Doing It Right! United Way of Erie County (Erie, Pennsylvania)

One challenge every United Way faces is how to communicate and share what it is that United Way does with their donors and the community. Statistics about the issues a United Way is addressing, or the outcomes achieved, only go so far to satisfy donors that their contribution is being put to good use. What many donors want from United Way is stories about how their contribution has made a difference. Recently, United Way of Erie County created an effective and efficient way of telling these personal stories, called Faces United. 

Joelyn Bush, Marketing & Communications Manager for United Way of Erie County, explained that Faces United is a series of photos and stories that are displayed in an art exhibit format at locations throughout Erie County. The exhibit has appeared at the regional mall, library, local newspaper, large employers, and a local university. The exhibit is displayed for approximately one month before it is moved to the next location. The photo shows part of the exhibit at the local library.

United Way of Erie County was inspired by United Way of Greater Battle Creek’s Faces United.

Bush said the pictures for Faces United were taken pro-bono by a local photographer, Paul Lorei of Lorei Portraits, and the stories were written by United Way of Erie County staff, based on interviews conducted with the people in the pictures. United Way of Erie County covered the remaining costs for producing the exhibit from corporate sponsorship provided by Penelec.

What are they doing right?

First, the pictures and stories get attention. The poster-size pictures displayed like art attract attention wherever they are displayed. In addition to the large pictures, you will notice that the story of the person in the picture is found on the card next to each picture. These stories are not long; in fact, a person could look at all of the pictures and read the stories in just a couple of minutes, or if they were in a hurry, could look at just one picture and read one story in less than a minute. Bush said they have gotten a lot of positive feedback and questions about the stories. A representative of a local university in Erie asked United Way of Erie County if they could host the pictures because of the positive response in the community and because they felt students would be interested in Faces United.

Second, Faces United is also displayed on a Web site, which provides more exposure and opportunities for people to see Faces United. Bush said United Way of Erie County wanted to present the stories online with a similar art exhibit look. They created the Web site just for the stories, as their current United Way Web site format did not offer the ability to display the stories in a gallery format. The Web site includes information about Faces United and where to see the exhibit in the community. The Web site allows someone to view Faces United from wherever they are, perhaps having seen the exhibit out in the community or having heard about the exhibit from a friend or coworker.

Third, they share the stories across a variety of different media. In addition to the Web site and the traveling exhibit, United Way of Erie County uses the Faces United stories in their workplace campaign presentations, on social media, in their annual report, in their e-newsletter, on a slide show video that plays on a kiosk or monitor, and even at their recent Festival of Trees - where a Christmas tree was decorated with the pictures of the people featured in Faces United. Bush says they have deliberately worked to weave the Faces United stories into all of their communication and materials. She said the entire staff at United Way of Erie County are constantly on the lookout for ways to use the stories.

United Way of Erie County’s Faces United is a great way to share stories about how United Way has impacted lives on a very personal level. Bush said Faces United provides United Way of Erie County an opportunity to tell the personal stories of people impacted by United Way of Erie County. She said they tried to tell a personal story, rather than a story about a United Way funded agency that helped a person. The next time you are trying to tell your donors and community about what your United Way does, consider how United Way of Erie County has used Faces United to effectively and efficiently reach people. United Way of Erie County, you are Doing It Right!