One of the most popular ways to attract new donors to United Ways is to form an affinity group. These affinity groups commonly go by names like “Women’s Leadership Council,” “Emerging Leaders,” or “Young Leaders Society.”
According to the dictionary, and a couple of United Ways that have the definition of affinity on their Web site, affinity means “persons who share the same interests.” The affinity groups started by most United Ways are based on how much money people contribute to United Way. People who contribute at least a certain amount, say $1,000, are invited to join one of the affinity groups at that United Way. However, unless the interests of the people are to give $1,000 or more to United Way, these are not affinity groups. Rather, these affinity groups exist solely to recognize those donors who gave $1,000 or more.
One United Way that has affinity groups based on persons who share the same interests is United Way of Muscatine in Muscatine, Iowa. Their affinity groups include: financial stability, family dynamics, diversity, and youth.
What are they doing right?
First, United Way of Muscatine has affinity groups based on issues, and not how much money people have contributed. The financial stability affinity group is addressing things like livable wages, public benefits, and home ownership. The diversity affinity group has a goal of dismantling racism and oppression through advocacy and education. The youth affinity group is determined to build developmental assets in the Muscatine community. These affinity groups are constituted to get people together for problem solving and sharing ideas to address these issues. The members of these affinity groups all share the same interest in addressing these issues.
Second, when you look at the mission statement for the financial stability affinity group, it is clear why the affinity group exists. The phrase “to directly engage the community, as individuals, in addressing the issue of poverty and financial stability” states the group’s purpose succinctly. The fact that United Way of Muscatine has a mission statement for an affinity group is exceptional in and of itself. There are many United Ways that do not state why their affinity groups exist. United Way of Muscatine has made those issues addressed by their affinity groups very clear to the community.
Third, there is not a requirement that members of United Way of Muscatine’s affinity groups be donors to United Way of Muscatine. Their affinity groups are open to all individuals interested in the issues. Almost without exception, nearly every other United Way affinity group is comprised solely of donors and, in most cases, donors who contribute at significant levels. It is clear that the affinity groups at United Way of Muscatine are not donor recognition groups; they are affinity groups designed to bring together members of the community to address issues. United Way of Muscatine does recognize their leadership donors in their Pearl City Leadership Society, but they are very clear that the purpose of the Pearl City Leadership Society is to “encourage and recognize individuals in our community who make gifts of $1,000 or more annually” and they do not call the Pearl City Leadership Society an affinity group.
United Way of Muscatine has brought together people with common interests in addressing issues in the community. With clear purpose and mission, their affinity groups meet the definition of affinity group because they are composed of people who share the same interests. If your United Way is considering forming an affinity group, think about the purpose of the affinity group. Consider the example set by United Way of Muscatine and form an affinity group that truly lives up to the word “affinity.” United Way of Muscatine, you are Doing It Right!