United Way Grew To Be More Than Just An "Employment Requirement"

Let me start by saying that I absolutely love the United Way!  It is an incredible organization that does amazing things to make our community a better place and I am thrilled to be a part of it!  That was not always the case, though. 

I grew up in Chautauqua County in the middle of nowhere in Ellery Center.  We would come into “the big city” of Jamestown every once in a while, but we were never actually a part of the Jamestown community.  Growing up, I knew nothing about the United Way and if any of their programs had any impact on my life, I never saw it.   
When I graduated from high school, I moved to Columbus, Ohio for college.  While there I also got my first real job working in a corporate office for a bank.  It was there that I first heard about the United Way.  My introduction to the United Way came when my company started their annual pledge campaign.  There was no presentation or introduction to the United Way or their services.  There were no stories of how it makes the community a better place.  There was just a brochure and a demand that everyone would participate.  Maybe demand is a little strong, but it was highly recommended that everyone would donate and they had ways of strongly encouraging you to do so.  It felt much less like a charitable gift of generosity and more like a mafia shakedown.  This approach did not make me feel particularly engaged or generous.  So, out of fear of retaliation, I started to donate to the United Way.  I saw it as just another employment requirement, kind of like payroll taxes.  Fun!! 
After working at the bank for a few years, I moved on to a retail corporate office.  Amazingly enough they also had a United Way campaign.  Yay!!  Again, no presentation or connection to the agency or their services, but an unwritten demand that their employees “generously” give to the agency.  They were not as heavy handed as my last company, but the expectation that all employees donate was very clear.  So, like a good employee, I did what was expected and my dislike of the United Way continued to grow.   
After 15 years in Columbus, my wife and I decided we wanted to live in a smaller town.  So, we moved back to Jamestown.  I started working for a local manufacturer and guess what, they also had a United Way campaign.  Awesome!!  Again, no point of connection to the United Way and what they do, but this time there was no expectation to donate.  The HR person just handed out the cards and many employees turned them in with no donation.  That was much better for me as it was an end to the unwanted pressure to donate that I had experienced before. 
That was my United Way connection for about 5 years.  Then the HR director at my company retired and my supervisors asked me if I would be interested in the HR position.  I had no HR experience, but thought it would be a great opportunity to grow in the company, so I decided to give it a shot.  As I was learning my HR duties it came to my attention that I would now be running the United Way Campaign for our company.  What a joy!!   
I knew I could not run it heavy-handed like my earlier companies did.  I refused to threaten people into generosity.  I also knew I didn’t want to be involved in something I didn’t believe in, so even just handing out the cards was not an option.  So, I decided I needed to find out more about the United Way, why they exist, what they do, where the money goes, can I trust the staff and do they really help people.  I started looking at their website and found out that they exist to assist local organizations by funding programs that make the community a better place.  As I looked at the programs, I noticed that many of them were things my own kids were actually involved in.  When I looked at the finances I saw that 100% of the money raised stayed local and 85 cents of every dollar went directly to programming.  That is a great return on investment for charitable giving.  I spoke to the director of the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County and was blown away by her passion for the community and desire to help others.  I also listened to the stories about the people who were helped by United Way programs and learned that the United Way really was making a difference. 
All of this sounded really good, but I still had to overcome my personal bias that came from years of being forced to give money to an impersonal, cold United Way machine.  So, with my first campaign, I decided to jump right in and give it my best and just see what happened.  I invited the United Way to come and give a presentation and it was fantastic!  I am not sure if my company had ever had a presentation like that before, but it was wonderful to hear more about the United Way and its services and to have someone from one of the program agencies share how the United Way was helping real people.  This presentation had a real impact on me and my employees and during that campaign we raised much more money than the company had in previous years.  The best part was this money was given, not out of fear, but from a heart of generosity and a desire to partner with the United Way to make our community better.  Since that first year I have found myself a champion for the United Way!  I now co-chair the industrial committee, speak at some United Way events and gladly lead my company’s campaign.  We still have presentations during our yearly campaign and for the last 6 years our employees have generously increased their donations every year!   
I am thankful for my partnership with the United Way and the impact they have had in my life and in the lives of those I care about.  If anyone has questions or doubts about the United Way, I always encourage them to dig deep and seek answers.  I know that if they do, they will want to be part of the United Way team, too. 
UWAYSCC 100 Years, 100 Stories blog submission by Robert Dahlin, Human Resources Director, UWAYSCC volunteer. At Weber Knapp, their culture has always been focused on establishing and maintaining longterm relationships with their employees, their customers, and their community.  WK invests in high-quality/high-performance equipment.  First and foremost, however, they invest in their employees and in their community.  They believe in the well-being of their employees and in providing them with as many opportunities as they can to assist in advancing their betterment goals. for more information about Weber Knapp, visit weberknapp.com