On November 14, 1935, a temporary Community Chest Organization was founded to support agencies which serve residents of North Adams and Clarksburg. While one of the most important goals of the Chest was to coordinate the fundraising activities of its nine agencies, it also served to increase public understanding of its agencies’ services and include new agencies as community needs grow. On January 7, 1936, Herbert B. Clark, vice president of the Berkshire County Branch of the MSPCC, motioned to adopt a constitution and by-laws for creation of a permanent organization. This motion was carried unanimously, thus creating the North Adams Community Chest Association. The Community Chest was reorganized in 1943 to include the National War Fund. This new organization, the North Adams Community War Chest, decided for the first time in the Chest’s history to conduct its annual fund drive without the services of a professional fundraising organization. The next year, 1944, the Chest raised a record $67,331.
1946 was an important year for the North Adams Community Chest Association. After dissolving the War Chest and taking back its former name, the Chest began its second decade of service. In keeping with its original goals, this 10-year period was one of extensive growth for the Chest. At its annual meeting on January 24, 1952, the Chest voted in favor of a United Fund that would conduct a single drive to finance the North Adams Community Chest Association, the Red Cross, and the U.S.O. The United Fund conducted its first drive in 1953, raising $93,453. In 1954, the Chest changed its name to the North Adams Community Fund. Also that year, two national agencies joined the United fund – the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Berkshire County, Inc., and the Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation. A record $96,631 was raised the next year, 1955.
1956 was a landmark year for the North Adams Community Fund – it marked the first campaign in the Fund’s history to top the $100,000 mark. A formidable accomplishment in itself, this total is even more impressive when the loss of the Berkshire Hathaway Mill and the Windsor Print Works is considered. The Fund was still able to increase its pledges by 3 1/2 times to put the total at $102,219. The Fund concluded its third decade with yet another record setting year. When the campaign ended on October 27, 1965, the Fund was short of its $113,365 goal. This led to the decision to extend the campaign until November 10, but on that date the goal remained unmet, short $202 of the targeted amount. However, when delayed reports from Pfizer Manufacturing were counted, the Community Fund was over the top!
1966 saw residents of the town of Adams establish the Adams United Fund, Inc. In May of 1967, the North Adams Community Council and the United Community Fund merged to form a single organization. A study committee was successful in merging the Adams United Fund and the North Adams Community Fund. On April 25, 1968, the Northern Berkshire United Community Services met and elected its first President. The United Way of America was formed in 1970, and the Northern Berkshire United Community Services began using the term “United Way” in conjunction with its 1973-74 campaign. The campaign raised $171,370 that year.
On May 18, 1976, the Northern Berkshire United Community Services voted to change its name to the Northern Berkshire United Way and put in place a working relationship in order to obtain maximum benefits with the United Way of America. 1985 marked the 50th anniversary of the many organizations that have evolved into the Northern Berkshire United Way, Inc.
In 1990, The Red Feather Society was established recognizing individual contributors who make a substantial financial commitment to the United Way. The first year listed 93 charter members. In 1992 and 1994, two large contributions formed an endowment fund, the earned income from which is used for special needs. The 1995 campaign succeeded in collecting over a half million dollars, the first time in the 60-year history of the organization. This was the year in which long-time Executive Director Al Nelson retired amidst endless heartfelt statements of gratitude and congratulations.
Northern Berkshire United Way continues to increase its fundraising success, surpassing the $750,000 plateau in 2005, and the Red Feather Society grew to more than 270 members. Under Executive Director Bob Barton’s leadership, the organization also became the lead sponsor for Berkshire Navigation–a collaboration among 24 leading Berkshire organizations for gathering and analyzing data on community well-being, and improving judgments about priorities and the effectiveness of programs receiving funds. Another major innovation was to seek grants outside the North Berkshire area to fund important local initiatives. This new strategy has brought about $3 million to the area, primarily in grants from the Department of Education to fund after school programs in North Adams and Adams (21st Century Learning Centers). Recent years have seen increasing collaboration between NBUW, the Berkshire United Way, and the Williamstown Community Chest, as they endeavor to reduce costs and increase effectiveness.
These years will always be looked upon as the transitional period. Three Executive Directors in four years. The economy was the worst since the Depression and the Northern Berkshire United Way and all non-profit as well as for-profit businesses struggled to maintain services. Due to the economic times, the Northern Berkshire United Way relocated, closing its office on 85 Main Street and moving to the BFAIR offices at 771 South Church Street. This saved considerable money that was able to be given back to the member agencies. The campaigns during these years decreased at first and began to slightly bounce back in 2010. As United Way worldwide and the surrounding United Ways converted to the new Community Impact model, the Northern Berkshire United Way continued with its foundation funding model and retained member agencies.
This period of time saw a number of challenges. Under the leadership of Executive Director, Joseph McGovern, Northern Berkshire United Way successfully navigated the challenges presented to the member agencies after the North Adams Regional Hospital closure. Revenue was affected by changes in corporate campaign structures and by businesses leaving the area. Member agencies decreased from 24 to 20, after several were absorbed into other agencies or folded due to the economic recession.