Nancy Vaughan column: Why United Way? Ask ALICE

You are here

By Nancy Vaughan | For The Herald Bulletin Sep 23, 2018 
“If a person wants to support a specific organization, why not donate directly to that organization rather than give to United Way?” This question was posed to me last week, but it’s one I have heard many, many times over the years, reflecting the historical focus on United Way as a fundraising and fund distribution machine.
In most communities, United Way is the single largest charitable fundraising campaign. The roots of that single drive for giving to support multiple organizations began in 1887 and elements of it continue today. However, in an ever-changing world, what made United Way innovative in 1887 or even 1987 is about as relevant as steam locomotion or dot matrix printing.
Why United Way?
“Who else does what you do?” A question from another recent conversation. Before I could answer, a donor in the room responded: “No one.”
Issues that are faced today are rarely, if ever, able to be addressed by a single organization.
This month’s release of the 2018 ALICE report illustrates the innovation of today’s United Way. ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) is a way to look at the multitude of challenges that face people who struggle, and the impact of those challenges on communities. This is the third update of the report for our state and county, and it helps us identify areas that need more focus and prepare for emerging trends.
We take data to local and state leaders, to partner organizations, and to the street where we ask people to talk about their daily experiences and concerns. We engage all sectors to support policies and programs that have a positive impact on the challenges we identify by calling everyone to “give, advocate, volunteer.” We create funding opportunities for nonprofit partners to work together to help people thrive. We work with our state and worldwide network to bring best practices to our community. The ALICE report is one of those best practices.
What have we learned over the past eight years of tracking ALICE in Madison County?
• Economic recovery since the recession has been uneven, with costs of living continuing to rise while wages lag behind.
• All types of households (single, family, seniors) are struggling, but families with children face the most hardship.
• 44 percent of households in Madison County struggle, slightly less than the 2010 figure of 45 percent.
• Even small changes in the data point to emerging issues that we have been noticing anecdotally, such as increases in housing costs and the impact of health on long-term stability. The ALICE report has an in-depth look at trends and emerging issues. Expect to see more discussion of these in future columns.
Why United Way?
• As part of a state, national and global network, we share information and resources to help us identify issues and engage policymakers, businesses and community organizations to work together so that people have opportunities to succeed.
• By tracking data with the ALICE report and tapping into other studies, we can identify potential partners and resources to meet ever-changing challenges.
• By engaging individuals as donors, volunteers and advocates, we involve everyone in the process, and empower communities to come together to improve local conditions.
• By mobilizing organizations to work together, we can address complex issues more effectively and efficiently.
• To live better, we must live united.
The complete ALICE report for Indiana is available at While there, please consider clicking on the “Give” tab to support ALICE in Madison County.
Nancy Vaughan is president of United Way of Madison County. She can be reached at or 765-608-3061.