing people and resources together to help unleash the potential of greater Chicago—neighborhood by neighborhood.

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