United Way of the Cape Fear Area will be celebrating its 75th anniversary on June 11, 2016, at Audi Cape Fear. Our 1940s-themed event will highlight the past 75 years, as well as focus on our present and future. All are invited to this milestone event, and more information will be forthcoming in the next few months.
United Way also will highlight our history in Insights articles to lead up to our anniversary and to give you tidbits of information along the way. Walk with us as we begin with the early years and continue to the formation of our local United Way in 1941.
1887 - 1941
Imitating a successful model in England, a group of diverse religious leaders in Denver founded the Charity Organizations Society in 1887. Considered to be the first United Way, it planned and coordinated local services and conducted a single fundraising campaign for 22 agencies. It raised $21,700 in its first year of operation.
Between 1887 and the early 1900s, charitable institutions became exempt from the first federal act that imposed a tax on all corporations organized for profit. Cleveland’s Chamber of Commerce formed the Committee on Benevolent Associations to set standards and monitor charities. This was thought to be the first effort at charity self-regulation and was established to protect the donor. In addition, the first Independent Federation of Jewish agencies was formed in Boston.
In 1908, the nation’s first community planning program, Associated Charities, was formed in Pittsburgh and a council was formed in Ohio that would work to prevent overlapping services and multiplicity of solicitations. In 1911, the National Association of Societies for Organizing Charities was formed to help social agencies cooperate and share information. And in 1913, the nation’s first modern Community Chest (United Way) was born in Cleveland as a program for allocating campaign funds. As a side note, my grandfather, George Schuele, who was president of the Fries and Schuele Department Store, was one of the community leaders in Cleveland who established the Community Chest there.
As we moved toward World War I, War Chests were formed to provide relief for people serving in the armed forces and their families, as well as refugees in Europe. In 1918, executives of 12 fundraising federations met in Chicago and formed the American Association for Community Organizations. Their objective was to encourage and stimulate collective community planning and develop better standards within organizations.
Rochester, New York used the name of Community Chest for the first time, and in 1919 the concept began to take roots in Wilmington N.C. By 1921, several civic leaders, spurred by support from Wilmington Mayor James Cowan, began to evaluate adoption of the increasingly popular Community Chest. This concept would fund nonprofit agencies and also attempt to reduce the increasing number of charitable campaigns employers and employees needed to respond to annually. Wilmington adopted the concept in 1921, making it one of the first cities in the United States to do so.
The first Community Chest campaign was conducted in New Hanover County in March 1922, with an announced goal of raising $40,000. The eight beneficiary organizations for that campaign were: YMCA; YWCA; Jewish Welfare Society; Salvation Army; Boy Scouts; Milk Station; Traveler’s Aid Society; and Catherine Kennedy Home.
The Morris Plan Bank of Wilmington opened its doors in May 1929 with a local attorney named Harriss Newman as one of its directors. In 1930, Newman would become the second person of Jewish faith to serve in the North Carolina General Assembly. Newman was educated in Wilmington public schools and attended Cape Fear Academy. He received his law degree from the University of North Carolina and the United Way of the Cape Fear Area’s Leadership Society would later be named after him.
In 1931, President Herbert Hoover was setting a precedent by allowing the Washington, D.C., Community Chest to solicit federal employees. In Wilmington, the Community Council, The Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, and several civic clubs sought to advance the concept of the Community Chest.
Although civic and business leaders continued to be supportive, underfunding of agencies occurred here under the centralized campaign concept. Some agencies still conducted their own campaigns, which frustrated local business leaders.
The concept of funding charitable and civic organizations in a racially segregated society seemed to create other systemic challenges that both the Community Council and Community Chest organizations would try to address, with only marginal results. It would take an extraordinary, world-scale event in the early 1940s to set the Cape Fear community on the path toward a centralized, well-supported campaign structure which would, in time, benefit the entire population.
Continue on our historical journey in next month’s Insights, where I’ll detail the birth of United Way in 194. And again, mark your calendars for our 75th anniversary event on June 11, 2016, at Audi Cape Fear.
Christopher L. Nelson is president of the United Way of the Cape Fear Area, a local nonprofit organization. Since 1941, the United Way of the Cape Fear Area has worked alongside local agencies in Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties to assist them in providing substantial and sustainable change within the Cape Fear area. To learn more about the United Way of the Cape Fear Region, go to https://uwcfa.org/ or call (910) 798-3900.
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