Lessons Learned From Street Signs

For many years, I have had the opportunity to vacation with my family in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Each summer, we stay at a cottage on Brevort Lake, located halfway between somewhere and nowhere in the Upper Peninsula. This cottage possesses none of the things you and I might take for granted in this day and age, such as: televisions, telephones, and the Internet. And, believe it or not, the absence of these “essentials” is a large part of what makes it an ideal vacation spot. But, just in case you were questioning my sanity, I can assure you the cottage does have the modern conveniences of electricity and running water.

As I was saying, I have been vacationing at this cottage for a number of years now, perhaps too many too count, which makes it almost feel like home when I am there. But, this year was different. For the first time ever, I noticed something I had never noticed before, something that had completely escaped me for years.

What I noticed this year was that the street signs are taller in the Upper Peninsula. I would estimate that most of the street signs in the Upper Peninsula are on posts that are about three feet taller than what you would find in the Lower Peninsula. The street signs in the Upper Peninsula are the same size as street signs in other parts of Michigan, so they look the same, which is maybe why I did not notice the significant difference in the height of the signs until this year.

Although I am not a traffic engineer, I would guess the street signs in the Upper Peninsula are taller because of the large amount of snow in the Upper Peninsula. The total annual snowfall where the cottage is located is upwards of 120 inches (10 feet!), so it makes sense that street signs are put on higher posts so that they are more visible above the snow.

By now you must be asking what taller street signs in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have to do with United Ways. I am glad you asked. Every United Way has things like street signs which look pretty much the same from one United Way to another.  For example, you could think of workplace campaigns like street signs - every United Way has them, and they may look the same from one United Way to another. Other examples of things that every United Way has that may look similar (like street signs) from one United Way to another are boards, allocation panels/committees, Web sites, and pledge forms.

But, when you look more closely, you will find that for street signs to be effective they need to be installed at the right height, and you will find that for workplace campaigns, boards, allocation panels/committees, Web sites, and pledge forms to be effective they need to be implemented the right way at each United Way. What works for one United Way may need to be modified to be effective at another United Way, much like street signs need to be installed at the right height.

In over 25 years of working with United Ways, we have found that many United Ways are doing the right things, they just need a little help and guidance to do things right. In fact, we frequently find that it is the little changes, like raising the height of the street signs, which have the biggest impact on the United Way’s success. We provide consulting that guides successful United Ways and would be happy to talk with you about how we can help. For more information, visit: www.perspectives4uw.com/consulting If you would like some advice about the height of your street signs at your United Way – just let us know!