History of United Way

Over a Century of Caring – National History

When a Denver priest, two ministers and a rabbi put their heads together in 1887 to plan the first united campaign for 10 health and welfare agencies, they produced one of the most important social inventions in American history. That year, Denver raised $21,700 for the first United Way.

More than a century later in 2011, about 1,800 community-based United Way organizations across the world engage all sectors—public, private and civil society—at the community level, mobilizing individuals so they become the change agents in their own communities to improve the conditions in which they live.

Community by community, United Way works to advance the common good. The United Way movement mobilizes millions to action to improve the conditions in which they live.  By working at the local level, the United Way movement addresses the root cause of issues that affect families and individuals.

Local Roots

In 1940, the citizens of Forrest County, feeling the need for uniting six annual fund-raising campaigns, organized the United Welfare Organization. The UWO met the needs of Forrest County for 15 years.

In 1956, concerned community leaders felt the area had outgrown the UWO, so in May of that year the United Givers Fund of Forrest County was chartered. The organizations benefiting from the UGF were Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, YWCA, Traveler’s Aid, The Salvation Army and Boys Brotherhood. The goal to raise that first year was less than $100,000.

In 1975, the volunteer board of directors expanded the territory served by the UGF, and the name was changed to Forrest-Lamar United Way. Six years later, in 1981, the organization began a restructuring process. The first long-range planning committee was appointed in 1983 to help provide a plan to better serve our community. That same year, venture grant funding (special one-time grants for new programs) became an important part of how United Way distributed funds each year.

In 1986, the local United Way board of directors launched the “Second Century Initiatives” to address the needs of the second century of United Way. Through this process, United Way resolved to the community to “become more open and caring.” New committees were formed, and new areas of concern addressed. In 1987, the first comprehensive community-wide needs assessment survey was completed. The survey was updated in 1991, 1995, 2000 and again in 2005.  This documentation of the concerns of South Mississippians is being used by many groups, including United Way, to meet the needs in the community.

Another significant event occurred in 1986 when the Grand Givers Club was formed to recognize all annual gifts of $1,000 or more.  This structure has since been modified to recognize five levels of giving: Crystal ($1,000-$1,499); Sterling ($1,500-$2,499); Diamond ($2,500-$4,999); Platinum ($5,000-$9,999); and the nationally recognized Alexis de Tocqueville Society ($10,000 or more).  Now known as the Grand Givers Society, this leadership-giving program includes over 200 donors contributing almost half a million dollars each year.

The local United Way board of directors negotiated with Perry County officials in 1989 and voted to include this county in the service area. With an expanded service area and an expanded area of volunteer and donor resources, the name was changed to reflect this. United Way of Southeast Mississippi is the name the organization has used since then.

In the spring of 2000, after having a number of temporary locations, United Way found a permanent home with the purchase of the Professional Building located at 210 West Front Street in downtown Hattiesburg.

In 2005, United Way of Southeast Mississippi celebrated its 65th year of providing community solutions in our area.  Today, the organization continues to grow and adapt to changes to meet the needs in the community. 

In 2015 we celebrated our 75th year of impacting Southeast Mississippi.