Is Your Campaign Goal Really Your Goal?

Once a year, many United Ways announce a campaign goal. Although it is impossible to know for sure how many United Ways announce a campaign goal, you can get a good idea of how many when you Google the phrase “United Way Campaign Goal” and find over 13,000 results. These campaign goal announcements often occur during some type of campaign kick-off celebration. Lots of people gather to hear and cheer as the campaign chairperson and local United Way president/CEO announce the campaign goal. Once announced, the campaign goal often appears on large thermometers outside of major employers and at busy intersections, which serve to show progress toward the campaign goal.

A campaign goal measures how much money was contributed by donors to United Way, and how much money United Way raised through workplace campaigns. It is equally important to consider what a campaign goal does not measure. A campaign goal does not measure impact, as the amount of money raised has no impact by itself – it can only make a difference once it is invested in programs. A campaign goal does not measure the results of how the money is invested. At a very basic level, a campaign goal measures the financial resources available to United Way for investment in programs and operations.

Over the years, I have heard countless local United Way presidents and CEOs bemoan the media’s fixation with their campaign goal. Presidents/CEOs will say “That is the first thing they ask about” or “They only want to know if we made our goal” or “We do so much more than fundraising, but the media only cares about the goal.” But, Presidents/CEOs should not be surprised and disappointed when this happens because by declaring a campaign goal, United Ways are publicly setting the standard by which they want to be judged. Compared to other charitable organizations, United Ways are typically the only charitable organization to publicly announce their annual fundraising goal. You do not hear other charitable organizations like the American Red Cross, Goodwill, Boys Scouts, or Boys & Girls Clubs announce annual fundraising goals.

Is a campaign goal right for your United Way? A campaign goal is the perfect goal if the purpose of your United Way is to raise as much money as possible to fund local programs and partner agencies. If your purpose is fundraising, then a campaign goal is a simple and fair measure of your success.

Here are five reasons why a campaign goal might not be right for your United Way:

First, if every time someone asks you about your campaign goal, you only want to talk about everything else your United Way does. If the other things your United Way does are more important than your campaign goal, then perhaps a campaign goal is not right for your United Way.

Second, if the only reason you can think of for having a campaign goal is because you have always had a campaign goal, then now may be the time to let it go.

Third, if you have a clear community impact goal, such as improving the high school graduation rate or reducing the number of families living in poverty, then a campaign goal may not be right for your United Way. If the focus of your United Way is changing your community through meaningful impact, then it would probably be better for your United Way to publicize and focus on your community impact goal than a campaign goal.

Fourth, our research has found that very few donors really care about the campaign goal, and most importantly, a campaign goal does not motivate a donor to give to United Way, and a campaign goal does not motivate a donor to increase their donation to United Way.

Fifth, if the primary purpose of your United Way is not fundraising but impact, then a campaign goal does not measure your primary purpose. Setting a goal related to community impact allows your United Way to gauge success achieving your primary purpose.

If you have struggled with the idea of a campaign goal, think about what your campaign goal measures and whether or not it is an appropriate measure of your United Way’s success. Check out our Web site for information on an issue focus and you will see how a campaign goal suits a fundraising-focused United Way, but makes no sense for an issue-focused United Way.

A campaign goal is not really your goal if your United Way is issue-focused and making a difference in your community addressing a specific issue.