As summer rapidly draws to a close and fall approaches quickly, it is once again time for the annual ritual that is WORKPLACE CAMPAIGNS. It is a spectacle that is hard to miss with campaign kick-off events, the blossoming of campaign thermometers throughout the town, and the proclamation of the campaign goal. If all United Ways could agree on a common day for this to occur, it would be, without question, the next Hallmark holiday.
This is not the first time, and will probably not be the last time, that I throw a wet blanket over all of these festivities. You are probably asking yourself, “Why is Gary such a curmudgeon?” Because six months from now, when the din from the campaign celebration has passed, the thermometers are back in the rental storage unit, and the campaign goal is a distant memory - I will get asked, “But why do people think all our United Way does is raise money?”
I hate that question. I’ll bet that you hate that question. But the stark reality of the world we live in is that if the most public and visible signs of United Way in a community are campaign kick-off celebrations, the campaign goal, and thermometers, then why would we expect people to think United Ways are anything other than fundraisers?
This is the year you can change that perception.
Just stop holding campaign kick-offs and celebrations.
Just stop talking about the campaign goal.
Just stop putting up those thermometers.
You have the power to change the story of United Way in your community. Instead of reinforcing the popular perception of United Ways as fundraisers, tell a new story. Share with your community how donating to United Way helps reduce poverty, or end homelessness, or increase the percentage of children entering kindergarten ready to learn. Hold a celebration to recognize those people who finished their GED due to a United Way funded program. Share your goal of increasing the graduation rate to 90% and invite the community to give, advocate, and volunteer to make it happen. Instead of a thermometer with your campaign goal in $$$ at the top, put a thermometer up that shows how many children are benefitting from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library program your United Way runs, and how many more children you are trying to reach this year.
I am not oblivious to the fact that United Ways need to raise money to make these good things happen. But, there is a big difference between celebrating the process of raising money versus celebrating the powerful impact of the results. Start celebrating the good outcomes and results of your United Way this year, and your workplace campaigns will take care of themselves. Our donor research is clear on this point – the process of raising money is not the reason why people give to United Way now, nor has it ever been.
I am off to my local Hallmark store to pick up a Happy Impact Day card. I can’t wait to send it to your United Way!