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Why United Way is changing: Bill Jackson

In 2012, the United Way of Erie County created a new strategic direction that focuses on helping individuals and families become self-sufficient. The goal, developed and approved by our agency's volunteer board of directors, is to reduce the number of Erie County families struggling to meet their basic needs by one-third before May 2025. This is our "Live United 2025" challenge to the community.

To achieve this goal, the United Way recently made significant changes in the way it does business, especially in determining how to invest its donors' dollars into effective programs and initiatives, mobilizing volunteers in a strategic fashion and advocating for public policy that impacts hardworking families.

The next area we are focusing on is fundraising. The United Way has been using essentially the same model for at least 50 years, focusing primarily on individuals giving through their place of employment. And while this will remain critically important going forward, to achieve our community's goals the United Way of Erie County must look at its fundraising strategies through a new lens. To that end, we are in the process of reorganizing our resource development efforts. We know we must build stronger direct relationships with employees and align employers' philanthropic interests with the work of the United Way in Erie County. We also want to ensure when people retire, they can easily remain involved with the United Way in a way that fulfills their desire to support our community.

I want to be very clear that we will not throw the baby out with the bath water as we look at making changes. One of the United Way's greatest strengths is that through payroll deduction, anyone can afford to make a small weekly gift that, when combined with the donations of others, turns into millions of dollars a year that are used to improve people's lives right here in Erie County. Thanks to the United Way we can all be philanthropists. That will not change.

But we have embarked on a bold journey, one that links solid, research-based community strategies to the resources needed to implement them. By connecting families to the building blocks of economic stability -- education, income and health -- the United Way and our partners will ensure people have the tools they need to thrive.

The United Way's work now goes well beyond our historical role of funding strong nonprofit partners. Today we are mobilizing all our assets: funding, volunteers, legislative advocacy, technology, in-kind resources and corporate partnerships to deliver transformative, measurable results. Together we have the opportunity to change the lives of thousands of people across our region, generating a ripple effect of economic growth and stability.

Let me tell you about Delvon, a 4-year-old boy who comes from a low-income household. His mother, Debra, is doing everything in her power to give him a better life, and has enrolled Delvon in multiple programs and initiatives made possible through your support of the United Way of Erie County.

Delvon received a scholarship to attend a high-quality early care program from Erie's Future Fund, an initiative offered through a partnership between the United Way of Erie County, the Erie Community Foundation, the Early Learning Investment Commission and Success By 6.

Delvon attends the Early Learning Center at Early Connections, a United Way-funded organization where children learn age-appropriate social, motor, verbal and cognitive skills and develop a positive self-image.

And Delvon, like more than 7,800 Erie County children, receives a free, high-quality, age-appropriate book mailed to his home each month through the Imagination Library, a United Way initiative offered in collaboration with the Erie Community Foundation and other funding partners. The Imagination Library increases literacy rates and helps prepare children to enter kindergarten ready to learn and with a love of reading.

Because of your support of the United Way, Delvon is getting the tools he needs to start life ready to succeed and take his first steps on the path to becoming a self-sufficient adult.

Next month we will launch our 100th annual fundraising appeal here in Erie County. And while we have expanded how the United Way supports the community through mobilizing multiple assets, the annual campaign, with strong support from employees across the county, remains a critically vital resource in funding programs, initiatives and movements that address poverty prevention and reduction. This fundraising effort is no less important today than it was in 1914.

If you work in a company that runs a United Way campaign, I would ask you to participate. Any amount will help. And if your company does not run a campaign, or if you are self-employed or retired or a student or at some other point in life, please consider making a donation at our website,, or mailing a check to United Way of Erie County, 420 W. Sixth St., Erie, PA 16507.

With your help, we are setting hardworking people on the path to meet their basic needs without any form of public or private assistance. Children who will be born in 2025 may never need to rely on the services we fund thanks to our work today. Instead, they'll live in a healthier, stronger community with more self-sufficient families.

Thank you for supporting the United Way over the past 100 years. Your consistent giving, advocating and volunteering have positioned us for tremendous success as we enter our second century.

BILL JACKSON is president and chief professional officer of the United Way of Erie County (
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