The history of the Salina Area United Way can best be understood in its national context, because the idea of a united campaign really began in the 19th century. In 1887, a Roman Catholic priest, two Protestant ministers, a Rabbi, and a woman volunteer formed the Charity Organization of Denver, becoming first in the nation to raise funds in a joint campaign, thereby preventing duplication of services and developing cooperation among 23 participating agencies. This first campaign raised $21,700 of which all but $61 was collected. Several of the original agencies still serve the Denver area.
In 1917, the War Chest movement spread over the nation to nearly 400 communities and raised more than one million dollars. Rochester, New York coined the name "Community Chest" in 1919.
Federated fund raising progressed through 1928, then underwent serious difficulty during the Depression years and the reconstruction years when the Federal government assistance grew, and volunteer giving declined. World War II revived the voluntary fund-raising movement and by 1974 nearly $167 million was contributed in communities across the nation through united campaigns.
Federated funding was underway in Salina prior to 1938, but in June that year the Salina Community Chest was incorporated and chartered with a stated purpose to promote cooperation and service adequate to the needs of the community among social service agencies and to assist in the organization of new social service agencies when necessary, and to disburse funds collected amongst the agencies. The original incorporators were J.J. Sullivan, C.H. Gawthrop, E.A. Morgan, F.S. Dyer, and E.W. Reed.
In 1938, Salina raised over $31,476 for seven participating agencies - Red Cross, YWCA, YMCA, Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, Welfare Board and Americanization Center. In 1954, the name was changed to the Salina United Fund. The organization joined other communities who were affiliated with a national association. Affiliation with United Way of America continues today.
United Way of America is a service center that provides research, training, a National Corporate Leadership Program and other services to benefit each community. In 1974, Salina United Fund was changed to United Way of Salina, Inc. for better identification with the national name and publicity. The campaign raised $327,500 that year. The name was again changed in 1995 to the Salina Area United Way to better reflect the broader service area of funded agencies and that donors often live beyond the city or county line.
Salina Area United Way funding decisions are guided by community priorities based upon findings of a community-wide needs assessment. The first assessment was undertaken in 1990, resulting in a shift to program funding organized by Priority levels. In 1995, the Salina Area United Way joined with other community groups to form the Alliance for a Healthy Community to conduct another community-wide needs assessment, resulting in a publication entitled Community Compass, completed in 2003 and updated in 2007. The most recent update of the organization’s Strategic Plan was completed in 2005.