Whose Goal Is It?


Almost every United Way has a campaign goal. Some United Ways publicize their campaign goal on their Web site, in the newspaper, and on thermometers that spring up like weeds throughout the community.  You cannot escape their campaign goal – it is everywhere!

But, whose goal is a campaign goal? Is it your donors’ goal, or is it your United Way’s goal?

Here are three ways to answer this question.

First, who sets the goal? If your donor wants to lose weight, they set their goal of losing 20 pounds, based on what they feel is appropriate for them. But, a campaign goal is set by your United Way in complete isolation from donors. A donor has no idea why the goal is $2.3 million and not $3.2 million or $6.1 million. A campaign goal is an arbitrary number, which is difficult for the average donor to comprehend or understand – think of the$3.5 trillion federal budget. A campaign goal is clearly set by United Way – it is not set by donors.

Second, who measures the goal? When a donor sets a goal of losing weight, they are able to assess progress toward that goal anytime they want when they step on the scale. Perhaps your donors can drive by one of those ubiquitous thermometers and get an update, but the thermometers are updated at the whim of United Way, which may be once a week or once a month – they are certainly not updated in real time. A campaign goal is clearly measured by United Way – it is not measured by donors.

Third, who cares about the goal? The donor research we have conducted has consistently found that most donors do not care about the campaign goal. It does not motivate a donor to give, nor does it help a donor understand what their contribution accomplishes. During campaign season, a United Way is fixated on their campaign goal, which motivates United Way staff. A United Way cares a whole lot about the campaign goal, while donors don’t care at all.

If your donors don’t set your campaign goal, don’t measure your campaign goal, and don’t care about your campaign goal, why do United Ways spend so much time and effort talking about their campaign goal? Does any other charity in your community spend so much time and effort talking about their fundraising goal? Quick – answer this: What is the annual fundraising goal of your local Goodwill, Red Cross, or Boys and Girls Club?

Goals are important, in fact, they are essential to an efficient and effective organization. The next time you sit down to discuss a campaign goal, think about why you have a campaign goal. If your campaign goal has no value to your donors, then make it an internal goal for your United Way and spend time talking to donors about something much more important – like what issues you are addressing, what actions you are taking, and what results you are achieving with their contributions.