Does Your United Way Have Vision?

A quick Google search easily finds hundreds of United Ways have a vision statement posted on their website, and each vision statement is unique. Some vision statements are all about the United Way:

United Way of ______ is the premier organization for charitable giving in __________.

To be the most effective United Way in the most caring community.

Some vision statements talk about how the United Way will get things done:

United Way of _________ will be the leader in bringing partners and resources together to address priority needs and provide solutions that strengthen our community.

To meet current and emerging needs in _____ County that are best met through voluntarism by uniting contributors, providers and users of human services in a voluntary and cooperative effort through fund raising campaigns, programs, planning and evaluation, and distribution of funds to participating agencies.

And some vision statements express great hope for everyone in the community:

A _____ County where everyone can succeed in school, work and life.

United Way of _________ envisions a community where all individuals and families achieve their full potential.

To build a caring community of neighbors helping neighbors which empowers people to improve the quality and dignity of life.

Since there is such diversity in vision statements, it is worth taking a moment to examine the definition of a vision statement. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a vision statement is defined as “A statement of what a company or organization would like to achieve in the future.” The Business Dictionary defines a vision statement as “An aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future.” I will concede that there are other definitions for vision statements, which primarily come from the corporate world. A vision statement for a United Way should not be based on corporate norms, which is why I chose these definitions of a vision statement as examples.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of vision statements from United Ways, and most probably meet these definitions. However, just because a vision statement meets the definition does not make it useful or beneficial. This begs the question “Why would a United Way want a vision statement?”

Donors have always struggled to understand how their contribution makes a difference, which can be resolved with a carefully crafted vision statement. Notice how I qualified this benefit of a vision statement with the words “carefully crafted.” Looking at the vision statement examples listed earlier, you will find that several of them are not written for the donor – they are written for the United Way board and staff. A donor is never going to give to a United Way because they want United Way to be the “premier organization for charitable giving.” What donors will support is a United Way with a vision like “To end chronic and veteran homelessness in ____” because they can clearly understand the impact of their contribution.

Your vision must appeal to the donor, and be written for the donor. Donors care about the results of their contribution, and not the particular details of how the United Way achieves those results. A vision statement like “_____ United Way inspires a community of participation that identifies, evaluates and provides funding for community needs” talks about how this United Way works through identifying, evaluating, and funding. The donor just wants to know the results – what did the identifying, evaluating, and funding accomplish? Who was helped? How is the community better?

Another reason why your United Way needs a carefully crafted vision statement is to focus the work of your staff and volunteers. I am not suggesting that United Way staff are unfocused, but with a vision statement like “We will be champions of our community, empowering individuals and improving lives, while striving for ideals that facilitate lasting, positive change” staff would be doing absolutely anything and everything. Contrast that with a vision statement like “Help 5,000 ____ County residents develop a pathway to financial success by 2025” and you can see how the staff at this United Way know precisely what they are trying to accomplish each and every day.

Furthermore, when you have a carefully crafted vision statement, your impact or investment volunteers can make informed funding decisions. With a vision statement like “To be the primary community solutions leader for human services,” investment volunteers could choose to fund nearly any requested program. On the other hand, a vision statement like “Our vision is to end poverty in _____ one family at a time” tells investment volunteers they should be funding programs that end poverty at the family level in their community.

At an issue-focused United Way, their vision is their bold goal. For example, the vision of United Way of Wayne & Holmes Counties (Wooster, Ohio) is their bold goal of “10,000 out of poverty by 2025.” Everyone who donates to United Way of Wayne & Holmes Counties understands clearly from their vision that their contribution is helping move people out of poverty. This clarity not only motivates donors, it also guides the work of the staff. The entire staff of United Way of Wayne & Holmes Counties comes to work every day to move people out of poverty. Their programmatic investments and initiatives are solely focused on moving people out of poverty.

Issue-focused United Ways always have a clear vision, as they are focused on only addressing a single issue with a single bold goal. The challenge for many United Ways is that they are trying to be many things to many people, which results in a broad and general mission statement, such as “To be the primary community solutions leader for human services,” which does not inspire a donor to support United Way. Clarity in focus and message is just one of the many benefits of becoming issue-focused. For more information on how your United Way could become issue-focused, check out:

A vision statement that clearly and concisely explains what your United Way would like to achieve in the future is essential to your success. As you think about your vision statement, consider this biblical passage:

Where there is no vision, the people perish” - Proverbs 29:18


Quote of the Month: July 2017

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Our July Quote of the Month comes from Norton Juster:

Just because you can never reach it, doesn’t mean it’s not worth looking for.

Norton Juster

When we work with United Ways to become issue-focused, we ask them to select a bold goal related to their issue. For example, we recently worked with United Way of Skagit County (Burlington, WA) and they selected the bold goal of “By 2025, all Skagit children entering kindergarten are ready to learn.” Although I have tremendous faith and confidence in the staff and board of United Way of Skagit County to do incredible things (because they already have), it is highly likely they will never achieve their bold goal. However, if you were eavesdropping on the passionate discussion among the board and staff of United Way of Skagit County when selecting their bold goal, you would realize that they are absolutely committed to doing everything that can be done to achieve their bold goal. The board and staff of United Way of Skagit County realized they could have set a goal of 75%, 80%, or even 90% of Skagit children entering kindergarten ready to learn by 2025, and could have achieved that goal. But, their board and staff agreed that “By 2025, all Skagit children entering kindergarten are ready to learn” was a goal worth looking for.

If you have a quote you would like to share for our Quote of the Month, please let me know at


Celebrating Our 30th Anniversary

At Perspectives, we are proud to be celebrating our 30th anniversary!

Founded on July 1, 1987, we worked with our first United Way, Heart of West Michigan United Way, in 1989. Since that time, we have enjoyed providing planning, research, training, and guidance to United Ways across the country. We are passionate about working with United Ways and believe in the good work you are doing. We know every United Way has the potential to make a significant impact in their community, which is why we focus on maximizing your impact, resources, and communication.

In honor of our 30th anniversary, we would like to offer YOU (our blog readers!) a special 30% discount on our "Positioning Your United Way for 2020: What You Must Plan & Start Doing Today" webinar, which received outstanding ratings when we presented it at the 2017 Great Rivers Conference.

During our "Positioning Your United Way for 2020: What You Must Plan & Start Doing Today" webinar, we will share with you the leading-edge strategies your board and staff must implement soon to ensure your United Way’s success in 2020. We will use real examples from United Ways of all sizes to show you how best to take on critical challenges and opportunities, such as: amplifying your United Way’s impact within your community, obtaining sustainable sources of revenue for your United Way, and engaging donors, volunteers, and community members in the work your United Way is doing.

We invite your United Way to join us for a live viewing of this 90-minute webinar on August 2nd or October 12th at 2 p.m. EDT. If you are unable to attend on either of these dates, we can either send you a recording of the webinar or invite you to a future live viewing of the webinar. To register, for more information, and to see what Great Rivers attendees said about this webinar, visit

Once we receive your webinar registration, we will send you a link to pay for the webinar online where you can enter the promo code PCG30 to save 30% during checkout. This promo code is good through July 31, 2017.

Don’t miss this opportunity – register for our "Positioning Your United Way for 2020: What You Must Plan & Start Doing Today" webinar at


Remaining Relevant is Hard

The world is changing faster than ever. Shifting demographics, emerging technology, and evolving best practices keep United Ways on their toes as they work to remain relevant in their communities.

Remaining relevant is, of course, critical to the survival of United Ways, and therefore critical to the ability of United Ways to continue to positively impact their communities.

But, it’s hard.

Remaining relevant is especially difficult because all the changes that keep United Ways on their toes can make it challenging for United Way staff to know how best to communicate with and engage donors, volunteers, and community members in their work.

We have been working with United Ways for 28 years, so we intimately understand the importance of each United Way cultivating a positive and persistent presence in its community. We also understand the role effective communication and engagement play in cultivating that presence. 

As the world continues to rapidly change, we want to help United Ways continue to be able to positively impact and interact with their donors, volunteers, and community members.

That is why I would like to invite you to join us for our upcoming “Positioning Your United Way for 2020: What You Must Plan & Start Doing Today” webinar. Join us to learn more about how progressive United Ways across the country are changing the way they offer engagement opportunities, call their communities to action, and interact with audiences on social media.

To learn more about our upcoming webinar, please visit


Quote of the Month: June 2017

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Our June Quote of the Month comes from Jimmy Dean:

I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.

Jimmy Dean

Over the past decade or two, the winds have certainly changed direction for United Ways. With the internet came the ability for donors to understand and contribute to charities of their choice more easily than ever before. The economic recession of 2008 has resulted in fewer large employers and fewer donors. These challenging changes in the winds have made it difficult for United Ways to succeed doing what they have always done. The quote speaks of adjusting sails to reach your destination, which for United Ways means doing things differently.

At the 2017 Great Rivers Conference, we presented a session called “Positioning Your United Way for 2020: What You Must Plan & Start Doing Today.” The underlying theme of this session was how United Ways must be doing things differently, or adjusting their sails, to succeed in 2020. The comments from people who attended this session, and the nearly perfect ratings we received for the session, have prompted us to offer this session as a webinar. If your United Way is trying to figure out how to adjust your sails, we would encourage you to consider joining us for the webinar. You can find more information at

If you have a quote you would like to share for our Quote of the Month, please let me know at