United Way of America (now United Way Worldwide) based in Alexandria, Virginia, is a nonprofit organization that works with almost 1,200 local United Way offices throughout the country in a coalition of charitable organizations to pool efforts in fundraising and support. United Way's focus is to identify and resolve pressing community issues and to make measurable changes in communities through partnerships with schools, government agencies, businesses, organized labor, financial institutions, community development corporations, voluntary and neighborhood associations, the faith community, and others. The main areas include education, income, and health.
United Way of America has been the largest non-profit organization by donations from the public, prior to 2016. 
The organization has roots in Denver, Colorado, where in 1887 church leaders began the Charity Organization Society, which coordinated services and fundraising for 22 agencies.  Many Community Chest organizations, which were founded in the first half of the twentieth century to jointly collect and allocate money, joined the American Association for Community Organizations in 1918. The first Community Chest was founded in 1913 in Cleveland, Ohio,  after the example of the Jewish Federation in Cleveland—which served as an exemplary model for "federated giving". The number of Community Chest organizations increased from 39 to 353 between 1919 and 1929 and surpassed 1,000 by 1948. In 1948, Walter C. Laidlaw merged the Community Chest and other Detroit charities to form the United Foundation.  Walter Laidlaw's work with the United Foundation became the model for united funds nationally and eventually the United Way organization.
In 1928, a Community Chest organization was established in Cape Town, South Africa — the first Community Chest outside North America.  (In 2015, continued neglect by United Way Worldwide, including legal and financial scandals, has led to no active United Way presence in the country and completely severed ties with Community Chest). By 1974, there were enough United Way organizations internationally to demand the kind of support provided by the national organization, United Way of America and United Way International was born (later these organizations were joined together and renamed to United Way Worldwide). Its staff spoke eight languages, with a Board of Directors from more than seven countries, working with member organizations. Amundsen, Chief Administrative Officer, served as interim president during a yearlong search.
By 1963, and after several name changes, the term United Way was adopted, but not everyone chose to use it. After Walter C. Laidlaw fell ill, William Aramony became CEO of the national governing body known as the United Community Funds and Council of America (UCFCA) and in 1970 the organization was renamed United Way of America (UWA). It moved from New York City to Alexandria, Virginia in 1971. 
After Aramony's departure in 1992, Kenneth W. Dam was named interim CEO until Elaine Chao was selected as UWA's second president. Betty Stanley Beene took over in 1997 and stayed until 2002.  Chris Brian Gallagher, former head of United Way in Columbus, Ohio, accepted the job in 2002  and as president and CEO, Brian Gallagher was compensated over $1.5 million in 2012  with eight executives receiving over $300,000 in compensation in 2013.  In 2014, Brian Gallagher received $1.54 million in compensation while the organization experienced its largest worldwide loss in revenue, volunteers, and donors in many years. 
In the 2007 Philanthropy 400, United Way Worldwide was again the largest charity in the United States, with 1,285 local United Ways reporting over $4.2 billion in contributions, a 2.2% increase over 2006. 
Common focus areas
United Ways identify and build on community strengths and assets, help individuals and groups with specific community interests find ways to contribute their time and talents, support direct-service programs and community-change efforts, and advocate public-policy changes.
All of this is done in collaboration with diverse partners. Depending on the issue and how the community chooses to address it, United Ways work with schools, government agencies, businesses, organized labor, financial institutions, community development corporations, voluntary and neighborhood associations, the religious community, and others. The United Way of America has also worked with local United Ways along the Gulf Coast to sponsor four Alternative Spring Break programs in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 to help with recovery and rebuilding in the areas devastated by hurricanes Ivan, Katrina, and Rita. Since 2008, the United Way of America has teamed up with the United Way of Southeastern Michigan and produced Alternative Spring Break programming in Detroit.
United Way also helps to promote other community service projects through their Alternative Spring Break Programs, such as the 10,000 Hours Show (10K). This is a program designed to motivate young people to become involved in community service projects by providing an incentive: free concert admission in exchange for 10 or more volunteer hours with local nonprofit organizations. The concert is organized by a given campus and their local United Way. The program's mission is to raise awareness across the nation that young people can make a difference by joining their efforts to help meet their communities' needs. The goal in part is "helping develop the next generation of active community leaders", according to the website. 
The 10,000 Hours Show was founded in the fall of 2002 by undergraduates at the University of Iowa. Ben Folds performed the first show in the fall of 2003 and it raked in a total of 13,573 hours completed by over 600 volunteers. Since then, there have been a number of other successful shows. 
Because of the unique conditions in each community, the issues United Ways address are determined locally. Some common themes emerge:
- Helping children and youth succeed through engagement
- Strengthening and supporting families
- Improving access to health care
- Promoting financial stability
Recently, the United Way has also placed an emphasis on eradicating homelessness with an annual Greater Los Angeles HomeWalk. Kobe Bryant has hosted the walk for several consecutive years. Nearly 50,000 walkers have participated and raised over $4 million to help fight homelessness and successfully placed 14,000 people in permanent housing who previously were on the streets.  
- The ongoing partnership with the National Football League began in 1973 when the NFL and United Way of America came together to discuss the possibility of using the NFL's network contract airtime to promote United Way during game telecasts. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle recognized the partnership as a viable means of communicating the good works of United Ways while putting faces on a league of players hidden by helmets.
- National partnerships with are formalized through the National Corporate Leadership Program.
- Since 1946, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and United Way Worldwide have enjoyed a cooperative relationship
- is a coalition of long-established charities, faith-based organizations, and social and health groups that support and promote people's safety, health, well-being and social and economic development across America.
Scandals and criticism
- In 1986, The United Way of Cleveland, Ohio, held an event called Balloonfest '86, setting a world record by releasing 1.5 million balloons. Unfortunately, the event had disastrous consequences, wreaking havoc at Burke Lakefront Airport and Lake Erie, causing injury to animals and contributing to two fishermen's deaths. 
- William Aramony, CEO of the national organization for over 20 years, retired in 1992 amid allegations of fraud and financial mismanagement, of which he was subsequently convicted. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison and fined $300,000.  
- Ralph Dickerson Jr., a former CEO of United Way of New York City, was found to have used $227,000 in United Way funds for personal expenses during 2002 and 2003. He later agreed to reimburse the organization.
- Oral Suer, CEO of the Washington, D.C. chapter, was convicted of misuse of donations in 2004. He pleaded guilty to theft of almost $500,000 and was sentenced to 27 months in prison.   
- Norman O. Taylor, Suer's replacement, was never charged with misconduct but was forced to resign.