The Story of The Flying Squirrel

Several years ago, our staff got together one day and decided that we needed a Perspectives mascot. But, not just any mascot would do. We needed a mascot that represented our high standards, our indomitable spirit, our passionate energy, and our uniqueness. After several hours of searching, we knew our mascot would not be a bird (over done), a superhero (a little pretentious), a lion, tiger, or bear (just too scary), or a dog (everyone uses cute dogs to sell things).

Then, from out of the blue, we found it! Our Perspectives mascot would be a flying squirrel! A flying squirrel met all of our demanding criteria, and quite honestly, several of us were willing to dress up in a flying squirrel costume should the need ever arise.

Those of you who are regular readers of our blog will know that every year during the holidays I return to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to visit my relatives. I look forward to my visit every year, and it never, ever disappoints! This year, after a wonderful dinner, my cousin proposed that we all go visit The Flying Squirrel in downtown Carnegie, Pennsylvania (a Pittsburgh suburb).

Did my cousin just say “The Flying Squirrel?” How on earth could she have known the importance of flying squirrels as a part of our work life here at Perspectives? Truth be told, she had no idea. I guess we need to get a picture of our flying squirrel mascot on our Web site.

The Flying Squirrel is a candy store combined with an ice cream shop combined with a toy store! It is certainly the closest thing to Nirvana in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. And it is important to note, The Flying Squirrel is not just any candy, not just any ice cream, and not just any toy!

Their candy is nostalgic penny candy, gum, and mints from decades gone by. This is not candy you will find at any supermarket or quick-stop store. This candy is for those who remember what candy was back in the day.

Their ice cream is to die for! Well, O.K. perhaps that is hyperbole, but it is not just any ice cream. It is ice cream that is locally-made by the Pittsburgh Ice Cream Company. Their flavors are unique – I had a scoop of their eggnog ice cream along with a scoop of their double chocolate candy cane ice cream. I could have added a scoop of their cranberry sorbet too, but I thought that might have been a little much. They tell me the flavors change all the time – so each time you visit The Flying Squirrel, it is an adventure!

Their toys are from a time past – they describe their toys as “retro and classic toys from childhood, atomic age robots, tin toys, and more.” The toy store is like walking back in time – with games from the 1880s through the 1980s. I must admit I fondly remember playing with many of the toys years ago in my youth.

And of course, there is the namesake flying squirrel. He stands next to the radio which plays the “swell sounds of the Swing Era” so they say.

By this point (thank you for still reading), you are wondering what, if any, connection there is between The Flying Squirrel in Carnegie, Pennsylvania and United Ways.

I am glad you asked!

The Flying Squirrel succeeds because it aligns everything they do. They sell premium, rarely found elsewhere, ice cream. They sell quality, vintage, rarely found elsewhere, toys. And they sell nostalgic, rarely found elsewhere, candy. They would not succeed if they sold their premium ice cream along with cheap plastic toys like you would find at a dollar store. They would also not succeed if they sold the five most common candy bars in a rack at the cash register next to their vintage toys. They have a strong alignment in their products – their nostalgic candy, premium ice cream, and vintage toys all belong together naturally.

However, many United Ways are not aligned like The Flying Squirrel. It is all too common to see a United Way with entirely different levels of focus between their resource development and community impact. For example, there are United Ways that profess to be “community impact” organizations, with a resource development staff that outnumbers their community impact staff by 5-to-1. Some United Ways use all of their marketing budget to promote their workplace campaigns and their prizes or incentives for giving, and are then unable to inform donors about their results or impact of their contributions. Most commonly, we find United Ways that are not aligned focus far too much on resource development, and far too little on community impact.

Is your United Way in alignment? If your resource development, impact/investment, and marketing/engagement fit together as naturally as the premium ice cream, vintage toys, and nostalgic candy at The Flying Squirrel, then you have alignment. Can you tell – or are you too close to your United Way to judge? The best judge of your alignment would be your donors. If you are in alignment, or out of alignment, your donors will know it when they see it. If you want to re-align, be sure to take a look at the new Issue Focus pages on our Web site.

I would strongly encourage you to stop by The Flying Squirrel the next time you are anywhere near Pittsburgh. For premium ice cream, vintage toys, and nostalgic candy all in one place – it is worth the trip!