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Dedicated to helping through the United Way

Professor David Gordon brings valuable experience to the Queen's United Way Committee as the faculty representative.

[David Gordon United Way]
Professor David Gordon points to the top of the United Way thermometer during the opening week of the annual fundraising campaign. This year, Queen’s United Way has set a fundraising target of $330,177. (University Communications)

As a professor in the Department of Geography and Planning, David Gordon, teaches planning history, community design, and urban development. Throughout his career he has been active in the Queen’s and Kingston communities.

This year he joined the Queen’s United Way Committee as the Faculty Representative.

Recently, he sat down with the Gazette to talk about how he got involved with the United Way and why more community members should throw their support behind the fundraising organization.

How did you first get involved with the United Way?

A wonderful professor, Dr. John Coleman, was head of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics for many years and my former calculus teacher. He recruited me to assist with a charity he helped establish in the late 1970s that is now called Lunch by [United Way]George. We serve meals to people who are homeless or have other issues in the downtown.  Lunch by George operates from St. George’s Hall at Johnson and Wellington streets, and had been funded on an emergency basis for many years by colleagues of Dr. Coleman’s. After I joined the board as the treasurer, we looked at what they were doing and realized this is the type of agency that the United Way supports and we needed the operating support that only the United Way can provide. The United Way can raise funds to support the operating costs of good work.

So I helped Lunch by George apply to the United Way. It’s a lot of work to become a United Way agency and our students in the School of Urban and Regional Planning’s social planning field helped with the original research studies. To get funding from United Way you have to quite rigorously prove that you are helping people. We had to prove that we were changing people’s lives, which turned out to be quite useful for other fundraising and sharpening our own work, by thinking about what we are doing that is effective and transformative.

What do you get out of taking part in the Queen’s United Way Committee?

This is my first year. I have been delighted to help Queen’s understand how United Way is a powerful force for good in our community. I’m not hesitant in sharing that message both from my personal experience from working with a social agency but also from my professional experience as a planner, watching what it takes to support a healthy community. As a professor of urban planning, you look at the way a community functions and it is easy to see that the United Way does an immense amount of good.

Having been a long-time supporter of the United Way, what are some of trends that you have seen over the years in terms of support and needs?

What I’ve seen, and admire very, very much, is the way the United Way has progressed from being simply a coordinated fundraising campaign, which is quite important, to leading social planning in the community. The United Way is coordinating agencies and service delivery in the areas of greatest need in the Kingston region. For example, I am particularly impressed by their program called Success By 6, where the United Way is coordinating the work by several agencies to improve the lives of the most vulnerable children in the community. There is clear research about how important it is to have good nutrition and good education in the earliest years of a child’s development and that interventions in these areas can pay off enormously in the long term. So from a community planner’s point of view this work is extremely valuable. I am also impressed by what United Way are doing in terms of targeting the work of multiple agencies, not just for age groups but with initiatives to help people in areas of Kingston with concentrated poverty. The United Way is working with the City of Kingston, coordinating these efforts.

What would you say to someone in the Queen’s or Kingston communities who is thinking about supporting the United Way?

I think the United Way is the single most effective agency involved in fundraising in the community. It is very efficient, with a low proportion of fundraising costs and therefore distributes most of the money it raises to agencies. In fact, the United Way KFLA recently was included in MoneySense‘s Charity 100 for 2019 based on its financial efficiency and transparency. 

To get United Way agency funding you have to prove that you are being effective in improving people’s lives. For that reason I think they are a good steward of our donations.  People are also surprised at the broad reach of the human service supports that United Way provides in our community and to learn that you can also target part of your gift to an agency that you admire. For example, I designate part of my gift to Pathways for Education, rather than having to write separate cheque as a donation.

To have one consolidated fundraising campaign is a smart thing, and that is why it has been going on since the 1940s. But it’s also an efficient and effective thing to do.

For our institution, we are proud that Queen’s is the largest workplace campaign contributor to the United Way KFLA. However, we observe that our participation rate has been drifting down a little bit since the introduction of the online payroll system a few years ago. Online giving is easier but many of us seem to have lost track of our gift, now that we no longer get an itemized monthly pay stub on paper.

My appeal for everyone is to please check that you are actually still giving the donation that we remember. We get one consolidated charitable donation total in our Queen’s T4 summary, so it’s hard to be sure what we are giving unless you check queensu.ca/unitedway. We hope that if more people do that we will get our participation back rate up.


The Queen’s United Way Campaign Committee has set a fundraising goal of $330,177 for this year’s campaign in support of United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.

Last year, more than 58,000 people benefited from United Way KFL&A-funded programs.

Queen’s community members can back the United Way through payroll deduction, a one-time gift, credit card, cheque or cash. 

To make a donation online through the United Way’s ePledge system, simply go to queensu.ca/unitedway and fill out the forms. Please note that if you donated last year and selected the auto-renewal action, no further action is required unless you would like to change your donation.