When More Resources Does Not Equal More Impact

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with the President/CEO of a local United Way, catching up on how their United Way was implementing community impact. Several minutes into the conversation, he used the phrase “more resources equals more impact.” This was the first time I had heard this phrase, but immediately I realized how dangerous this phrase can be for local United Ways.

If a United Way raised $2.3 million last year, and you do not know how the United Way spent the money, or what the United Way accomplished with the money, what conclusion can you make? If you don’t know what was accomplished with $2.3 million, then the only conclusion you can make is that a lot of money was raised. You cannot make any judgment about the impact of that United Way solely knowing they raised $2.3 million.

This is precisely the problem some United Ways are facing. When a United Way talks about their campaign goal, or puts up thermometers all over town, the conversation is about how much money was raised and not about the United Way’s impact. Guess what donors want to know from United Way? You guessed it – they want to know the impact of their contribution. Our research with local United Way donors has found over and over again that donors really don’t care about the campaign goal or how much money was raised.

So, what happens a year later when that United Way raises $2.5 million? If the United Way has not clearly communicated the impact of what was accomplished with $2.3 million, and similarly does not communicate the impact of what was accomplished with $2.5 million, then why would a donor think any more was accomplished just because more money was raised? The average donor could only conclude that once again a lot of money was raised, but not that there was more impact.

The phrase “more resources equals more impact” can indeed be true when a United Way invests those resources into the community, resulting in more impact. But, the phrase “more resources equals more impact” will have no meaning for donors when the entire discussion is solely about raising resources.