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

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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

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Kicking Out Hunger

Does your United Way hold a special event? If so, is your United Way promoting a specific issue tied to this event?

Many United Ways hold special events, but they are solely focused on fundraising. However, it’s important to remember that donors want to know how they are making an impact – whether they are contributing to your United Way through a workplace campaign, via text-to-give, or at an event. Therefore, it is essential to tie a specific issue to all of your events and explain how people will help to make an impact on the issue by attending your events.

United Way of Palm Beach County (West Palm Beach, FL) has tied an issue to their corporate kickball tournament, inviting people to "Kick Out Hunger." Fans, players, and teams are being encouraged to bring food items to the event to help kick out hunger, and donations will support their Holiday Hunger Drive. This is a great example of connecting a specific issue to a special event.


Whether you choose to focus on hunger, poverty, or school readiness, remember to not only communicate the issue, but the impact of attending your event, as well. For example, we love how United Way of Tri-County (Framingham, MA) simply communicated the impact of attending their "Flashback to End Hunger" event on Twitter by saying one $25 ticket to their event gets five bags of groceries for someone in need.

Simplify & Diversify With an Issue Focus

As workplace campaigns continue to remain flat or decline across the country, United Ways are looking for new ways to diversify their resources. Holding special events tied to a specific issue is just one way your United Way can raise additional resources outside of campaign.

Adopting an issue focus will make your United Way’s marketing message much simpler, but more importantly, it will open the door to additional resources outside of campaign. With an issue focus, our United Way clients have been amazed at the additional funds they have received that they didn’t even know existed before adopting an issue focus – from foundation grants to large gifts from individual donors. For example, Julie Capaldi, President at United Way of Pickens County, explained "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."

You can learn more about the benefits of an issue focus and find out why United Ways like United Way of Pickens County are transforming to an issue focus at If you are interested in learning more about an issue focus and/or would like to share information about an issue focus with your board and staff, contact me at for more information and a complimentary handout.


P.S. Our thoughts and prayers are with United Way of Palm Beach County and all of our United Way friends in the South who have been affected by the recent hurricanes. We also want to thank all of you who are helping out during this difficult time.

Quote of the Month: August 2017

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Our August Quote of the Month comes from Russell Ackoff, an American organizational theorist that taught at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania:

The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. Therefore, when we correct a mistake doing the wrong thing we become wronger. It is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right.

– Russell Ackoff

Here is a question for you to ponder with your staff and board: "Is your United Way doing the right thing, or the wrong thing?" Related to that question, you would have to ask yourself "How would you know?" Any United Way that is doing the same things they did 30, 20, 10, or even five years ago must carefully consider how dramatically society, technology, and charitable giving have changed during that time. Doing the wrong thing, for many United Ways, is continuing to do the same thing without adapting and responding to change. If your number of donors has decreased, and the amount you raise every year is flat or shrinking, that may be a sign that you are doing the wrong things. Go to the source and talk to your donors about what your United Way is doing currently, and what your United Way could do differently in the future, for guidance on doing the right things. Finally, identifying possibilities of what your United Way could do differently in the future is not easy. You might want to consider looking at an issue focus as one thing your United Way could do differently – and it might be the right thing for your United Way.

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


Does Your United Way Have Vision?

A quick Google search easily finds hundreds of United Ways have a vision statement posted on their website, and each vision statement is unique. Some vision statements are all about the United Way:

United Way of ______ is the premier organization for charitable giving in __________.

To be the most effective United Way in the most caring community.

Some vision statements talk about how the United Way will get things done:

United Way of _________ will be the leader in bringing partners and resources together to address priority needs and provide solutions that strengthen our community.

To meet current and emerging needs in _____ County that are best met through voluntarism by uniting contributors, providers and users of human services in a voluntary and cooperative effort through fund raising campaigns, programs, planning and evaluation, and distribution of funds to participating agencies.

And some vision statements express great hope for everyone in the community:

A _____ County where everyone can succeed in school, work and life.

United Way of _________ envisions a community where all individuals and families achieve their full potential.

To build a caring community of neighbors helping neighbors which empowers people to improve the quality and dignity of life.

Since there is such diversity in vision statements, it is worth taking a moment to examine the definition of a vision statement. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a vision statement is defined as “A statement of what a company or organization would like to achieve in the future.” The Business Dictionary defines a vision statement as “An aspirational description of what an organization would like to achieve or accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future.” I will concede that there are other definitions for vision statements, which primarily come from the corporate world. A vision statement for a United Way should not be based on corporate norms, which is why I chose these definitions of a vision statement as examples.

Over the years, I have seen a lot of vision statements from United Ways, and most probably meet these definitions. However, just because a vision statement meets the definition does not make it useful or beneficial. This begs the question “Why would a United Way want a vision statement?”

Donors have always struggled to understand how their contribution makes a difference, which can be resolved with a carefully crafted vision statement. Notice how I qualified this benefit of a vision statement with the words “carefully crafted.” Looking at the vision statement examples listed earlier, you will find that several of them are not written for the donor – they are written for the United Way board and staff. A donor is never going to give to a United Way because they want United Way to be the “premier organization for charitable giving.” What donors will support is a United Way with a vision like “To end chronic and veteran homelessness in ____” because they can clearly understand the impact of their contribution.

Your vision must appeal to the donor, and be written for the donor. Donors care about the results of their contribution, and not the particular details of how the United Way achieves those results. A vision statement like “_____ United Way inspires a community of participation that identifies, evaluates and provides funding for community needs” talks about how this United Way works through identifying, evaluating, and funding. The donor just wants to know the results – what did the identifying, evaluating, and funding accomplish? Who was helped? How is the community better?

Another reason why your United Way needs a carefully crafted vision statement is to focus the work of your staff and volunteers. I am not suggesting that United Way staff are unfocused, but with a vision statement like “We will be champions of our community, empowering individuals and improving lives, while striving for ideals that facilitate lasting, positive change” staff would be doing absolutely anything and everything. Contrast that with a vision statement like “Help 5,000 ____ County residents develop a pathway to financial success by 2025” and you can see how the staff at this United Way know precisely what they are trying to accomplish each and every day.

Furthermore, when you have a carefully crafted vision statement, your impact or investment volunteers can make informed funding decisions. With a vision statement like “To be the primary community solutions leader for human services,” investment volunteers could choose to fund nearly any requested program. On the other hand, a vision statement like “Our vision is to end poverty in _____ one family at a time” tells investment volunteers they should be funding programs that end poverty at the family level in their community.

At an issue-focused United Way, their vision is their bold goal. For example, the vision of United Way of Wayne & Holmes Counties (Wooster, Ohio) is their bold goal of “10,000 out of poverty by 2025.” Everyone who donates to United Way of Wayne & Holmes Counties understands clearly from their vision that their contribution is helping move people out of poverty. This clarity not only motivates donors, it also guides the work of the staff. The entire staff of United Way of Wayne & Holmes Counties comes to work every day to move people out of poverty. Their programmatic investments and initiatives are solely focused on moving people out of poverty.

Issue-focused United Ways always have a clear vision, as they are focused on only addressing a single issue with a single bold goal. The challenge for many United Ways is that they are trying to be many things to many people, which results in a broad and general mission statement, such as “To be the primary community solutions leader for human services,” which does not inspire a donor to support United Way. Clarity in focus and message is just one of the many benefits of becoming issue-focused. For more information on how your United Way could become issue-focused, check out:

A vision statement that clearly and concisely explains what your United Way would like to achieve in the future is essential to your success. As you think about your vision statement, consider this biblical passage:

Where there is no vision, the people perish” - Proverbs 29:18