Frequently Asked Questions


Q. What is Mesa United Way?
A. Mesa United Way has served the needs of individuals and families in Mesa and the surrounding areas since 1921. Initially established as the Mesa Welfare League committed to “care for the needy and hungry people,” Mesa United Way continues to serve those in need, from children to the elderly.  We desire to establish a strong community where each person has the opportunity to achieve the aspirations we all share: a good education for our kids, a safe place to live, food on the table, and the security of financial self-sufficiency. Through the work of our partner agencies and our own initiatives, we effectively create change by 1) promoting systemic change that impacts entire communities; and, 2) transforming individual lives. We partner people from across the community spectrum – public, business, non-profit and faith-based organizations – to get things done.
 
Q. What are your community objectives?
A. Donor support enables us to fight hunger across age groups, fight the distress caused by homelessness, and help to improve the lives of the people in our community.
 
Q. How do you accomplish these goals?
A. Mesa United Way continues to partner with local agencies to provide services. We raise money through workplace campaigns, grants, appeals to individual donors, and events. Undesignated donations are allocated to vetted non-profits through our Community Allocation Panels (CAP), assuring that the greatest needs are being met with input from local citizens. 
 
Q. What initiatives are specific to Mesa United Way?
A. Besides funding other non-profit partners, Mesa United Way operates 4 distinct initiatives; Helen’s Hope Chest - providing clothing for foster families and kinship families; Volunteer Income Tax Assistance - helping people with low incomes prepare their taxes and get the returns they deserve; 12 Books, part of the Read On Mesa initiative - providing books for K-3 grade children in high poverty areas, attempting to increase literacy and educational success; and AmeriCorps/VISTA - a national program of volunteering (like Peace Corps) to help establish and support local human services agencies. 
 
Q. What is Helen’s Hope Chest and how is it related to Mesa United Way?
A. Helen's Hope Chest was started by Mesa United Way in 2009 as a clothing closet for youth in foster and kinship care. Since then, HHC has helped thousands of youth by providing quality clothing, shoes, hygiene items, toys, books, and school supplies at no cost. All items at HHC are given to "customers" without charge. This is possible because of the generous donations of individuals, church groups, service clubs, school groups, Scouts, businesses, and many others.
In 2015, HHC moved into a building constructed specifically for the initiative by the City of Mesa. HHC has received its own 501(c)3 designation. MUW continues to make HHC more independent. HHC has its own Executive Director and staff, MUW does the back office work in order to keep costs down. 
 
Q. What is VITA?
A. Mesa United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is one of the strongest program of its type in Arizona. Utilizing over 80 volunteers serving in seven locations, last year VITA completed over 6,000 income tax returns for low-income families and individuals, returning over $6.4 million to the community. Our VITA office also works year-round, preparing taxes for difficult cases often referred by the IRS, people who have back taxes and are often concerned or afraid of what awaits them. They leave the VITA office with a plan, a sense of relief, and heartfelt gratitude. 
 
Q. What is the 12 Books program?
A. 12 Books is an initiative that is part of the City of Mesa’s Read On Mesa program. Mesa United Way's 12 Books program collects books to distribute to kids K-2nd grade in lower-income neighborhoods (Title 1 schools) who otherwise may not have access. Statistics show that while children from middle-income homes have an average of 13 books per child, children in low-income neighborhoods average only one book for every 300 children. Evidence shows that books in the home offer parents and caregivers the opportunity to read with their children, increasing the love of reading, improving literacy and developing stronger parent/child relationships. MUW’s 12 Books program is our effort to get moe books into those homes that need them most. 
 
Q. How are you fighting hunger and homelessness?
A. Mesa United Way supports a wide variety of vetted agencies that work diligently to provide food and shelter for those in need. In the area of hunger, Mesa United Way supports United Food Bank, Paz de Cristo, Arizona Brainfood, Lutheran Social Services, St. Vincent de Paul, and several local food banks through our mini-grant process and AmeriCorps/VISTA. In the area of homelessness we support House of Refuge, Save the Family, East Valley Men’s Center, Helen’s Hope Chest, Child Crisis Center, La Mesita, Lutheran Social Services, and Autumn House. Mesa United Way has also developed a $25,000 Move the Needle grant available to all hunger agencies in Mesa for 2016. One of the ways we assist is by providing all the back office work at no-cost for Arizona Brainfood, allowing them to remain a volunteer-only organization where every dollar donated goes to provide food for hungry kids. 
 
Q. I understand what you mean by give or volunteer, what do you mean by advocate?
A. To advocate means to champion a cause and Mesa United Way invites you to become an advocate in our community. We advocate for policies that protect and strengthen the human service safety net for the growing number of families and individuals in need of assistance. MUW promotes programs that address needs for children, families, individuals, and the aging. 
 
 
 
Q. Why should I donate to Mesa United Way?
A. Mesa United Way is a good choice for your charitable giving. Here’s why:
 
1) Undesignated dollars (Mesa Unites Fund) are allocated to vetted non-profits meeting a variety of human needs in Mesa and the surrounding areas. Each non-profit goes through a rigorous process of financial accountability and presents a proposal for how the money will be used to our Community Allocation Panels, comprised of a representation of local residents.
2) Designated funds are passed through to the agency of the donor's choice (as long as they are a legitimate 501(c)3) without any administration fees. That means that if you give $100 to United Food Bank, United Food Bank receives $100. We protect our donors’ privacy and information. If you support multiple non-profits you can make one donation to MUW with instructions on how you want the money divided. You will receive one tax receipt detailing your gift, making bookkeeping simple. 
3) MUW researches the needs of the community, assuring that lower profile non-profits that are important to the welfare of the community receive funding. 
4) Dollars designated to MUW initiatives allow us to have more dollars to allocate to other non-profits. 
 
If you choose to use a credit card, there is a nominal fee, the exact amount we are charged for processing from the banks. There are no fees associated with workplace giving, checks, cash, or gifts-in-kind. 
 
Q. Is United Way a national or local organization?
A. Mesa United Way is a local, autonomous non-profit organization. Like the more than 1,200 United Ways across the country, we are governed by a local volunteer Board of Directors. Mesa United Way pays nominal dues to United Way Worldwide in exchange for important cost-saving services such as staff training, community research information, campaign materials, national marketing partnerships and ongoing consultation.
 
Q. Why are there two United Ways in Maricopa County?
A. Maricopa County does in fact have two United Ways, each with distinct roles, serving the human care needs of local residents. Mesa United Way raises money only within the zip codes of Mesa and helps provide assistance to Mesa, the East Valley, and throughout Maricopa County and Arizona.  Valley of the Sun United Way raises money throughout Maricopa County, except for the City of Mesa, and provides services county-wide. Mesa United Way offers donors a variety of giving options to accommodate individual giving preferences, and honors designations to Valley of the Sun United Way, any other United Ways or qualified health and human service non-profit organizations. We do not charge an administration fee for pass-through donations. 
 
 
 
Q. What are Mesa United Way’s overhead costs?
A. Overhead costs average about 12% from year to year.  Historically, overhead costs have been entirely covered by corporate donations. This allowed for contributions from individuals to be used 100% towards programs and allocations to direct service agencies. Mesa United Way is able to keep its overhead low by utilizing hundreds of volunteers; from tax preparers to book distribution to washing and folding clothes at Helen’s Hope Chest. Dozens of businesses and individuals hold book drives, clothing drives, and toys drives for JaKelle’s Christmas Box, a Christmas program of HHC that serves over 3,000 foster and kinship families. MUW leverages every dollar to make the most impact. Last year, through volunteers, AmeriCorps, gifts-in-kind, and VITA, Mesa United Way received over a $7 return on investment for every dollar invested. 
 
Q. How do I know that my donation will help those who need it most?
A. Mesa United Way utilizes a Community Allocation Program that selects community members and leaders to vet the non-profits who apply for funding. Panels of 10-15 people listen to presentations by interested agencies and programs and are evaluated in many areas including finances, effectiveness, outcomes and need. After scoring the presentations and the grant applications, CAP team leaders disperse the funds collected in the Mesa Unites Fund (non-designated donations.)
 
Q. How is Mesa United Way held accountable?
A. Mesa United Way works to be transparent in all we do. Our financials receive an annual audit, we report our income on the Federal 990 form, and we have a strong and large board of directors from a variety of sectors of the community that holds MUW accountable in finances and mission. 
 
Q. Why should I give directly to the work of Mesa United Way instead of designating my donation directly to a United Way partner agency or other organization?
A. Mesa United Way encourages people to give, to be philanthropic, and to use their generosity to affect positive outcomes in our city. MUW invites people to give to organizations, agencies, and programs they believe in. That can be done through MUW and the workplace campaign by designating the donations wherever you like, without MUW taking an administrative fee. 100% of your dollars go to support the agency/program of your choice. Also, if there is more than one agency you would like to support, MUW is happy to process that for you, sending the dollars wherever they are designated. That allows you to make one donation, provide where and how much you would like specific agencies to receive and MUW will take care of the rest. However, it is also important to know that MUW researches the needs in the community and works hard to vet agencies that are providing assistance and solutions to the community. Many agencies are doing great work, but without a marketing/development team, people are not aware of them. MUW wants to insure those programs continue. MUW is also concerned about the entire population; from children to the elderly, from education to healthcare, from affordable housing to hunger. A donation to the Mesa Unite Fund allows us to distribute funds to several organizations that are meeting a variety of needs and provides you with the assurance that the programs supported are using your donations in a responsible manner. 
 
 
Q. What criteria must nonprofits meet in order to be eligible for Mesa United Way funding?
A. Nonprofits are subject to a certification process and must meet the following minimum standards:
Registered by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, nonprofit organization
Provide health and human care services, or health and human service program(s)
Comply with all applicable Arizona state laws and regulations including the maintenance of corporate status as designated by the State of Arizona’s Corporation Commission
Comply with applicable Federal laws including the USA Patriot Act and other counter terrorism laws
Governed by a local board of community volunteers
 
 
Q. How are Mesa United Way partners held accountable?
A. MUW contracts are one-year contracts that must be applied for annually. If there are issues with an agency/program, they will need to be addressed before the next year’s allocation. Programs are asked to submit program updates and success stories on a quarterly basis and year-end financials to assure viability. Because MUW is a smaller United Way, we are intimately involved with our agencies on a regular basis. This last year the CEO visited each agency CEO/Executive Director. The communication between MUW and the funded agencies is open and frequent.
 
Q. How much influence do I have over how my contribution is invested?
A. You, the donors, have all of the influence. You choose how your dollars are invested by designating funds, by contributing to the Mesa Unites Fund, or any combination of the two. 
 
 
Q. Is my Mesa United Way contribution tax deductible?
A. Yes, your contribution is tax deductible if you itemize your deductions. You may also qualify for an Arizona state tax credit by designating a portion of your donation to the Qualifying Charitable Organizations Tax Credit and/or the QualifyingFoster Care Charitable Organizations Tax Credit. Please contact a Mesa United Way representative for more information or visit our website at mesaunitedway.org.
 
 
Q. The agency I want to support is not listed. Can I still restrict my contribution to that particular agency?
A. Yes, as long as the agency is a legitimate 501(c)3. We cannot allocate designated funds to non 501(c)3 compliant organizations. Mesa United Way will pass through 100% of your designated funds to the agency of your choice. We will keep your gift anonymous unless you ask us to forward your name to the designated agency. 
 
Q.What is the Arizona Qualifying Charitable OrganizationsTax Credit (QCO) and the Qualifying Foster Care Charitable Organizations Tax Credit (QFCO)?
A. The Arizona Qualifying Charitable Organizations Tax Credit allows you to make a donation of up to $400 ($800 for couples filing jointly) to qualified charities and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit against your state tax liability when you file your tax return. Qualified agencies assist low-income individuals and families as well as chronically ill and physically disabled children. Many of Mesa United Way's partner agencies are qualified to receive QCO money, and your designated donation will be directed to those agencies. To qualify for the credit in the current tax year, donations may be made up until the April 15 tax-filing deadline.
The Arizona Qualifying Charitable Foster Care Charitable Organizations Tax Credit allows you to give up to $500 ($1,000 for couples) to qualifying foster care agencies, such as Mesa United Way's Helen's Hope Chest, and receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit against your state tax liability. Your designated donation will be directed to those partner agencies that are qualified to receive QFCO tax credit dollars. You may give up to the full amount to both the Qualifying Charitable Organizations Tax Credit and the Qualifying Foster Care Charitable Organizations Tax Credit. 
 
Q. How do you distribute the tax credits?
A. The tax credits received by Mesa United Way are distributed to our vetted qualifying partner agencies. If you desire to give all of it to a specific agency, MUW is happy to accommodate you. If you would like to give to support the safety net of agencies working in each category, the donation to MUW assures support for a variety of vetted programs that meet the state criteria. 
 
Q. Does Mesa United Way fund animal organizations?
A. All non-profits must meet certain criteria to be eligible for United Way funding. One of the fundamental requirements is that the organization provides health and human care services or administers a qualifying health and human care program.
 
Q. I am already on a tight budget. How can I afford to give?
A. Abraham Lincoln said, “To ease another’s heartache is to forget one’s own.” Sometimes when we look outside ourselves and give to the greater good, we find ourselves prospering in ways that aren’t necessarily financial. And it may be true that your budget is too tight to give. If so, there are many other ways to impact a community; Volunteer and Advocate. When the day comes that you can also contribute financially you will be aware of the vast need. Guilt is not the motivation to give — concern and care are. Give what you can when you can however you can. 
 
 
Q. What is Leadership Giving?
A. Leadership Givers are people who show a strong commitment to Mesa United Way’s mission through a personal annual investment of $500 or more. This giving can be accomplished through any combination of workplace giving and/or direct giving.