If you’re looking to get involved in your community but aren’t sure where to start or what’s expected of you, the nonprofit world can be intimidating and confusing. For instance, you may be asking: “How much should I give to charity?” or “What should I donate?”

Rest assured: Every gift matters, just like every person in our community. United Way of Central Iowa accepts online donations as small as $5, and we’re grateful for every single one, because they add up to thousands of lives changed.

Below is a how-to guide for your journey toward making a difference. 

Money equals change.

A monetary donation allows the organization to invest strategically in the community, using research to determine where it will make the most impact. United Way of Central Iowa has three priorities areas (Education, Income, and Health) with measurable goals, and volunteer experts spend hundreds of hours each year evaluating programs to decide where your money will have the best results.

Even with such big goals, a small gift each month goes further than you think over the course of a year.

  • $5, the price of a coffee, pays for 16 meals for the homeless.
  • $10, or a lunch out, can buy a library of books for 3 preschoolers at early learning centers.
  • $30, the price of a pair of movie tickets, equals financial coaching for 2 families who struggle to make ends meet.
  • $50, the cost of a dinner out for two, can help six veterans find jobs.


In 2018, all gifts to United Way under $100 added up to more than $500,000 total. That investment in the community helps to provide:

  • 4,161 low-income children receiving health, academic, social/emotional, and behavioral support at early learning centers
  • 2,869 children accessing quality after-school programs during the school year and the summer
  • 2,293 adults participating in job-training programs to earn credentials for their careers and improve their financial stability
  • 846 central Iowans receiving work-ready job skills so they can obtain financial stability by joining the workforce or advancing in their current field
  • 19,478 individuals receiving dental treatment
  • 3,194 children accessing mental health counseling and social engagement programs
  • 28,386 central Iowans connected to the resources and services they need through the 211 call center and app

When everyone comes together, you can make a massive impact for under $100 a year.

The difference in giving to United Way is that one small gift joins thousands of others to address our community’s toughest problems at their roots, rather than treating just the symptoms. That means long-term change and more central Iowans living better lives.

Donate to United Way

Not ready to make a gift right now? Or looking for ways to go further?

Donate items—either new or used.

  • United Way of Central Iowa can help connect you with local nonprofits in need of donations. Call 2-1-1—our trusted information and referral service that helps individuals identify local services to meet their needs—and share ideas of what you want to donate. Our help navigators will direct you to the right place. Items you could donate include:
  • Fresh produce and non-perishable food for local food pantries
  • Winter coats, hats, gloves, and boots, especially in kids’ sizes
  • Toiletries for homeless and domestic violence shelters
  • Gently used clothes
  • New children’s books for early child care centers and schools


Learn more


Volunteer your time.

A small act of service can sometimes be the best way to make a difference in the lives of the people around you. United Way of Central Iowa serves as the volunteer hub for nonprofits in the area.

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Join your company’s team at central Iowa’s largest one-day volunteer event, Day of Action
  • Spend a Saturday morning reaching out to students at-risk of dropping out of school through Graduation Walk
  • Read with a child for 30 minutes a week over your lunch hour through Power Read
  • Explore a huge selection of volunteer opportunities—from just one-hour to recurring—on our Volunteer Hub

Explore Volunteer Opportunities


The Real Difference

With a small gift, either money or time, you’ll get big results.

  • You actually change the lives of fellow residents in your community.
  • You feel awesome, getting all the endorphins that come with volunteering and giving.
  • You take on the role of a community leader and philanthropist, and others begin to see you that away, too.
  • You model generosity and compassion for people in your life, especially children.
  • On a larger scale, you contribute toward changing the system, helping to prevent others from slipping into challenges that prevent them from living the lives they deserve and helping to boost the economy of the entire area.

Give Now

Note: If your employer runs a United Way workplace campaign, please make your gift through their online or paper pledge forms rather than our website. Thank you!

Julie Matternas

About The Author: Julie Matternas

Julie Matternas is the former corporate engagement officer for United Way of Central Iowa.