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So many good charities, so many demands:  can’t choose?

United Way can help.

The United Way is not a charity. It raises money for charities and decides which ones should get the money. It’s a formula that really works. I am a reluctant convert: like many people I thought the United Way was a huge impersonal organisation which probably had way too much overhead. It has been really gratifying for me to work with the United Way for several years now, and I want to tell you why.

Thousands of worthy causes vie for our attention. It is impossible to give to them all. Most of us probably give to our neighbours’ pet causes, at least if they knock on our door. Small amounts. We perhaps have a key charity we give to, a disease that has affected our family, a specific need we have personal experience with, or perhaps we feel our wealthy society needs to share with others, and we donate to charities that alleviate suffering in the third world.

We pay taxes. We want our government to use these in part to address needs in health care and education and to make a healthy society. Intuitively we know that needs change too quickly for bureaucracies to be able to react with government solutions, and that some needs are simply too small to be handled by government, but are real nonetheless. We think government has bigger concerns, for example, than funding companion animals to visit long term hospital patients or retirement residences, but we get that that is a good thing to do and that it costs money.

Among the myriad causes we can see are worthwhile, how do we decide how much to give to each? Do we have the time to know which ones are prudent with their money, which ones are most effective at ensuring the largest part possible goes to the need, rather than to administrative overhead? Big Brothers and Sisters, Lighthouse for Grieving Children, Acclaim Health Care home nursing, school breakfasts, guide dogs, addiction management programs, spousal abuse charities, all need money. Many are small organizations, and their precious resources are stretched to help those in need. They are hard pressed to find the time to raise money, every phone call taking them away from the work they want to do.

Like many people, I was very torn about where I should use my own skills and relationships, and my donations, to best effect. Then I found the United Way.

The United Way is not a charity. It does not compete with any of the charities I have alluded to. Instead, it does two things: it raises money on behalf of charities to allow them to devote their efforts to meeting the needs they were founded to address; and it evaluates charities’ effectiveness and assesses the needs in the community to determine which charities should get what share of the money raised. It is focused on the local community, and saves you and me the trouble of figuring out how we can best contribute and whether the charities we donate to are properly managed. It makes sure our money goes to where the needs are greatest. It lets us donate to many charities with one gift.

In Oakville, the United Way last year supported 33 charities they call United Way agencies. To be a United Way agency, you need to show good management, and you need to address a real need in the community. You also need to know that your support from the United Way will vary depending on the relative importance of the needs you serve, which change with the economy and with different social pressures: addictions, mental illness, homelessness, spousal abuse, Alzheimers, Meals on Wheels and every other need have more or less importance depending on social and economic change. No individual donor can possibly expect to be a good judge of which charity needs the most help from one year to the next.

For me, the most compelling reason I am passionate about the United Way movement is that it touches virtually everyone’s family at some time or another: every year about 1 in 6 people in Oakville will have recourse to one United Way agency or another. Over a decade, nearly everyone will have a family member or close friend in need of a United Way agency service.

I love having the confidence that my donations are going to the areas of greatest need and that they are well managed. United Way volunteers come from all walks of life, and bring the wisdom and experience to guide this organisation to continue to make the contribution to a healthy, cohesive community it has for many decades. The United Way campaign is in full swing this fall: go to to learn more, make your donation or pledge, or if your company has a United Way campaign, sign up. If it doesn’t, contact your corporate responsibility representative and urge them to start a campaign. You can help make a kinder Oakville, a better place for us all to live, by working together in our community wide effort. Perhaps today you can give. Perhaps tomorrow, you, or someone you care about, will need to receive.

Give today so that the many hard-working dedicated United Way agencies will be there should you need them tomorrow, yes, but give today so that those in need get help now.

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