Benefits & Challenges of an Issue Focus

While there are clear benefits to adopting an issue focus, there are also challenges. We believe in being forthright about what it takes to adopt an issue focus, so we have compiled a list of the benefits and challenges of adopting an issue focus that are most often highlighted by issue-focused United Ways.


1. Increased Relevance
An issue-focused United Way is known as the local, go-to organization for their issue, so everyone understands how giving to United Way impacts their community. Because an issue-focused United Way is focused on a single issue, it is able to convene all relevant organizations addressing the issue, rally its community, and demonstrate measurable impact. 

2. Improved Sustainability
An issue-focused United Way invests in specific programs that address the issue, so United Way is able to grow its total resources under management through the addition of government and private grants, corporate sponsorships, and planned giving. When a United Way focuses on a specific issue, it is able to attract younger, cause-minded donors. While an issue-focused United Way still holds workplace campaigns, its reliance on campaign revenue decreases as its resources are diversified.

3. Deeper Impact
When United Way’s resources are focused on addressing a single issue, United Way deeply impacts its community. An issue-focused United Way is also able to deeply impact its community because it doesn't just focus its financial resources – it focuses its influence too. An issue-focused United Way convenes all relevant organizations to measurably move the needle on a single issue.

4. Clear Messaging
Marketing with an issue focus is a breeze because there is only one issue to talk about. The work of an issue-focused United Way can easily be explained in a short sentence like "Donating to United Way reduces poverty" or "Halt Hunger!" With a clear message, donors and community members understand how giving to United Way impacts their community.

5. Measurable Results
An issue-focused United Way does not define success in terms of the amount of money it raises. Instead, success is measured by progress toward its long-term bold goal. With its own goal and results, United Way no longer has to report campaign results nor the results of funded partners/programs.


1. Identifying and Specifying Programs
Impacting an issue requires an issue-focused United Way to research and understand its issue well enough to be able to identify programs that will change the issue. An issue-focused United Way must have the fortitude to stop funding programs that do not impact its issue.

2. Staff and Volunteer Expertise
The ability to understand and change the issue requires training and/or finding staff and volunteers with expertise or experience in addressing the issue. Expertise in grant writing and planned giving is also required to secure diversified funding.

3. Issue Awareness and Education
Marketing and communication efforts will need to be year-round to increase awareness and understanding of the issue. This will require an investment in internal and/or outsourced marketing staff and media spending.

4. Leading an Issue
An issue-focused United Way must possess the leadership necessary to convene all local organizations addressing its issue and align their efforts to most effectively address the issue and achieve the long-term bold goal.