History

The War Chest, the Community Chest, the United Fund – all symbols of the evolution of today's United Way and of the generosity and dedication of generations of Summit County donors and volunteers.

1918 - A community War Chest was established as the first unified fundraising drive in the Akron area to aid women and children left impoverished as men were sent to battle in World War I.

1919 - The Better Akron Foundation was founded with all the recognized welfare and relief organizations in the city as members. Under the direction of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company executive W.D. Shilts, the drive raised an astonishing $1,209,284 from an approximate 15,000 “subscribers.” Among the 16 charter beneficiary organizations were City Hospital, Children’s Hospital, People’s Hospital (now Akron General), American Red Cross, Catholic Service League, Jewish Social Service Federation, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Salvation Army and YMCA.

1920-1930 - The Better Akron Foundation set annual fundraising goals between $275,000 and $600,000 and the generous people of our community stepped up and met those goals nearly every year. The list of board members and campaign chairs during this period reads like a “Who’s Who” of Akron’s history and included Fred Albrecht, Lisle Buckingham, Harvey S. Firestone, J. Edward Good, Parke R. Kolbe, Paul W. Litchfield, Michael O’Neil, Bert Polsky, A.G. Saalfield, Francis Seiberling, and Edwin J. Shaw
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1930 - Even with the onset of the Great Depression, the Better Akron Foundation annual drive raised $655,789.

1938 - The better Akron Foundation changed its name to the Akron Community Chest. This enabled the organization to join more than 1,000 fundraising organizations in the United States and Canada to collect money from local businesses and workers and distributed it to community projects.

1939-1945 - The willingness of people to sacrifice in troubled times was again evidenced during the years of World War II when the campaign raised an average $1.2 million each year.

1948 - Rev. Dallas Billington of Akron Baptist Temple questioned whether it was right to ask his congregants to give when some of the money was used to teach young people to dance – in his faith was a sin. A Town Meeting was held at the Akron Armory before a raucous crowd of nearly 2,000. It was broadcast live on WAKR.

1950-1960 - The focus on the workplace campaign became solidified and by the early 50s door-to-door solicitation was eventually phased out.

The importance of the rubber industry to the annual fundraising campaign can be seen in the list of leaders of this organization into the 50s and 60s. Twelve of the 20 Community Chest campaign chairs during those years worked for Goodyear, Firestone, B.F. Goodrich, and General Tire.
Many more agencies now benefited from the funds raised during one single unified campaign. Each agency was reviewed, and programs and budgets scrutinized by teams of volunteers to make certain the available money served the most people possible.

1960-1970 - In the decade of the 1960s the organization changed its name once again to the United Fund. Per-capita giving showed the people of Summit County to be the most generous donors to of any community across the country. Campaign totals rose to just under $5 million by 1969.  

The United Way Women’s Division was an integral part of the effort during these years, engaging the community through a variety of events including the annual “Banner Rally.” The event often brought to town celebrities, including actor James Garner and talk show host Mike Douglas.

1970 - The campaign total exceeded $5 million for the first time. While the annual results showed small increases through much of the 1970s, they often fell short of the aggressive goals set by the organization’s Board.

1975 - The name of the organization changed once again as the United Fund became United Way of Summit County.

1982 - The demolition of the Perkins Mansion complex – the organization’s former home – made room for the current United Way office building.

1986 - United Way hosted the first public opening of the Goodyear Airdock on September 13 – the first time the massive structure was made available for public viewing in more than 50 years. An estimated 200,000 people were in attendance. 

1990 - The annual campaign broke the $10 million plateau for the first time. One reason for the growth was a steady increase in major donors.
United Way continued to be a catalyst for bringing together volunteers and community organizations, government officials, and others in partnerships to find community solutions for tough problems. United Way’s work focused on funding within the United Way network of partner agencies.

2000-2010

United Way of Summit County began moving toward a business model focused on creating sustained changes in community conditions through community partnerships.

2001 - The Volunteer Center became a division of United Way of Summit County.

2004 - The Barberton Area United Way was merged into the United Way of Summit County, creating a true county-wide organization.

2010 – 2014

To better prepare our community and the organization for the new millennium, United Way began to look beyond traditional funding and allocation approaches.

To maximize the impact of limited health and human resources, United Way’s focus turned to Collective Impact. Collective Impact is a disciplined effort to bring together dozens of organizations of all types to establish a common vision and pursue evidence-based actions in mutually reinforcing ways.

Bridges Summit County became an initiative of United Way.

2015 - 2016

United Way began examining the organization's operations and focus and evaluating ways to ensure that United Way’s impact on the community was the most effective. The organization asked the community to "Reimagine United Way" to reimagine an Akron and Summit County where every child and every family has a fair shot at a healthy, prosperous, fulfilling life. Under a new vision plan, United Way of Summit County aimed to be a greater catalyst of community change and strengthen its partnership with a wide variety of stakeholders — from corporate and governmental leaders to residents. 

 United Way of Summit County began a year-long process to transform nearly everything in the way it did business, moving away from an identity as a fundraising organization and toward one as an agent for community change.  This process started by engaging the community. From the top leaders at our institutions, to groups of neighbors,  the organization asked the people of Summit County to identify the community's greatest shared challenges and opportunities.

iC.A.R.E. Mentoring became a program of United Way.

2017

This deep engagement activities of 2016, along with a comprehensive research effort, led United Way to four Bold Goals for 2025. The Bold Goals were announced to the community at the organization's annual meeting in April of this year. United Way's work is now driven by a powerful vision of success – a community where education propels children toward sustainable lives as adults, where adults can once again believe in the American Dream and where Greater Akron is freed from the scourge of the opiate addiction crisis. An incredible coalition of generous people has stepped forward to join in this work. Where United Way was once regarded primarily as a volunteer-led fundraiser, the organization now boasts among its ranks both fundraisers and hand-raisers – people who are advocating, volunteering and giving in order to achieve its Bold Goals.