United Way: Jim Douglas Remembers its Beginnings

  • By Jim Douglas with Heather MacIntosh
  • Posted 6/15/2000
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2442

In this People's History, Jim Douglas (1909-2005), the first chairman of Seattle's United Way, remembers the early challenges of organizing this charitable foundation which has served the area for almost 50 years.

United Way Remembered

"The Community Chest of Seattle and King County was a very successful organization and was particularly well accepted by the givers of the community. Whereas the Community Chest handled the fundraising of practically all local charities, there were rapidly springing up many national charities or health groups that attempted to raise money. These included such organizations as The Heart Association, the Cancer Society, the March of Dimes Polio Fund, and the Red Cross. The Community Chest traditionally raised their money in September and October of each year.

"As time went on, there became more organizations selecting months for their campaigns than there were months in the year. These organizations and their fundraising activities became very disruptive to businesses that were facing constant fundraising within their employee groups. Not only did these various organizations solicit employees, but they also solicited a corporate gift. This meant the corporation was required to set up a screening committee to review each of the charities or health groups to determine what portion of the corporate giving should be allocated to each of these organizations.

Boeing Good Neighbor Fund

"Prior to 1950, the Boeing Company found this condition intolerable and set up an organization known as the Boeing Good Neighbor Fund. They announced to all those requesting gifts that such requests were to go to the Boeing Good Neighbor Organization rather than to the corporation or to the employees. A fair share scale of giving was established. In other words, the employee earning 500 dollars a month would possibly have a fair share of 5 dollars, whereas the employee making 1000 dollars might have a fair share giving scale of 11 or 12 dollars. Each employee, of course, knew his wage scale, so he knew what his annual giving scale was.

"A committee was organized within the work group and the executive group of Boeing to administer the fundraising and to allocate the funds to the individual organizations making a request for allocation. This committee took its work very seriously and did an outstanding job of screening and allocation.

"Other businesses had the same pressures that had been put upon the Boeing Company and those businesses were anxious to better organize giving of corporate funds and the managing of employee solicitation. With some help from the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, a large committee was organized to review the possibility of establishing a fund similar to the Boeing Good Neighbor Fund that would be community wide. Several informative meetings of this committee were held and at each meeting a Boeing Executive would review the Boeing experience and answer questions with regard to how the fund raising might be handled community wide.

"My father, J. F. Douglas, had been one of the organizers of the Community Chest back in the twenties. He had been very active in the development of the organization and was a strong believer in a business-like approach to fundraising and fund allocation. I had been raised in this atmosphere and so felt strongly that there was big room for improvement in fundraising and fund spending in the Seattle area.

Good Neighbor Fund of Seattle and King County

"As a member of this organizing committee, I took a very active role in setting up the organization that was to be known as the Good Neighbor Fund of Seattle and King County. I was made a member of the original board of the organization. Mr. William Allen, president of the Boeing Company, was elected president of the organization and Mr. Mickelwait, his right hand man, was assigned to handle all of the paper work in establishing the organization.

"In early 1951, I had a call from Mr. Mickelwait saying that a small group was going to meet at the Rainier Club and discuss the carrying out of the new program of 'once and for all' giving. Mr. Mickelwait tried to be very casual in this invitation but I saw through his program very quickly. I knew they had a president and a board of directors but they did not have a campaign chairman. I realized this would be a very difficult position to fill because it would be very time consuming, particularly the first year when in-plant solicitation would have to be conducted in every business in the community for the first time.

"I agreed to attend this small meeting but I also did a lot of thinking about what my answer would be if I were asked to take on the job. When I got to the meeting at the Rainier Club, it was as if each of the seven or eight in attendance had been practicing his part for weeks. One person outlined how intolerable the giving situation had been in the community. Another person spoke on how far we have gone in establishing a new organization with a president and a board of directors. Another person spoke on how the business community would be very receptive to a once-and-for-all giving campaign within each business. I sat there waiting for the punch line. I didn't have to wait long. Finally, Mr. Mickelwait stated that I had been selected to be the campaign chairman and Mr. Allen and others spoke quickly to say that they were one hundred percent behind that selection.

"Mr. Mickelwait and I had been friends through college and have remained very close friends. To this day, he is convinced that he orchestrated a great campaign and thus pulled an unsuspecting Jim Douglas into a very difficult task. He has repeated this story many times and I have never bothered to tell him that I had the program figured out long before the meeting and had concluded that I would accept.

"The acceptance was not that quick at the meeting. First, I explained that I was a very small figure in the business picture of Seattle and had no big organization behind me. I told them, it was my opinion that the leader of one of the businesses with several thousand employees might have much more backup than I had. I also told the group that I had partners that this matter would have to be discussed with and that it likewise would have to be discussed with the paid executive director to get his view.

A New Chairman

"I finally stated that if I were to take on the job of campaign chairman, I would do so only if each person at that meeting felt equal responsibility for the success of the campaign. If they had in mind that their responsibilities would end when I took on the campaign then they were talking to the wrong person. I, of course, was given an assurance by each that they would carry their weight through the campaign.

"I met with the paid executive director and told him I had had no direct experience in fund raising or fund allocation by charitable organizations. I further told him that he had much more to lose than I did if I took on this job and it was not successfully handled. In that circumstance, I had a business to go back to and he would have been out of a job.

"The executive director turned out to be a very outstanding individual who went on to set up funds throughout the United States, in much bigger cities than Seattle. He told me he had gone to college to learn the fundraising business and had had considerable success in other jobs in community chest organizations throughout the country.

"He told me that he was very anxious that I take the campaign chairmanship. He wasn't worried about my lack of knowledge of the fundraising business but he was very impressed with the fact that I was creating a miracle in the retailing business of Seattle and the Northwest. He also was very impressed with the importance of the Douglas name in Seattle. It was his opinion that the heads of the businesses in the community would welcome the Douglas name and the Douglas image of business success in the community.

"Within two or three days, I asked Mr. Mickelwait to put the same group together so that we could discuss the subject of the campaign chairman. Another meeting was held, at which time I announced my decision to accept the position and again I impressed on each of them that they were as much a campaign chairman as I was. I had the title but they would have the same responsibility that I would have. Surprisingly, each of them accepted this responsibility and proved to be tremendously helpful to me throughout the campaign.

"The first step in establishing the Good Neighbor Fund of Seattle and King County was to set the goal for fundraising. In other words, you can't raise funds until you know the amount of funds that will be required to support the organizations to be included. A small committee mostly composed of CPAs and one or two bankers was set up to determine the goal.

"Other committees were set up to establish the fair share scale of giving and to invite into the organization those local and national charities and health groups that were soliciting funds from the community. In setting the fair share scale of giving, there was of course the Boeing example, but that scale could not be used in total since there were also other purposes of this fund such as flowers to the sick employee and other small but important purposes within the Boeing company."

Community Opposition

"The invitation to the various organizations appeared to be a rather simple task. We were of the opinion that if we agreed to raise all the money they required to carry on their activities they would be very happy to then devote full time to spending activities. There was no problem in this regard with Community Chest since the major part of the Community Chest board was also on the Good Neighbor Board. We ran into violent opposition when it came to Heart, Cancer, Polio, Red Cross and many other national organizations.

"They in essence told us it was none of our business how much money they raised in our community or how they raised it or how they spent it. They wanted no part of our program because they could see that there might be a limitation on the amount they could raise and also it would be necessary for them to reveal the expenditure of their funds.

"We notified those organizations that did not want to be included that we were going to raise the funds in the amount that they had raised the year previously and at the end of the campaign would tender those funds to them. If they didn't want to accept the funds, that of course was their business, but they might find it extremely difficult to raise identical funds on their own. In other words, the person who had given to the Cancer fund through the Good Neighbor Fund of Seattle and King County would not be anxious to duplicate this give on an individual basis when that organization carried on a campaign within the community.

"In meeting with these individual organizations we pointed out that the community had made their decision to have a 'once-and-for-all' campaign. We strongly urged that the organization asking the community for financial support should not tell the community how they could give their funds."

"It was evident from the start that we had two campaigns to conduct rather than one. One campaign obviously was a fundraising one. The other campaign was to secure a pledge from the employers of the community to support the 'once-and-for-all' concept of corporate giving and employee solicitation within those companies. I selected the then head of the telephone company to carry on the campaign to secure pledges from major companies within the community but also had a very sizable organization behind him who would work in carrying out this assignment. This was particularly important since I had almost no organization behind me, operating really from a one-man office.

"We prepared a form to be agreed to by the individual companies. This form stated that the company would have payroll deduction for the employees' contribution to the fund, that the corporation would give one gift through the United Good Neighbor Organization rather than making individual corporate gifts to all charities. The corporation would accept the fair share scale of giving, which means that the giving scale was in conformity to the pay scale, and finally the corporation would agree to no other in-plant solicitation or payroll deduction for charitable causes.

"Since the community was fed up on the many charities that wanted to have drives within offices and plants, and since those corporations looked on the United Good Neighbors organization as a way to solve its problem, it was not too difficult to get agreement on the signing of the form. The problem was one of time. It meant that someone had to sit down with the chief executive of hundreds and hundreds of companies and secure from them an agreement to support the 'once-and-for-all' program of giving.

"The program to secure these pledges started approximately six months before the actual fund raising campaign and was carried out rather successfully. I say "rather" because there was some difficulty in getting some employers to agree to the payroll deduction. In some cases, he claimed that their accounting system would not lend itself to payroll deduction, so in order to overcome this problem, it was necessary for us to solve this problem by bringing in IBM, Burroughs or whoever else provided the accounting equipment to those companies. Surprisingly, one of the companies we had difficulty with in this regard was the telephone company, but eventually this was solved by working with their accounting people.

"In the conduct of the major campaign of fund raising, which was to start in August, I selected ten generals. These were in most cases very top people in the community and the selections proved to be quite successful. The one case that proved to be unsuccessful was a man who I put terrific pressure on to take the job. Either he was not as good as I thought he would be or he resented the fact that pressure had been put on him and so proved that my selection was incorrect. Fortunately we found this deficiency very early in the campaign and William Allen's assistant, a very good man by the name of Norman Allen, was given to me full time to take over that part of the campaign that was in poor hands.

"Each of the generals set up a series of colonels, each of whom then selected a team to carry out individual assignments. There were in all 15,000 volunteers in the fund raising campaign.

"It was obvious to those in the campaign organization that the selling of the United Way principle was not as simple as the Community Chest principle previously employed. The problem was greatly intensified by the requirement of payroll deduction and by the completely new principle of fair share giving. I recognized that it would not be possible to completely educate the 15,000 volunteers in the complexities of fundraising that was essential for the success of the campaign.

"I called together the steering committee and told them that we were going to have a program that could be called "lend lease" whereby we borrowed people for a three month period from large businesses and who would be intensely trained in the principles of the United Way. I explained that these recruits would be put through a week-long schooling, eight hours a day going over all facets of the campaign. At the end of this training period, one of these lend lease men would be assigned to each of the major employment segments, such as retailing, manufacturing, distribution, and other such employment segments. As I was outlining this program, I looked at William Allen, president of the Boeing Company and saw that he was about to explode.

"He did. He said that he wanted no part of any lend-lease program. Fortunately, I remember that during the second World War, many Boeing planes had been leased or loaned to the Russians, and the Russians copied these planes thereby providing competition to the Boeing company. I told Mr. Allen that the lend-lease name was not important and how would he like the name of "loaned executive?" He settled back in his chair and the emergency was over.

"I was then asked where I thought I was going to get these 12 loaned executives for a period of three months. I said that is a very simple question to answer. I'm looking around the table now and I see two loaned executives from Seattle First National Bank, two loaned executives from PACCAR, four loaned executives from the Boeing Company and from there, went around the table adding up the 12.

"None of these executives sitting around the table said anything because they realized that if they said, 'You aren't going to get any loaned executives from me,' we wouldn't get any loaned executives from anyone else. With a little more arm-twisting, we were able to recruit the 12 volunteers from the loaned executive program from the steering committee and these people proved to be invaluable. In fact, if we were looking for the one reason why the United Way campaign was successful, we would have to give the credit to the loaned executive program. Each campaign for the last 30 years has been largely built around the loaned executive principle, but the last few years, they have been recruited for only six weeks instead of twelve."

"The campaign started in August and carried through the first week in November. It wasn't easy. The union, which was absolutely essential to the success of the program, was somewhat defiant. The teamsters and the longshoremen were very receptive. The machinists union, that represented a sizable number of employees at PACCAR and Boeing, were anything but receptive. This problem required a tremendous amount of arm-twisting but was at least partly overcome.

"You will remember that I stated that our budget for the year was made up of the money that had been raised by the various organizations the year before. The plan was to raise the money and when the campaign was successfully over to then tender the funds to these organizations. Many of these organizations, such as Heart Association, the Cancer Society, the Polio Association, and the Red Cross took a very active position against the United Way, even to the point where the Red Cross took full page ads, that they paid for, to say to the Community, that the Community shouldn't give to the Red Cross through the United Way.

"This negativism was extremely important to the success of the campaign. The more they blasted our organization, the more I talked to the Community by radio, television, and in public meetings about the right of the giver to give the way he wished to. In essence, I told the giver that they had the opportunity to vote for a 'once-and-for-all' gift to the charities of the Community or to have a separate campaign every month and some months have two or three campaigns. The Community was ready for 'once-and-for-all' giving and the votes certainly came in very favorable to the United Way.

"At the successful conclusion of the campaign, I was honored by the business community at a very nice luncheon and also was honored at a dinner given by the executive directors of the major agencies making up the United Way program. The best evidence that the United Way plan that we started was a success, is evidence by the fact that the United Way has continued through the years and now raises over $20 million a year in contrast to the $3,191,000 that was raised the first year.

"I made a tremendous number of friends, both in the business community and among the various agency and campaign workers as a result of working for long periods of time with all these people. Now after more than thirty years, I frequently see someone who comes up to me and says that he was one of my campaign workers in the first United Way campaign. Obviously I couldn't know all 15,000 workers but the 15,000 workers knew me through various public meetings, television, radio and other campaign activities."


HistoryLink Interview of Jim Douglas by Heather MacIntosh, Seattle, June 2000

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