Syracuse UniversityOffice of Government and Community Relations



What began during World War I as one of the community’s first large-scale charitable campaigns has grown into the single largest annual fundraising effort in Central New York.

The United Way sets a lofty campaign goal of $4.321 million.

On June 18, 1917, Syracuse Mayor Walter R. Stone invited 100 local business leaders to meet with him at City Hall to consider a “war plan.”

The mayor explained his plan to establish a War Chest that would raise $600,000 in charitable giving. Half of the funds would go to charitable work in Syracuse; the other half for use nationally and overseas.

A team of more than 400 speakers spoke on behalf of the effort at schools, businesses and nonprofits. A huge War Chest was carried on a truck during the kickoff parade and throughout the campaign, with two more chests being displayed in downtown Syracuse.

On July 3, it was announced that $1,118,730 was pledged — $518,730 over the goal. Three years later, on Nov. 12, 1921, the Syracuse Community Chest, Inc. was incorporated, and the Community Chest became United Way of Central New York in 1972.

Since that first effort, the Community Chest (and later United Way) campaign has become an annual community event, thanks to hundreds of campaign volunteers at local businesses that donate their time to make each campaign a success, and many thousands of loyal donors.

The United Way campaign has run annually on campus each fall for more than forty years, led by a volunteer staff or faculty Chairperson and managed by a team of volunteers representing each geographic area of campus. 

After the 1981 campaign exceeded its goal and raised $87,338.15, Chancellor Eggers was quoted as saying,

"Our University community is an integral part of the larger Syracuse community, and as such we have a civic responsibility to our neighbors in need. I commend those employees who recognize and accept this responsibility." 

Current Focus

The United Way of Central New York continues to address the most critical needs in the community, focusing its funding on services for education, income, health, and basic needs (safety net programs).  It's funding allocations for the period 2014-17 support 34 nonprofit agencies and 91 local programs.

Its support for food pantries and soup kitchens is nothing short of exceptional, rescuing millions of pounds of fresh, nutritious food that would otherwise be thrown away by restaurants and grocers and distributing it across the county. Its allocations fund services for at-risk families, victims of domestic violence, the homeless, low-income families in need of legal assistance, and people suffering from disabilities and mental illness.

Many families continue to face challenges finding safe and affordable childcare, and early childhood education has become an area of focus over the past decade.

Its network of services continues to address those needs in the most meaningful and successful ways, and excels in stewardship of donor dollars.

New donors and those that increase their annual gift by $52 are entered into the United Way's enticing Step Up Challenge program. Donors from all companies are eligible to win incentive prizes, which are drawn daily by the United Way staff.