Several weeks ago, I was driving east on the Ohio Turnpike to meet with several United Ways in Ohio and Pennsylvania. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of driving the Ohio Turnpike, you need to know that it is not necessarily the most visually interesting stretch of road. There are many miles of farm fields and woods along the highway, which after several hundred miles blend together into a rather bland and uninteresting canvas. A canvas that was even blander due to the cold, rainy weather that morning.
However, as I was approaching Cleveland, I saw something I had never seen before – a dump truck with a United Way sign and logo on the back. It took all of my powers of coordination and concentration to still drive safely and take this picture. I realize this picture is not great, but you will notice on the upper left side of the back of the dump truck is the United Way sign and logo. A moving billboard for United Way as it were, presuming that hundreds of cars every day are probably stuck behind this dump truck as it travels at speeds significantly slower than the speed limit.
My first thought upon seeing the United Way sign on this dump truck was that this was a wonderfully creative way to get the United Way name in front of people. But, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if this dump truck was just a large metaphor for what people think of United Way.
It would be impossible to see what the dump truck was carrying – similarly, how many people cannot see what United Way does, or if they do anything at all? And the dump truck could certainly be carrying an entirely different load tomorrow – similarly, how many United Ways have changed what they do or fund, leaving people confused? I have no idea where this dump truck was from or where it was going – similarly, how many people know the direction, goal, or vision of their local United Way? The dump truck was driving much slower than the speed limit – similarly, how many people think of United Way as slow or behind the times, compared to other charitable organizations? Finally, when the dump truck is stopped, it is easy to load or unload and nearly impossible to do so at any other time – similarly, how many United Ways hold workplace campaigns and then make it nearly impossible to donate at other times?
Your local United Way may well be a dump truck, but hopefully it is another type of vehicle entirely. The ability for your donors and community to understand what your vehicle does, why it goes where it goes, and how to catch a ride are essential for your success. The next time you put your United Way logo on anything, even a dump truck, make sure that it increases understanding of United Way.