The Strategic Plan You Have Is Not the One You Need

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In 1976, Eastman Kodak owned the market for photographic film when it was estimated that over 90% of all photographic film sold was Kodak film. Sales continued to grow year-after-year until 1996 when Kodak’s sales reached a high of $16 billion. Sales started to drop in 1997, and it took just 16 years for Kodak’s sales to disintegrate until they were forced to file bankruptcy in 2012. Even the most casual observer would be quick to say that Kodak was too reliant on selling photographic film in a declining market that had moved on to digital cameras.

Was Kodak blind to these new technologies? Not at all – because in 1975 Kodak invented the digital camera. That’s right, Kodak invented the product that led to the demise of their company. Kodak invented the digital camera at the worst possible time – when they were fat and happy with their 90% market share for photographic film. There was little need for Kodak to sell digital cameras when photographic film was their cash cow. Kodak is not the only company to fail due to complacency – think about Blockbuster Video, Borders bookstores, or Atari videogames. 

Several weeks ago, I was talking with a new, first-time, United Way president who had been on the job for about six months. He inherited a United Way with a shrinking workplace campaign and reduced funding to partner agencies. I suggested that it might be time to consider changing direction and consider adopting an issue focus, as their United Way was very active in early childhood initiatives. The response from the president was “We have a plan to move ahead increasing our resources.” I am betting his plan is to find more donors to support United Way, so their United Way can continue doing what they have always done.

This United Way is not alone. I would estimate approximately half of all United Ways have developed a strategic plan. Although every United Way is unique, their strategic plans include statements about how they will increase the amount of money they raise, such as “We have established an aggressive goal to grow revenue to $30 million by 2016” or “Grow capacity for raising more funds and increasing revenue; increase the campaign at least 10% year over year” or “Increase to $7 million total annual revenue with $6 million in resources under management.”

If you read United Way strategic plans carefully, you will find nearly all of them also share another thing in common – their United Ways are planning to continue doing what they have always done. They will be trying to raise more money by asking donors to support what their United Ways have always done. United Ways often use terms like “community impact,” “collective impact,” and “collaborative efforts” to describe their work, but their strategic plan does not outline any substantial changes to their work or outcomes. I wonder if these United Ways are continuing to sell their version of “photographic film?”

We call strategic plans that set goals to increase revenues without changing what United Way is doing “plus one” plans. Plus one strategic plans are based on taking what United Way did the year before and doing one more than the year before, or one level better than the year before. If the goal of a United Way is to raise as much money as they can to fund partner agencies and programs, then setting a goal to increase revenues makes a lot of sense. But, without considering if donors want to support an organization that raises money to fund partner agencies and programs, a goal of increasing revenues may be unachievable.

This is not the kind of strategic plan your United Way needs.

Your strategic plan must answer the question “Why does your United Way exist?” An alternate version of this question is “What do your donors want your United Way to accomplish?” The foundation of a successful strategic plan is based on your United Way offering a service that donors and the community value and are willing to support. Your United Way needs a strategic plan built upon answering “Why does your United Way exist?” with a laser-focused direction and purpose that your donors and community value and are willing to support.

Answering the question “Why does your United Way exist?” comes down to deciding if your United Way will be fundraising-focused or issue-focused. This is your strategic planning first step. Until you answer this question, your United Way cannot develop a strategic plan because you do not know what direction you are heading or what you are trying to accomplish.

Even after working with United Ways for over 25 years, I cannot tell you “Why your United Way exists” or whether your United Way should be fundraising-focused or issue-focused. But, I can help you and your board figure out the answer with our Introduction to an Issue Focus Board Retreat. This half-day board retreat clearly explains the concept of fundraising-focused and issue-focused United Ways, what fundraising and issue-focused United Ways look like and how they operate, and the advantages and disadvantages of a fundraising focus and an issue focus. This is essential information to deciding the future of your United Way, and we frequently hear executive directors say “I wish you could have talked with our board and staff three years ago.” Following our Introduction to an Issue Focus Board Retreat, your board will be able to answer the question “Why does your United Way exist?”

With their significant work in the area of early childhood initiatives, the United Way I was talking about earlier may already have their “digital camera” if they are willing to look beyond what they have always done and transform their work by becoming issue-focused. Perhaps your United Way has an opportunity to transform your work too, but unless you start by answering the question “Why does your United Way exist?” you may never see the opportunity.

In these challenging times, your United Way needs a strategic plan that is built on answering the question “Why does your United Way exist?” and focuses all your efforts on achieving your purpose.

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The Story of Julie Capaldi and the United Way of Pickens County

Have you experienced a loss in your donor base? Do you feel like you need to better connect with your donors and community members?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you will be able to relate to what Julie Capaldi experienced at United Way of Pickens County (Easley, SC) as President over the past 24 years.

Julie recently shared her story of how United Way of Pickens County experienced a significant loss in their donor base and how she turned things around and now better connects with donors and community members, while riding the Nonprofit Story Tour bus.

During the video where Julie shares her story, she talks about how essential it is to communicate impact about a specific issue and to share "S-S-T" with donors and community members. "S-S-T" is our acronym that we first shared with United Way of Pickens County in 2011, which stands for Statistics, Stories, and Trust & Accountability. Based on our years of experience in conducting research for United Ways, we have found that about one-third of donors want to see statistics, about one-third want to hear stories, and about one-third care about trust and accountability.

Julie also talks about "a consultant from Michigan" and gives a shout-out to Gary at approximately 10 minutes into the video, referring to Gary Goscenski, one of our Issue-Focused Consultants here at Perspectives. Gary has been working with Julie and her team at United Way of Pickens County since 2011 to focus and maximize their impact, resources, and communication.

On the homepage of our website, we share a quote from Julie, which says: "You were so right! We are a little United Way, and focusing on the issue of early childhood education and summer learning loss has resulted in raising more money from grants and campaigns, attracting new donors, and reduced designations. This is all we talk about – at campaign presentations, to donors, and to our community – and now everyone knows what United Way of Pickens County does in the community."

We love how Julie talks about how people felt moved to give to United Way of Pickens County when she shared a story about summer learning loss and their Camp iRock program. We encourage you to come along for the ride as Julie explains how focusing on a specific issue has been the key to engaging donors in the community – check out the video here.

To learn more about an issue focus, visit www.perspectives4uw.com/issue-focus. If you are interested in becoming issue-focused, you can find more information about how we can guide your United Way in your transformation at www.perspectives4uw.com/develop-your-issue-focus.

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Quote of the Month: October 2017

Our October Quote of the Month comes from physicist Albert Einstein:

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“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

This quote has two implications for United Ways. First, if United Ways want to succeed in the future, they cannot be using the “same thinking” of the past. We find that many United Ways develop strategic plans that merely propagate the present – for example, increase campaign revenue by 10% or add 20 new workplace campaigns. This “same thinking” might have worked in the 1970s or 1980s but it is not going to solve the problems of the 2010s. Second, note that Einstein said “we created” the problems. Many United Ways blame their challenges on the economy or increasing competition, when in fact, United Ways have, by their inaction, created their own problems. The good news about creating the problems is that United Ways can also create the solutions. Before your United Way develops your next strategic plan, take a look at how your United Way can conquer your challenges with an issue focus. We can help your United Way use new thinking to impact your community and strengthen your United Way. It all starts by looking at an issue focus and having an honest conversation about the relevance and future of your United Way with our Introduction to an Issue Focus Board Retreat.

If you have a quote you would like to share for our Quote of the Month, please let me know at gary@perspectives4uw.com

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Don’t Miss Our Upcoming Webinar on October 24th

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Is your United Way prepared to succeed in the future? Have you been making changes to remain relevant and better connect with your donors and community members?

Preparing for the future is essential and we want to see you succeed, which is why we would like to invite you, your board, and your staff to join us on October 24th for our "Positioning Your United Way for 2020: What You Must Plan & Start Doing Today" webinar.

During this webinar, we will show you the leading-edge strategies and methods your board and staff should be planning and implementing today that will ensure your success in 2020. Learn how to implement these strategies and methods at your United Way to maximize your impact, resources, and communication, using examples from United Ways that are already ahead of the curve.

This webinar will show you how your United Way can remain relevant in the future by:

  • Avoiding the critical challenges facing United Ways that will only become more difficult in 2020. Learn strategies that your United Way can start using today to address those challenges.
  • Turning your investment process upside down using innovative investment methods that create meaningful change and achieve greater impact in your community. Learn what progressive United Ways of all sizes are doing to move the needle on critical social issues, so your United Way can change community conditions.
  • Creating your own call to action that attracts new donors and engages volunteers in your work. Learn how to easily develop a concise and memorable call to action, which you can put to work immediately for your United Way.
  • Strengthening your engagement opportunities, such as affinity groups and special events, to increase participation and grow your resources. Learn how to take your affinity groups and special events to the next level, connecting with current and potential donors, volunteers, and community members.
  • Communicating effectively using social media to inform and involve people in your work. Learn what works and does not work on social media, so your next tweet or post will be awesome!

Invite your entire board and staff to attend this 90-minute webinar on October 24th at 2 p.m. EDT for only $125! This cost covers registration for you, your board, and your staff to view this webinar live from one location, as well as a link to a recording of the webinar. The webinar recording can be accessed by your United Way board and staff for one year. To register for this webinar, visit www.perspectives4uw.com/webinars

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Quote of the Month: September 2017

Our September Quote of the Month comes from industrialist Henry Ford:

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“If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

This quote was suggested by Laura Toni-Holsinger, Executive Director of United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County in Harrisonburg, Virginia. In suggesting this quote, Laura said that her United Way has focused a great deal on what it means to build a car.

Unlike United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, many United Ways are still trying to raise and train faster horses. The horses of the past, such as payroll deduction and funding a variety of local nonprofit organizations, are not what today’s donors want or need. United Ways need to stop obsessing over how to run more workplace campaigns, and as Laura says, determine what it means to build a car. The car that donors want is focused on impacting the community by addressing an issue in a meaningful way. We call this an issue focus and we have been helping United Ways transform to an issue focus for nearly six years. An issue focus is the car that every United Way will need to build, sooner or later.

If you have a quote you would like to share for our Quote of the Month, please let me know at gary@perspectives4uw.com

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