One Way to Make Designations Disappear

In years of research with United Way donors, we have identified a variety of reasons why people designate their contributions to United Way. Some of the reasons people designate are not things that United Ways can easily control; for example, a donor who personally benefitted from a local nonprofit organization may want to direct their contribution to that nonprofit.

But, one of the most commonly mentioned reasons why United Way donors designate their contributions is because they do not know what their local United Way accomplishes. Quotes like “It’s important to me to direct the impact of my dollars” and “So I know exactly where the dollars go” suggest that donors do not understand what their local United Way accomplishes with their contributions. How common is this? In some United Ways we have worked with, nearly half of their donors designated because they did not know what their local United Way accomplished.

If your United Way wants to turn around increasing levels of designations, your first step should be to make sure that donors understand what you are accomplishing with their contributions. This means more than just telling donors what programs and partner agencies you funded in the past year. For donors to understand what you have accomplished with their contributions, you must tell them three things: what issues your United Way is addressing, what actions you are taking to address those issues, and what results you have achieved.

Workplace campaign presentations are a great opportunity to share the issues your United Way addresses, the actions you are taking, and the results you have achieved. But, most donors expect year-round communication from their United Way – just telling them what you accomplished with their contribution at the time you are asking for another contribution is not good enough. Be sure to communicate your issues, actions, and results with donors several times a year.

You can reduce the designation rate at your United Way by making sure your donors know what is being accomplished with their contributions. In fact, not only will your designation rate decrease, but by letting donors know what is being accomplished with their contributions, they are more likely to increase their contributions as well.

For more information about issues, actions, and results, check out our webinar: IAR - Three Letters for Simple and Effective Community Impact at