United Way began in 1936 when the United Campaign in Spartanburg County was established. The following year, 1937, the first official campaign was held, with the expressed mission as the “The Drive To End All Drives.” Their goal was to raise $41,805, a sizable sum in those days, in order “to care for all of Spartanburg’s needy and insure support for the charitable institutions so necessary to our social structure.”
Prior to 1946, United Way functioned much like a traditional “community chest”. This meant that there was a particular group of agencies — such as the Boy Scouts, Christian Welfare Association, Spartanburg County Children’s Home, Tuberculosis Association, Georgia Cleveland Home, Salvation Army, Spartanburg Baby Hospital, and the YMCA — that raised money for specific community needs.
Throughout its existence, United Way has a maintained commitment to constant improvement and expansions. For example, in 1973, United Way decided to enlarge its initial philosophy and emphasize a broader range of agencies by allocating funds throughout Spartanburg County. In doing so, it developed a leadership role for assembling information regarding the needs of the community and identifying how best to fulfill those priorities.
The mission of United Way expanded in 1985 as they established a goal to heighten the level of volunteerism, thus broadening the definition of “caring in the community”. That same year, United Way entered the computer age, utilizing automated systems to run the organization’s audit, collection, and finance functions. This allowed for growth within the organization and a more efficient way of serving others. With these changes the organization was officially renamed United Way of the Piedmont. As time would prove, the Piedmont was an excellent choice because of subsequent regional expansions.
During the following year, 1986, The General Daniel Morgan Leadership Society was established with matching funds from the Milliken Foundation. The society recognized donors of $1000 or more. At the same time, an award was established that would honor a leadership donor with a true spirit of caring and is inscribed “One Who Cares.”
A Community Indicators Project was launched in 1989 by the Spartanburg County Foundation with the purpose of identifying and tracking community human service needs. In 2003, United Way of the Piedmont became an active partner and has participated in subsequent additions.
The Early Head Start Grant was piloted in 1990 (and continued until 2003) by United Way of the Piedmont as a way to assist children at a young age. This program worked with children at low socio-economic levels from the time of birth, treating them prenatally, and then placing them in a positive learning environment. These children were then tracked and repeatedly tested to record progress in multiple dimensions. The positive impact was clear, as milestones were reached with steady advances over children without the Head Start program. In that same year, United Way of the Piedmont was awarded the newly created Excellence in Service Quality Award from United Way of America. The award represented national recognition for United Way of the Piedmont’s leadership accomplishments in customer satisfaction, accountability, and productivity.
In 1994, after a year of study, United Way of the Piedmont began the transition from agency- to program- funding. This became a challenge to the community to produce services that delivered quality programs to its beneficiaries. In the ensuing years, the allocation method was refined and updated to further enhance its effectiveness.
United Way of the Piedmont assisted Safe Homes in merging with the Rape Crisis Center in 1995. United Way of the Piedmont arranged focus groups and meetings to facilitate the combination, while at the same time maintaining full funding. In subsequent years, United Way of the Piedmont has been a neutral force to assist various agencies in mergers.
Healthy Spartanburg Initiative was a complex two-year process, which began in 1998. This project involved bringing a group of analysts from Colorado to Spartanburg to do a full community assessment of health related issues. It was discovered that the key issues in Spartanburg were illiteracy, lack of nutrition, teen pregnancy, and substance use disorders. With this newfound knowledge, United Way of the Piedmont was able to tackle these issues and institute task forces around finding a resolution.
Dolly Parton contacted United Way of the Piedmont in 2001, and asked for assistance with her Imagination Library reading program. Her goal was to send age-appropriate books to children, regardless of socio-economic level, to enhance their reading abilities. Each child would receive one book each month, which would enhance his or her intellectual development and help instill a love of reading. United Way of the Piedmont was the first United Way in South Carolina to partner with Imagination Library.
United Way of the Piedmont merged with the United Way of Union County in 2002, at the request of the United Way of Union County’s board.
The board of directors put a new emphasis on United Way of the Piedmont’s role in recruiting and placing volunteers in 2005. As a result, the organization sought a federal grant to establish the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) in Spartanburg County.
In 2006, the Young Leaders Program was pioneered by United Way of the Piedmont with a mission to expand awareness to the under-40 population regarding United Way’s role in the community. In that same year, United Way of the Piedmont became aware that local citizens were not fully utilizing the Earned Income Tax Credit, resulting in money not returned to their community; therefore, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) service was established. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) initiative then followed it.
The year 2007 came with a wave of modifications as United Way of the Piedmont merged with Cherokee County at the request of United Way of America. In that same year, the Walter S. Montgomery, Sr. Award was established to recognize a young leader in the community. United Way of the Piedmont was awarded an AmeriCorps*VISTA grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. This program provides United Way with funding to place qualified volunteers in non-profit organizations full-time for one year to build the organization’s capacity. The annual value of this grant is $300,000.
Wal-Mart approached United Way of the Piedmont in 2009 with the concept of developing a Gifts in Kind Center. This program would provide not-for-profit organizations the opportunity to shop for donated household products for their clients. Through this program, United Way of the Piedmont operates a 10,000 square-foot warehouse in Spartanburg, which annually provides products with a value of over $20,000,000 to its members.
In 2013, United Way of the Piedmont added a 2-1-1 system in partnership with other United Ways in South Carolina and the United Way Association of South Carolina. 2-1-1 is a sophisticated information and referral system accessible to all citizens.