Walking the Walk

Imagine if you gathered all of the directors from your funded partner agencies in a room and asked them “What do you expect from United Way?” What do you think they would say? What would you want them to say?

Several months ago I had the opportunity to ask that question and the answer surprised me. One of the directors said “United Way is my fundraising department.” The director went on say that it is the job of United Way to provide their funding. Would your United Way accept that responsibility?

Why does your United Way exist? Are you the fundraising department for local nonprofit organizations or do you have a different purpose? The disconnect, if there is one, between partner agencies and United Ways comes down to the expectations of the partner agencies vs. the purpose of United Way. If your mission statement does not say United Way is the fundraising department for local nonprofit organizations, why would partner agency directors think you are?

In my observation of United Ways over the years, United Ways have not been walking the walk that comes with talking the talk – especially the talk about community impact. United Ways will say they are a community impact organization but continue acting like a fundraising organization. Many United Ways are saying their issues are education, income, and health, but when all of their communication and actions are focused on the workplace campaign, why should a partner agency think United Way is anything but a fundraiser.

How would anyone know that your United Way was a community impact organization? Have you visibly demonstrated how you are a community impact organization? It is imperative that your United Way is walking the walk of community impact by:
•    Clearly focusing on a limited number of critical issues
•    Setting a bold goal for addressing the issue or issues
•    Leading the way by identifying and implementing strategies to address the issues
•    Asking your partner agencies to specifically join you in addressing the issue or issues
•    Having your partner agencies measure their outcomes in addressing the issue or issues

These outward signs of community impact are missing from many United Ways that say they are a community impact organization. When you demonstrate community impact it will be clear to partner agencies that you are a community impact organization and not just a fundraising organization.

The relationship between your United Way and your partner agencies should be at the community impact level – not the fundraising level.

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