Mission and History

Mission and History


Our mission is to harness the caring power of community to improve conditions in education, financial stability, and health – the building blocks of a good life. 

Our vision is of a western Montana where everyone, especially our most vulnerable neighbors, are healthy, educated, and thriving.  United Way serves as the convener, leader, collaborator, champion and/or creator of broad, community-wide initiatives that find, implement, and evaluate solutions to pressing challenges in the areas of education, financial stability and health.  In partnership with the business, philanthropic, public-sector, faith, nonprofit, educational, and medical communities, United Way programs and initiatives work to decrease suicide, start children on the path to lifelong learning, improve health equity, end homelessness, and improve outcomes for children 0-5.  

United Way Worldwide

United Way of Missoula County annually raises approximately one million dollars from private sources.  Although funds are invested locally, and we operate with substantial autonomy, United Way of Missoula County is one of 1,800 community-based affiliates of United Way Worldwide, the nation's largest privately supported nonprofit organization. With collective revenues of $3.3 billion, and a substantive presence in 40 countries and territories, United Way Worldwide sets rigorous membership criteria and aspirational standards of excellence for its local affiliates.  United Way Worldwide also provides its members with access to significant funds, training and networking opportunities, and award-winning branded materials and programs.  Annually, all United Ways certify their adherence to high standards and comprehensive requirements in the areas of financial reporting, governance, ethics, diversity, and operations.

Our Evolution

For our first seven decades, United Way was known principally as a clearinghouse that distributed charitable contributions.  Funds raised – principally through payroll giving campaigns in workplaces (as described below) – were granted to a variety of other health and human-service nonprofits.  Over the past 10+ years, however, our programmatic emphasis deliberately shifted from making grants to other nonprofits to supporting the broad, community-driven initiatives described in the What We Do section.  This reflects a shift from focusing on agency needs to focusing on community needs.  

Following the lead of, and with guidance from, United Way Worldwide, we also narrowed our focus to education, financial stability, and health, in order to better deploy our limited funds where they can make the most difference.  We deliberately transitioned from funding short-term strategies and unaligned programs to a collective impact model, where the entire community works together to develop and implement prevention-focused strategies that lead to effective, measurable long-term solutions for deeply entrenched problems. 

While we continue to honor donor gifts designated to qualified 501(c)3 organizations in Missoula and Ravalli counties, United Way’s work in the 21st Century centers on supporting – with funding, volunteers, in-kind support, and networking – this community-developed, community-driven work. We believe these investments provide donors with a better return on their contributions. We are seeing results that bear this out: for example, more than 3,000 young children receive a book in the mail each month at no cost to their families; a three-year decline in Missoula’s suicide rate, and an increase of nearly 100% in people seeking help for suicide crises; more people in housing.  United Way holds ourselves accountable to our donors and our entire community through our steadfast commitment to continually measure – in real terms – improvements in education, financial stability, and health.  

The Evolution of Our Fundraising

Historically, the majority of United Way’s funds were raised through payroll giving campaigns in local workplaces, including businesses, and the public sector (city, county, state, university, school districts).  Other sources of funds have included corporate and foundation gifts, and gifts from individual donors not in the workplace (principally retirees). Campaign results determined the amount of grants United Way approved and disbursed to qualified nonprofit charities in Missoula and Ravalli counties.

Over the past 10-12 years, as our programmatic focus shifted, so, too, has our fundraising model. This was in response to changing demographics and changes in the workplace.  The retirement of the Baby Boomer generation (the core of our workplace donors), the rise of the Millennial Generation, the evolution of the entrepreneurial economy, and the explosive growth of the nonprofit sector all compelled United Way to rethink our fundraising approaches in order to remain relevant and healthy.

United Way now engages in year-round fundraising from a variety of sources.  Our focus is on building and maintaining lasting relationships with donors and volunteers, rather than our past focus on building relationships with companies/organizations.  In order to reach individuals outside of the traditional workplace, we have stepped up our media, public outreach, communication, and marketing efforts, and implemented innovative fundraising and volunteer-engagement events, such as Over The Edge and University United Food Friday).  We have a small staff that includes two full-time development professionals.  

United Way is more than a fundraising organization. We do not wait for problems to land in our laps.  Instead, we dig for the challenges that need us most, and we marshal our collective resources – our funds, our hands, our heads, our networks – to solve them. In collaboration with diverse partners, and in a variety of ways, we continually aspire to excellence as we work to build a better, stronger, healthier Missoula for all.


Started in March 1931, United Way of Missoula County has been serving our community under a variety of different names. The first name was the Federated Social Services of Missoula County.

In 1930s

Name changed to "Community Chest" in the late 1930s. During the 1940s and 1950s, amounts raised grew to more than $60,000 annually.

In 1960s

In 1963 the name "Community Chest" was changed to "United Givers." Throughout the 1960s over $100,000 was raised each year.

In 1970s

United Givers joined an association of more than 1,400 other United Ways across the United States and the name changed to "United Way of Missoula County."

In 2007

Susan Hay Patrick in her first year as CEO of United Way of Missoula County, led UWMC's transition to a "community impact model." The collective efforts raised $1.45 million, $77,000 more than our goal.


We help change lives by solving community problems in education, income, and health. We partner with more than 35 local organizations in Missoula County and Ravalli County.

What we’re up to

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Fostering physical, emotional, social and intellectual growth for Missoula’s youth.

Financial Stability

Removing obstacles and paving the way for hard working families to get ahead financially.


Working to ensure that everyone in Missoula has the tools they need to live a healthy life.