United Way's Beginning 125 Years Ago

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Ever wonder how the community chest card became part of the game of Monopoly?  In the late 19th century the invention of the Monopoly Game was underway.  At about the same time the concept of united giving evolved. Businesses wanted a way to collectively give their philanthropic dollars to an organization that represented them in helping the poor -- the community chest card.  Following World War II, as much of our country's workforce moved into cities, the concept of donating through payroll deduction was introduced, giving workers a convenient and simple way to help support the poor.

United Way of Gallatin County was established in 1978. The first board meeting was held on September 14, 1978 after the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce hosted public comment on the concept of a centralized philanthropic organization for our community. Establishing YOUR United Way truly was a community effort.  Members of the Chamber volunteered as board members, actively recruited board members, raised funds, wrote by-laws, and drafted the Articles of Incorporation.  Some of these far-sighted individuals included Jerry Cashman, Joe Billion, Gary Sisson, Gary Tschake, Bob Planalp, and many others.  Within a few months, Torly Aasheim was hired as temporary executive and during his abbreviated tenure he brought tremendous energy and connections to keep the foundling organization alive. In order to pay the bills during the first year, the board borrowed a short-time loan of $3,000.
As the idea of collective giving took hold in the business community, the board members persisted in advancing the United Way.  By 1980, a $120,000 campaign goal was set, resulting in 18 local organizations receiving grant awards in 1981.  In late 1984, Chair Joe Billion noted in the minutes the adoption of a budget that included the potential for purchasing a computer, if enough funds were raised.

In 1988, Carol Townsend joined the board, representing Patagonia. At that time, the board had 30 members with diverse representation across business and government sectors.  In 1992, in an effort to diversify revenue beyond the annual fund drive, the board of directors established an endowment fund with $6,201.20 donated by board and community members.  In addition, members began seeking funds from retirees and those unable to give through the convenience of payroll deduction.

Joan Rudberg retired as executive of United Way of Gallatin County in early 1995 and another executive was hired.  After her short tenure, Carol Townsend was selected as executive in 1996.  A 1997 community needs assessment identified specific issues demanding/needing attention.  As a result, YOUR United Way became a bolder and stronger United Way.  An $8,000 "venture grant" provided the forum/avenue for the rural community to voice/communicate/share their needs, as well as become part of the solution.  As a result, the first afterschool program supporting working families was established in Three Forks, Montana.

Access to affordable healthcare was a prominent issue in 1997.  As a result, United Way of Gallatin County approached Bozeman Deaconess Hospital to partner in providing mammograms to un/underinsured and low-income women.  In 2000,with so many rural school districts pleading for afterschool programs, United Way of Gallatin County submitted their first grant to Mountain Sky Guest Ranch Fund. Funds became available to expand afterschool programs in response to the needs expressed by the rural community.  In 2003, the name Greater Gallatin United Way was adopted to better reflect the region served; Gallatin, Madison, Meagher, and Park Counties, with a small portion of Sweet Grass County. 

Using a business model of transparency and accountability, Greater Gallatin United Way was better able to answer, "What did my donation do?  What difference did it make?"  Greater Gallatin United Way was trusted by many and the board made it a priority to ensure that you, the/our customer, was confident in where and how your dollars were being invested into the community.  The needs of the community were constantly changing and without many partners working together, solutions to issues such as safety and support for children in the afterschool hours, might never been addressed. Beyond investing time and money, the need for leading and convening conversations became apparent/clear/necessary.  Today, Greater Gallatin United Way is convening the Early Childhood Community Council, running the largest afterschool initiative in Montana, partnering with many single initiative organizations to focus on root causes, and collaborating with exceptional area school districts to improve high school graduation rates.
A favorite phrase o
f Carol Townsend is, "In a world where there isn't enough money to go around..."  In just such a world, it is vital for the community to have in existence an organization that asks the hard questions, listens to the community to prioritize issues, and brings people and resources together to efficiently and effectively deliver solutions.

In 2010 in recognition of the value of our work of leading and convening, the Gilhousen Family Foundation chose to shift their $100,000 annual campaign gift to a restricted grant.  The grant pays overhead expenses, which means that each dollar you donate is directly invested into local programs and services.

In 2015 Joe Billion has given over One Million dollars to Greater Gallatin United Way!  We are thankful for many our loyal and generous investors, including Bozeman Deaconess Foundation's $50,000 annual gift, the largest employee giving campaign held by Montana State University, and many individuals and business investors.  Early in 2015 Carol Townsend, President and CEO for 18 years retired with Danica Jamison taking over the position.  We welcome Danica and her wealth of knowledge and experience.