Why United Ways Should Not Be Known As Helpful

Over the years, we have asked thousands of people what words they would use to describe United Way. You’ll find many of the words in our infographic: http://www.perspectives4uw.com/blog-our-perspective/2012/3/2/if-someone-asked-you.html

Hands-down, the most commonly used word to describe United Way is helpful. Helpful, helping the community, helps organizations, helps people; when people think of United Ways they think helpful.

As good as being helpful sounds, there are THREE reasons why your United Way should not be known as helpful:

First, what nonprofit organization is not helpful? Every nonprofit organization is helpful. Helpful is part of the genetic code of nonprofit organizations. Calling a nonprofit organization helpful is like calling clothing comfortable or saying a restaurant has good food. I am always amused when I see a “Good Food” sign on a restaurant, as if to suggest that I might enter the restaurant expecting bad food. We should not have to say that United Ways are helpful, and more importantly, helpful should not be the most common word people use to describe United Ways. In my experience, United Ways are not out there promoting themselves as “helpful,” yet people choose to describe United Ways as helpful for one reason – they don’t know a better word to use.

Second, every major national nonprofit organization is also known for more than just being helpful. The American Red Cross is known for disaster relief and blood drives. Goodwill is known for job training and resale stores. YMCA is known for healthy lifestyles and recreation centers. Susan G. Komen for the Cure is known for breast cancer and pink ribbons. Even most local nonprofit organizations are known for something more than being helpful. In my neck of the woods, we have nonprofit organizations like Paws With A Cause (trains assistance dogs) http://www.pawswithacause.org/ and Fair Food Matters (locally-grown food) http://www.fairfoodmatters.org/about.php that are known locally for being more than being helpful. Compared to other nonprofit organizations, United Ways need to be known as more than helpful if they expect to compete.

Third, donors don’t support nonprofit organizations just because they are helpful. There have been many studies of why donors support charitable organizations, and a helpful charitable organization isn’t one of the reasons. One of the most common reasons is because they want to make a difference, or have an impact, on an issue or their community. Helpful does not suggest to a donor how they could make an impact on an issue, or how they could impact their community. The message most donors get from United Ways is not one of results, such as: “This is what we accomplished with your contribution.” Donors want to know what is being accomplished, more than that their United Way is helpful.

Helpful is a great word. A positive word. A word that describes United Ways. But, it is not the word we should be known for by our donors and community. Join me next week as I’ll share some ideas about words United Ways could use, and feel free to offer your own suggestions!