Not Your Granny’s United Way

Monday, December 14, 2020

At Beyond Marketing, we work with a diverse array of clients. Some are local and others are across the country. A number are small or in the start-up phase, and some are large and mature. This Spring, we built a new website for the United Way of York County – a small-but-mighty nonprofit right in our backyard.

When considering an organization that’s more than 75 years old, it’s easy to assume it does things now the way it did things back then. And for some organizations, that’s true. But to our surprise, that’s not the case with the United Way of York County (UWYC). Instead of trying to be all things for all people – which you could say is standard for a lot of United Way chapters – our United Way is striving to solve a really significant thing alongside a mega-dedicated group of specific people.

As a member of this community, I felt it important to share what we learned about this dynamic organization. Here’s the skinny –

How Things Used To Be

The United Way is a non-profit organization. Every year, they raise funds through workplace giving, contributions from individuals, and a small handful of grants. Once all monies are in the bank, the pot is divided among eligible, meritorious local nonprofits that apply for funding.

All of that is still true.

A group of volunteers smile together in a group shot in front of the big fountain in downtown Rock Hill, SC
Smiling at Fountain Park in Rock Hill, pre-COVID!

In the past, however, nonprofits with a mission related to four areas of need – Education, Health, Basic Needs, and Financial Stability – had the opportunity to request funds, and all of those awarded did amazing work in York County. The challenge was demonstrating how all of these community-raised dollars were moving the needle. (Or four needles, as it were.)

A New Approach

UWYC knew their impact could be more significant – and more tangible. They turned to the community to find out how.

Through a series of surveys and local focus groups, UWYC identified the most pressing issue in York County to be financial stability and determined that a financially stable individual or family is one that can meet their needs without assistance. From here, they retooled their mission: “to help 3,000 York County families achieve financial stability by 2030.”

Why the urgency? Because the federal government has set South Carolina’s poverty line at $26,200 per year for a family of four. To put that in perspective, a recent study out of the University of Washington shows that a family of four needs an annual minimum of $59,128 to be self-sufficient in York County.

Whoa, y’all. That’s a difference of $32,928 – an enormous pill to swallow, especially when you consider that 21% of our county’s households bring in less than $25K annually.

The United Way of York County stand in front of a banner highlighting their financial stability services segment of the United Way
James, Somersby, and Alexis from the United Way highlighting the newly defined purpose for the United Way in York County. Photo taken pre-COVID.


Not Overnight

This mission-shifting realization has the potential to “raise the tide and lift all boats” but – UWYC leadership recognized – cutting bait cold-turkey on the old way would leave a number of organizations high and dry.

Instead, they phased in the new initiative over a period of three years. First, they helped organizations reliant on the United Way to strategize ways to become more self-sufficient. Then, they weaned them from their grant pool. It was only July 1 of this year that they rolled out the new funding structure.

True to plan, 90% of this year’s grantees support workforce development and financial literacy, and 10% represent organizations traditionally funded by UWYC.

Bio photos of the United Way of York County Team Members
The amazing team from the United Way of York County!

With, Not For

The United Way of York County differs from other nonprofits in another way too. UWYC is committed to fulfilling their mission with – not for – the community.

They work in relationship with their grantees and collaborative partners to yield a mutually beneficial exchange — UWYC hits their mission, and their partners hit theirs — and the community at large wins. As stated on their website, the goal is for  “the community to come together to find long-term solutions.”

It’s about accountability. Getting things done. About making lasting change.

Critical Support

OK. One more thing that makes us a raving fan of UWYC – they locally implement several programs, including:

A United Way 211 operator smiles while wearing a phone headset


The United Way of York County staffs 2-1-1, a 24-7 resource that provides real-time service options to our area’s most vulnerable populations – and all it takes is a phone or internet connection. County residents can call 211 or 866-892-9211, or access the free 211 app via the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Rather than calling numerous organizations to gather bits and pieces of information, callers who’ve had a traumatic experience can preserve their dignity and harness empowerment by making a single call to the multilingual specialists at 211.

Connecting the Dots

A home-grown program, Connecting the Dots is an annual event that directly connects people in need of financial stability support with the people who can provide it. From bankers to local university personnel, the program operates within a one-on-one engagement model that meets participants where they are – literally asking, “How do YOU need help? What do YOU need to be more self-sufficient” – and then follows their financial health journey.

Members of the United Way present to a large conference room of people
*photos captured before COVID*

Previously, this was an in-person program. Currently, it’s being offered to Rock Hill residents through a City-level partnership, and UWYC is seeking effective ways to roll out a remote-version of the program in rural areas.

This is Where You Come In

Here’s the thing. The UWYC’s heavy lift isn’t going to happen unless we – the people of York County – support one another. We can only rise above our statistics if we work together. Here’s what we can do to fund local nonprofits and to keep UWYC’s proprietary programs going:

  • As individuals, we can give to the United Way of York County
  • As employees, we can encourage our companies to participate in a Workplace Giving Campaign – even raise your hand to be a Workplace Ambassadors
  • As business owners, we can join the Small Business Alliance

Individuals can also host a virtual Poverty Simulation. Through this 20-40 minute guided experience, groups walk through a realistic, day-in-the-life scenario that requires tough choices, leads to hard-won triumphs and, more often than not, ends in heaping-but-healthy helpings of perspective.

Want to talk about a #funnynotfunny game? Whewww. Important work, packaged in a bite-sized serving of reality. Our group made it 24 days out of 30 – which is reportedly an impressive score. The average is 16 days. Ugh.

All donations of $25 and above can be made in installments. Give before 12/31 to maximize your tax-deductible contribution.

Boom, y’all. Let’s do this. (And then let’s tell Granny all about it!)

Melissa Harper headshot


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