Lessons Learned in 25 Years

This year marks the 25th year Perspectives has worked with United Ways throughout the United States. We worked with our first United Way in 1989, and since then, we have worked with dozens of United Ways, providing training, research, and planning services to empower the mission and focus the vision of United Ways. Throughout this year, we’ll share some of the lessons we have learned from working with United Ways.


Lesson One: Donors still don’t understand what their United Way does

Over the past 25 years, we have conducted a lot of donor surveys for local United Ways. Although our method for delivering the survey has transitioned from putting a survey in an envelope with a stamp, to e-mailing a survey, there are questions we have asked consistently over the years. When we ask donors what their United Way does, the answer has not changed in 25 years - donors do not know what their United Way does.

It may come as a surprise, but some donors will freely admit they have no idea what their United Way does. Whether they give $50 or $500, or whether they have given for decades or for the first time, the act of giving to United Way does not mean donors know what their United Way does.

Despite a transition to community impact over the past decade, most donors do not recognize United Ways as addressing issues. Even at United Ways that focus on categories, like education, income, and health, few donors attribute even one of these categories to their United Way. The largest percentage of donors cannot name even one issue their United Way addresses, while those who can name an issue frequently name issues their United Way does not address, such as employment.

To learn from this lesson, it is essential that every United Way develops a concise, simple, and clear message about what their United Way does, and then communicates that message to donors consistently and frequently.

Make it your goal to help your donors understand what your United Way does.