For more than a century, United Way of Central Iowa has played a unique role by bringing together people from every part of our community – donors, volunteers, advocates, nonprofit organizations, community leaders, elected officials, and people with lived experience.

TOGETHER, we look at the big picture when it comes to the future of our community to identify gaps and best leverage points to create sustainable impact. 

We are UNITED in taking on some of our community's critical challenges, addressing them at their roots through investments and strong partnerships. In addition, we identify specific barriers limiting our community's ability to provide equitable opportunities to EVERY central Iowan.

United Way of Central Iowa invests in hundreds of local nonprofit programs focused on creating progress in the 5 Elements of a Thriving Community: Essential Needs, Early Childhood Success, Education Success, Economic Opportunity, and Health & Well-Being

As we look to the future, the way we work in the community is evolving to reflect and respond to the changing needs of central Iowa. Every hard puzzle, just like every challenge we face, has a solution. We can't get there without you! 


United Way of Central Iowa Looks at the Big Picture



We bring together donors, volunteers, businesses, nonprofits, faith-based leaders, community leaders, elected officials, experts, and those in need to address challenges in the 5 Elements of a Thriving Community: Essential Needs, Early Childhood Success, Education Success, Economic Opportunity, and Health & Well-Being.

Strategize Icon


We get all the right people in the room to break down central Iowa’s toughest challenges to their root causes and develop research-based, comprehensive strategies to make significant and sustainable progress. Specific strategies are developed for each issue under all  5 Elements of a Thriving Community.



Once sound strategies are set, we take action. We invest in or create initiatives designed to make progress under UNITED to THRIVE. We convene coalitions, advocate for public policy, raise awareness, mobilize volunteers, and more.



We create metrics toward our success and continuously evaluate the results of our investments, holding every initiative accountable to make meaningful progress. Our volunteer leaders have identified key indicators of success, various community metrics to set goals and measure progress.


Investing In Central Iowa

The funds raised by United Way of Central Iowa are invested in community programs and initiatives addressing the real challenges people are facing right here in central Iowa, which is why real people just like you help determine where those donations go.

Investment decisions are made by groups of volunteer leaders called "cabinets." Our Investment Cabinets are made up of local experts in the areas of Essential Needs, Early Childhood Success, Education Success, Economic Opportunity, and Health & Well-Being. The generous gifts donated are united in ways that most powerfully improve lives in our community. How We Invest

Community Collaborations

In addition to funding existing programs under our UNITED to THRIVE strategic imperative, United Way of Central Iowa manages initiatives and leads coalitions reaching across all 5 Elements of a Thriving Community to address specific needs within central Iowa that are not being met by a funded partner or program. These Community Collaborations are just that – collaborative efforts between our organization and various nonprofit agencies, leaders in the field or industry. Here are the programs created or managed by United Way staff to specifically to maximize our collective impact. 

211 Logo - color - IA

211 Iowa

211 is United Way’s trusted information and referral service that provides expert, caring help to meet your needs. No matter the situation, the help navigators at 211 listen, identify underlying problems and connect people in need with resources and services in our community that improve their lives.


5210 logo update

5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices

5-2-1-0 promotes healthy habits at child care centers, schools, health care clinics, and homes, where kids spend a lot of time. The program encourages healthy habits through actions such as giving every child a water bottle, revising birthday celebration policies to have costume parties, and purchasing equipment that allows teachers to incorporate movement into learning.


ACEs 360 Logo

ACEs 360

The ACEs toolkit helps organizations and service providers identify various types of trauma, recognize how events from childhood may be shaping peoples' responses and provide guidance to help them address these challenges.


Bridges to Success - UWCI - color

Bridges to Success

Bridges to Success aims to help central Iowa adults earn a high school equivalency diploma. The initiative provides adult learners with free classes, coaching, testing, books, and a career coach to help students succeed and plan for their future.


Industrial background. Welder in a factory

Building New Careers

The Building New Careers program serves to identify, screen, assess, and recruit low-income adults for entry into one of 18 apprenticeships with the Building and Construction Trades.


CIW Logo - UWCI - Color (RGB)

Central Iowa Works

Central Iowa Works connects
employers seeking to fill jobs with
talented workers who can earn a
living wage. This initiative is working to train 500 central Iowans for jobs in health care, support individuals returning from prison in gaining employment and rebuilding their lives, and help local retailers build career pathways to increase


giving garden-1

Giving Gardens

Corporate and Community Giving Gardens promote and provide access to local produce for low-income central Iowans by growing, harvesting and/or rescuing unused food to be distributed to those in need.


HOPE for Stable Families

HOPE For Stable Families

HOPE for Stable Families works with central Iowa families each year to set goals, remove barriers, and find support in moving out of poverty to long-term financial stability. The initiative is unique in that it provides comprehensive support to parents and children at the same time, also known as a 2Gen approach.  


UWCI_Powered by Purpose - Horizontal - UWCI - Color

Powered by Purpose

Powered by Purpose is a free online resource designed to help individuals and organizations explore the meaning of purpose, discover their own unique purpose and put it into action in their life and workplace.


OpportUNITY Logo - horizontal - UWCI - color


OpportUNITY is a collective impact initiative focused on fighting poverty in central Iowa. Eight issue-focused work groups are addressing barriers and creating new opportunities for low-income individuals to raise themselves out of poverty. More than 2,000 nonprofits, businesses, and community members have signed on to support the plan.


READ to SUCCEED - UWCI - color

READ to Succeed

READ to SUCCEED is a groundbreaking, community-wide awareness and action campaign to help kids read proficiently by third grade. There are multiple ways you can get involved in this effort: donating books, building literacy kits, reading to children, advocating for summer reading programs and more.Forward-Arrow.png

Skills 2 Compete

Skills 2 Compete

The Iowa Skills2Compete Coalition is a statewide partnership of Iowa’s business, community, education, labor, legislative, and workforce development leaders to serve as an organized voice for “skills” at the state capitol and builds more policymaker support for state policies that grow Iowa’s economy by investing in its workforce.


Summer Youth Employment Program

Summer Youth Employment Program

The Summer Youth Experience Program (SYEP) seeks to make a difference for local youth by providing them with work-readiness training and workplace experience. An eight-week, paid, part-time work experience program during the summer for youth in Des Moines, SYEP gives youth as young as 14 work exposure they might need in the future and a chance to explore interest in different careers.


Vision to Learn

Vision To Learn provides two free pairs of eyeglasses (one pair to take home and one to leave at school) to students who need them. A trained eye care professional provides a modified screening exam with a full refraction for students who would otherwise not receive vision care.