Three New Year's Resolutions Your United Way Must Keep

It’s that time of year again when, with ample confidence and overwhelming exuberance, we prepare our New Year’s resolutions. As you contemplate your personal New Year’s resolutions for 2012, take a moment to reflect on some New Year’s resolutions for your United Way as well. In the spirit of holiday giving and sharing, we have three resolutions for your United Way that we think you must keep.

1. Go on a Jargon-Free Diet. Why put it off any longer? 2012 is the perfect time to start your United Way on a jargon-free diet. Time to put an end to using words like “designation,” “allocations process,” “impact strategy,” and “initiative.” United Ways have their own jargon-filled language, so much so that we need a glossary just to understand ourselves. One sign of us having too much jargon is when a glossary of our jargon is 42 pages long. Get yourself a grande black coffee and enjoy this example:

While these words may have meaning within the walls of your United Way office, your community and donors have no idea what these words mean. Their eyes glaze over at the sound of “fund distribution,” “investment products,” and ”outcome measurement.” Using these words outside of the office only serves to confuse, bewilder, and push donors and the community further away. We can, and must, tell our United Way story without jargon.

In 2012, make it your United Way’s New Year’s resolution to NEVER use jargon outside the office. Appoint someone to be your office “Jargon-Buster” responsible for ensuring that your campaign brochures, e-mails, Web site, and other communication materials are jargon-free. Jargon-free in 2012 is the way to be!

2. Commit to an Issue. Pick one issue. Take a stand. Your United Way probably funds programs that address a wide variety of issues; perhaps you even group them into the categories of education, income, and health. No matter how well intended, when United Ways try to address many issues, most often they are unable to address any issue well.

It can be difficult to stop funding an issue so, in 2012, make a resolution to more deeply commit to one of the issues you currently fund. Pick one issue like hunger, homelessness, or poverty, and do more to address that issue. Make a commitment to this issue by dedicating more funds to addressing the issue. Make a commitment to this issue by educating and informing the community on why this issue is important to address – and fund. Make a commitment to this issue by convening community experts to study this issue and determine the best methods to address the issue.  

3. Start Measuring Your Accomplishments. All of our United Ways measure how much money our workplace campaigns raise each year, and we know our total resources under management. These measures, while important, only reinforce the common perception that United Ways are fundraisers. It is like the dashboard in your car that only has a fuel gauge – it would tell you how much gas you have, but without a speedometer and odometer, you have no idea how fast or how far you have travelled.

In 2012, make a resolution to add a speedometer or odometer to your United Way’s dashboard and start measuring what your United Way accomplishes. For example, measure how many people have been able to find affordable housing, or how many people no longer need assistance from the food bank. Or you could measure how many children are in quality preschool programs and prepared for school. Whatever your issue, let your donors and the community know what you are measuring and the progress you are making in 2012.


The entire staff of Perspectives wishes you a Happy New Year and best wishes for a successful and rewarding 2012! Now, go get started on those resolutions!