Case #1759.0

United Way Mass Bay and the Faith & Action Initiative (A): Should Faith Be Funded

Publication Date: January 01, 2004
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In March 1997, United Way of Massachusetts Bay (UWMB) contemplated a dramatically new approach to its grant-making. The Faith and Action Initiative (FAA) had the potential to direct United Way funds to religious organizations. For decades, UWMB had acted as a channel--via workplace-based charitable campaigns--for private dollars to reach social service agencies. UWMB evaluated agencies, and vouched for the probity and effectiveness of those it selected as "affiliates." One common characteristic that distinguished UWMB and its affiliates: they were all considered secular. This allowed UWMB to assure donors that no contributions would go to promoting religion, which was considered a private matter outside the purview of social services. In contrast, the Faith and Action (FAA) Initiative envisioned funding faith-based programs for their spiritual impact on participants. Churches--especially black churches--in hard-to-reach inner-city Boston neighborhoods were serving youth in a way that more traditional agencies were not. United Way leaders argued that UWMB's refusal to fund these successful activist churches was exclusionary. FAA would direct small grants to these religious organizations on a trial basis. No grant recipient would be allowed to proselytize. But each would be required to include spiritual transformation in its program as a condition of winning a grant.

Learning Objective:
This case is designed to raise the issue of whether it was well-advised for UWMB--both as a matter of values and organizational capacity--to move forward with the Faith and Action Initiative. It also raises questions surrounding evaluation techniques: how can UWMB measure "spiritual transformation," to ensure that its money is working? The case is meant to provide insight into the way a non-profit grants-making organization has to weigh the concerns of its various constituents, including donors, board members, grant recipients, staff and the wider community.

Other Details

Case Author:
Kirsten Lundberg
Faculty Lead:
Brent Coffin
Pages (incl. exhibits):
United States
Funding Source:
Pew Charitable Trusts