Back to Basics?

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In less than two weeks, we will be holding our next webinar: “When the Basics No Longer Work, What’s Next?” If you are struggling with workplace campaigns, how to explain what United Way does, and/or are tired of partner agencies feeling entitled to funding, then this webinar is for you. We will talk about how what used to work for United Ways no longer works so well, and more importantly, what United Ways should be doing now. This webinar will show you how your United Way can be more relevant, sustainable, and impactful in the future.

“When the Basics No Longer Work, What’s Next?” is the next webinar in our series of nine webinars we will be presenting monthly between now through next July. Our webinar topics include: engaging your board, using social media successfully, effective affinity groups, connecting with the younger generation, designing campaign brochures, and what donors want from United Way. Click here for a complete list and description of all nine webinars.

You have two weeks to sign up for “When the Basics No Longer Work, What’s Next?”, which will be held on Wednesday, December 19th. If you can’t join us for the live webinar, we will be recording the webinar which will also be available for purchase.

Two promises for you.

First, we promise you that every one of our webinars will provide you with information your United Way can use and put to work immediately. Following our “Six Methods to Maximize Your Impact” webinar last week, we received an email from an attendee who said: “Great webinar yesterday. It was very informative!”

Second, we promise you that our webinars will be your most productive training investment as you can have everyone at your United Way watch our webinars – staff, board, and volunteers. Additionally, your United Way will have access to the recording of the webinar for one year.

We look forward to having you join us for “When the Basics No Longer Work, What’s Next?” on Wednesday, December 19th and for all of our upcoming webinars.

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P.S. As a reward to people who read the P.S., if you send me an email at Gary@perspectives4uw.com, I will send you a promo code you can use to save on our webinars!

Are the Times Changing?

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One of the most common refrains I hear from United Ways is that the times are changing. Society is changing, technology is changing, the economy is changing, and even competition for charitable giving is changing.

Just consider this headline from an article in the New York Times: “United Way, Faced With Fewer Donors, Is Giving Away Less.”  You can easily attribute the downward trend in the number of donors to changes in society, technology, the economy, and competition – among other reasons. As you would expect, the article talks about corporate downsizing, increasing competition for charitable dollars, and donors choosing to designate their contribution or just by-pass United Way and give directly.

There are a variety of United Way directors quoted in the article saying things like “There is a disconnect between what United Ways do and what people think they do and the reason for that disconnect is our ineptness at explaining what we do” or “We drive the agencies nuts because they don’t know from year to year what they will get.”

The article also shares some of the strategies being used by United Ways to counteract this trend. For example, United Ways are focusing on growing leadership giving, which according to the article presents a new challenge: “United Way is now competing more with its member agencies to raise money from the wealthiest people.” Another strategy mentioned in the article for stemming the downward trend in the number of donors is allowing donors to give to charities of their choice – designations.

If all this sounds strangely familiar, it should. The New York Times article I am referring to was published on November 9, 1997. No, that is not a typo. The year was 1-9-9-7 or just over 21 years ago. Nearly everything that was mentioned in the article still applies today – over the past 21 years the challenges mentioned in the article have not gone away – they have become the new reality.

Solutions to these external changes are not easy. Instead of being on the receiving end of all these changes, what if United Ways led change? United Ways can change conditions in their community, but that change will not be measured by the number of donors or how much money is given away. United Ways that exist to impact their communities, what we refer to as issue-focused United Ways, are creating change in community conditions by reducing the number of homeless or increasing the number of high school graduates, as examples.

Issue-focused United Ways exist to measurably change a critical issue in their community. Their success comes from measuring lives changed, not from how much money was raised or distributed to partner agencies. An issue focus is one solution to the changes facing United Ways today. Does it make changes in society, technology, the economy, or competition go away? Of course not, but an issue focus allows United Ways to be relevant, sustainable, and impactful in spite of these changes. You can learn more about the Issue Focus Model on our website and learn more about how one issue-focused United Way is relevant, sustainable, and impactful in their community.

It may not be surprising that the New York Times article still applies today, but it is probably disappointing. We all hope that the New York Times will be able to write a different article about United Ways 20 years from now, but that will require United Ways to lead change rather than be crushed by change.

Community Impact is More Than Collective Impact

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Donors – especially younger donors – have increasingly high expectations of the charitable organizations they support. Donors want to feel confident that the dollars they donate go to organizations that significantly impact their community.

In response to changing donor expectations, many United Ways have begun to explore community impact as a means to ensure their local investments produce maximum impact. Unfortunately, while many United Ways want to fully adopt the community impact approach, doing so can seem daunting. 

After wrestling with what it meant to become a community impact organization, many United Ways began to pursue collective impact as their means achieve community impact. The unfortunate reality of this is that community impact is the most complex means by which a United Way can pursue community impact. Transitioning from a fundraising model to a collective impact model is challenging even for well-funded United Ways.

If large United Ways struggle to make the transition to collective impact, how can non-Metro 1 United Ways hope to effectively achieve community impact?

Fortunately, there are several alternatives to collective impact that are accessible and viable for United Ways of all sizes.

In total, there are six methods that United Ways use to achieve community impact. These methods range in complexity from specialized RFPs and in-house initiatives to collective impact. While collective impact remains the most complex of these methods, there are other methods that you could easily implement in your next funding cycle.  

On November 27, we will be hosting our webinar “Six Methods to Maximize Your Impact.” This webinar will explore the six methods that United Ways use to achieve community impact, the strengths and weaknesses of each method, as well as provide practical suggestions for how you can begin to implement these methods at your United Way. If you are interested in learning more about this webinar and the other topics this webinar will cover, please visit our webinar information page here.

While this webinar is relevant to United Ways that are on the community impact journey, we will be offering a total of nine webinars in the coming months that will cover other relevant topics in impact and investment, marketing and engagement, and resource development. To see a full list of our upcoming webinars and the topics we will cover, please visit our website here.