Since 1923, United Way has served the Santa Barbara County community through funding, partnership development, volunteer services, and by creating, managing, and leading its own unique programs and initiatives that involve dozens of local non-profit, business, and public sector organizations. United Way's mission is driven by a focus on school readiness and academic achievement, financial empowerment, and crisis response and recovery.


Our mission is to enrich the lives of children and families and build resilient communities by leading local programs and partnerships that improve school readiness and academic achievement, financial empowerment, and crisis response and recovery.


Our vision is strong local communities where committed networks of leaders and organizations are united to provide children and families the education, financial skills, and resources necessary to be successful today and resilient in times of community crisis. 

Strategic Plan

Growth in programs and partnerships has led United Way of Santa Barbara County to shift significantly from being an organization that was, for many years, focused almost exclusively on raising and distributing funds to support worthy causes. Today, we have successfully diversified our approach. We have expanded our impacts and our model for leadership—uniting and strengthening communities behind common goals, strategies, and outcomes—each year achieving significant, measurable results.

Our 2021-2023 Strategic Plan was developed at a time of unprecedented challenge and hardship in our community and beyond. The COVID-19 pandemic devastated our local economy and threw thousands of Santa Barbara County residents into crisis. United Way has deliberately grown its capacity to lead and unite communities through multiple periods of crisis and in support of far-reaching disaster response and recovery efforts. Given our success in these areas and recognizing that the important needs described above remain critical, our three-year Strategic Plan focuses United Way most particularly on preparing children for academic success, empowering families to be financially stable, and leading efforts that help our local communities recover in times of crisis.


Community Programs

United Way's efforts offer a continuum of integrated services in three focus areas: School Readiness and Academic Achievement, Financial Empowerment, and Response and Recovery in Times of Community Crisis. Together with our partners, we lead innovative programs to support these focus areas. United Way of Santa Barbara County's signature programs include:  

School Readiness and Academic Achievement

UWSBC is building on its already strong record of success in school readiness and academic achievement by developing opportunities to expand our scope, impact of services, and the total number served through these specific programs. We will continue to align our programmatic models with the specific needs of local students, schools, and school districts, and we will continue to prioritize our services for children who are academically at risk. Particularly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting changes in service delivery options, we will expand upon our already proven ability to support school districts in providing alternative models for instruction and supplemental academic supports that go beyond the regular school day. 

  • Fun in the Sun: 400+ students improve their academic, behavioral, and social skills, instead of falling behind, through this national award-winning summer learning program. The program operates at 6 sites across the county. 200 parents practice positive parenting practices and family strengthening activities through specialized parent engagement curriculum.
  • United for Literacy School-Based Programs: 25,000+ students at 45+ schools have access to individualized, online reading enhancement programs that improve their literacy skills and boost their motivation to pursue higher education and a career.
  • Early Learning Success Institutes: Early education programming helps 250+ pre-K through 2nd grade students master basic academic and social/emotional skills for success in school.
  • United Learning Center: Year-round virtual and in-person tutoring helps local students who are struggling academically meet and exceed critical reading and education benchmarks. 
  • Dolly Parton's Imagination Library: Free monthly books help over 500 children ages 0 - 5 start fostering a love of reading.


Financial Empowerment

Programmatic Objectives: For many years, empowering local low-income residents with financial skills and literacy has been among UWSBC's core programmatic objectives. Through our Strategic Plan, the Board of Directors and UWSBC leadership are committing to more deliberately define and expand this focus area's strategic scope and desired impacts. This will include: assessing community needs in the area of financial empowerment, building upon the strengths of existing programs, identifying and engaging partners and funders, and working in collaboration to deliver concrete and coordinated financial empowerment services for those in need throughout Santa Barbara County. 

  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA): An average of 3,000 low/moderate-income families and individuals every year build long-term financial stability through free tax preparation assistance, financial literacy education, and access to emergency savings accounts, college savings plans, and retirement accounts.
  • Financial Literacy Education: UWSBC offers bilingual, high quality, community based financial literacy education to family and student audiences. We provide financial literacy classes through workshops and financial literacy fairs. Our team is working hard to build awareness in the community of these services that are available to low and moderate income families. Learn more at unitedwaysb.org/financial-literacy-education.


Response and Recovery in Times of Community Crisis

Through multiple recent community crises, UWSBC has become a recognized leader in disaster response and recovery across Santa Barbara County. This role has filled an urgent immediate need in the community and is critical to fostering long-term community resilience. UWSBC has therefore chosen to prioritize response and recovery in times of community crisis by adding this programmatic focus area to our work. This strategic decision will allow for the immediate deployment of partnerships, programming, and effective responses whenever the need arises. 

  • COVID-19 Response and Recovery: United Way provides short-term and long-term financial relief efforts during community crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, United Way provided direct financial assistance and other support services to thousands of households and hundreds of nonprofits. Learn more at www.unitedwaysb.org/covid19.
  • Natural Disaster Relief: During the Thomas Fire and resulting debris flow disasters, United Way of Santa Barbara County partnered with United Way of Ventura County to establish and manage the United Way Thomas Fire & Flood Fund to provide relief to Santa Barbara County and Ventura County. In Santa Barbara County, UWSBC distributed $2,045,988 to 421 households representing 1,200 individuals affected by the disasters, and 20 community organizations providing short- and long-term relief efforts.