Is a Billboard Big Enough for Your Message?

While driving to the airport the other day, I saw this billboard for Goodwill along the highway. The design of the billboard did not catch my attention. The muted colors did not appeal to me. The person, while smiling, was not what caught my eye.

What made me stop my car and take this picture were these six words: “Donating to Goodwill helps create jobs.” Just six words – simple, powerful, and effective at 70 m.p.h. These six words tell me what my contribution to Goodwill accomplishes in the community, and if I had not donated to Goodwill, suggest to me that I might want to donate to Goodwill.

Would your United Way’s message fit on a billboard? In six words? There are several United Way slogans developed by United Way Worldwide that are fewer than six words like “Live United,” “Advancing the Common Good,” “Give-Advocate-Volunteer,” or “Education, Income, and Health.” Any of these slogans would fit on a billboard, but what message do they send to donors? Fundraising is most effective when it is about the donor, and not about the charity. These United Way slogans say more about United Way, while the six words used by Goodwill are more about the donor.

The challenge for every one of your United Way organizations is to be able to finish the phrase “Donating to United Way ______________” in a couple of words. For most of your United Way organizations, this is a nearly impossible task, as your United Way organization has not focused on issues, actions, results, or messages. There is one United Way I am aware of that has a seven-page list of their “priority issues.” There is not a billboard big enough to list seven pages of “priority issues” that would be readable at 70 m.p.h.

The next time your board or staff are discussing your issues, actions, results, or messages, remember the Goodwill billboard. Think about how donors see your United Way, compared to how they see Goodwill - in six words, on a billboard, at 70 m.p.h.