Investing in the Future

When I talk about marketing with most United Ways, the focus is generally on workplace campaign and the annual report. For the months leading up to campaign, marketing staff are focused on preparing their campaign brochure, pledge cards, and campaign video – all of which are essential marketing activities for an effective workplace campaign. And the day after all of the marketing materials are complete for the workplace campaigns, marketing staff turn their attention to preparing the annual report.

Most United Ways spend their entire marketing budget promoting their workplace campaign and preparing an annual report. In some United Ways, marketing does not include an annual report; it is simply focused on what needs to be done to promote the workplace campaign. The workplace campaign and the annual report are the two ways that United Ways communicate to their donors what they are doing. The challenge, however, is that communicating through the workplace campaign and sending an annual report to donors is only effective in reaching donors.

We know from our research how important it is to communicate with donors. Donors want to know what your United Way is accomplishing with their contribution, and our research has found that donors are more likely to increase their contribution when they know the impact of their contribution. United Ways tell me all the time that their number of donors is shrinking and that often their campaign only grows because existing donors increase their contributions, which makes communicating with donors even more important now than ever. 

But, when you focus all of your marketing activities and marketing budget solely on reaching your donors, everyone else is in the dark about your United Way. Two groups that should know about your United Way and be invited to give, advocate, and/or volunteer for your United Way are the younger generation and retirees. Marketing needs to reach beyond donors to engage the younger generation.

Investing in marketing to reach the younger generation will result in more volunteers for your United Way today, and once they volunteer, more donors for your United Way tomorrow. Investing in marketing to retirees will re-engage former donors, many of whom probably gave for decades before retiring, and have stopped supporting United Way solely because they are no longer asked to support United Way.

As United Ways look to diversify resources beyond the workplace campaign, many are now holding special events to raise money. Investing in marketing to promote United Way and why people should participate in these special events is essential to the success of the special events. Holding a special event is not enough to get someone to participate – a special event is not one of those “build it and they will come” type of things. Marketing is necessary for people to understand what your United Way accomplishes and why participating in the special event will help accomplish even more in their community.

Investing in marketing beyond the workplace campaign and annual report may not have been necessary 30 or 40 years ago, but it is now mission critical. The success of your United Way long-term will be dependent on marketing and communicating to not only your current donors but your future donors as well. Investing in marketing now is like the Greek proverb that says “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”