Nearly every United Way struggles with the challenge of trying to explain to their donors and community what exactly it is that United Way does. Even the tallest buildings in the world are not tall enough for most United Ways to be able to finish their elevator speech before reaching the top floor. You don’t have to look far to find proof of how challenging it is to explain what United Ways do, as there are several United Ways that have elevator speeches that fill an entire page.
We are frequently asked by United Ways to help them develop a shorter, simpler, and clearer elevator speech. They explain how their United Way funds dozens of programs and operates several initiatives in multiple areas of focus, each with several goals, which are measured with endless lists of indicators, monitored by scores of volunteers, funded from hundreds of campaigns, with support from year-round special events, all overseen by a staff of experienced experts. How on earth do you create an elevator speech from all that?
The solution to the challenge of the elevator speech is simple. If what your United Way does is too complicated, too comprehensive, and all-encompassing that you can’t easily explain what your United Way does, then simplify what your United Way does. Please understand that I am not suggesting that United Ways are not doing good work - in fact, quite the opposite. Most United Ways are trying to do too much good work, which makes their work too complicated, too comprehensive, and all-encompassing in a way that it is impossible to communicate in an elevator speech, and quite frankly, impossible to do everything efficiently and effectively. Not a month goes by that I don’t hear a United Way say something to the effect of “We do this really well, but we haven’t figured out how to do that well yet.”
The ability to explain the work of your United Way in a short, simple, and clear elevator speech is a test that every United Way should be able to pass. If you can articulate your elevator speech in a short, simple, and clear manner, then it is likely that your United Way is focused in your mission, vision, and goals. However, if it is impossible to develop a short, simple, and clear elevator speech for your United Way, take a close look at how focused you are in your mission, vision, and goals. Simplifying your work may not only allow you to develop a meaningful elevator speech, but may also result in greater accomplishments achieved in a more efficient and effective manner. You might want to consider adopting an issue focus, which is an ideal way to simplify your work.
If you can’t easily explain what your United Way does, simplify what your United Way does.