How We Spend Our Time

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Twice in the past week, I have had local United Way staff tell me they are just too busy to do anything now because they are overwhelmed with campaign. They tell me things are crazy, they are slammed right now, or they have no time to breathe – all because it is campaign time. And I am willing to bet that I’ll hear the same thing from another United Way before the end of this week.

I understand that campaign is an important part of the work of a United Way. But, this all-consuming concern with campaign reinforces a commonly held belief that United Ways are fundraisers. Why? Because I have never had a United Way tell me that they are too busy to do anything right now because they are overwhelmed with their allocation or investment process. Nope, not once has a United Way said they were slammed with evaluating grant requests, or things were crazy because they were trying to prepare an RFP.

Have you ever thought about how much time the staff at your United Way spends on community impact-related work and responsibilities compared to resource development and campaign-related activities? I believe most United Ways spend far more time and effort on their resource development activities than on their community impact activities. If the purpose of United Way is raising funds to support partner agencies and fund programs, then spending most of your time on campaign is entirely appropriate.

I am disappointed when I hear United Ways say they are a community impact organization, or they are trying to address a social issue in their community, and they spend a mere fraction of their time on community impact compared to resource development. I know of one United Way that trumpets their existence as a community impact organization, but yet their staff consists of 12 people who by title are resource development staff and only one person has a community impact title. Is it any wonder that donors and the community feel United Way is a fundraiser when most of the staff are fundraisers?

If how we spend our time is an indication of what we value or who we are, then most United Ways are indeed fundraisers. The future of United Way as a community impact organization will depend on how United Ways spend their time.