The United Way is a great idea. Who would not want to be united in the way we treat our fellow man? The problem with the concept lies in longevity – after forty years the United Way has become a Sacred Cow and locals who administer the money are afraid to challenge impropriety. Even impropriety that goes so far as corruption.
Here is how it works in practice. Local folks are ‘invited’ to sit on the local United Way Board of Directors. These are self propagating Boards – there is no democracy – no representation of the folks who donate money. United Way Boards have become the go-to Boards of local communities – they control a great deal of money and have great influence over many social service agencies.
So how does one get invited to sit on the United Way Board – easy – just tow the Sacred Cow line. Never challenge that which is askew. The phenomenon in business communications is referred to as ‘group think.’ Over time the ‘group’ develops an acceptable culture and all potential Board members must conform to that culture. A closed system of thought develops and no new ideas are accepted.
Over time the corrupt are able to find the weaknesses of the process and inevitably begin the process of siphoning funds off for personal gain. The ‘Sacred Cow’ stature of the organization prevents folks from challenging process.
There are many good folks who get appointed to these Boards – but they soon realize that there are acceptable challenges – and challenges that threaten the soverignity of the Board. Any perceived threat and the challenger will no longer be invited to the County Club Brunch. They will be systematically ostracized and excluded.
The United Way was born out of frustration with corrupt and competing social service agencies. It was a wonderful and courageous idea. But those folks who invented the idea are gone, the Boards have progressed through several generations, and the originality of thought has been lost.
The United Way is just another Sacred Cow.