Make It Awesome! Affinity Groups

Does your United Way offer an affinity group that people can be a part of to make an impact on a specific issue in your community?

Many United Ways offer affinity groups at their United Way, but very rarely do we see affinity groups that are focused on addressing a specific issue. Most often, the examples we see are "peer groups," where United Ways are bringing people together who share demographic similarities, such as age, gender, or social status, and there is usually an expected minimum level of contribution to be a part of one of these groups. In order to be considered a true "affinity group," the group should be bringing people together around a common interest (e.g. a specific issue).

Let’s take a look at the affinity groups being offered by United Way of Central Virginia (Lynchburg, Virginia):


United Way of Central Virginia is offering two affinity groups – a Women’s Leadership Council and a Young Leaders Society. We think it is great that they are offering not one, but two ways to be involved with their United Way! In our work with United Ways across the country, we share the importance of being donor-centric and providing donor-centric methods to connect with people outside of workplace campaigns. It is absolutely essential to connect with donors in addition to the workplace campaign, in order to engage them throughout the year – and offering an affinity group is one of the donor-centric methods we recommend.

We would encourage you to follow United Way of Central Virginia and offer affinity groups at your United Way – but first, check out these three ideas to take an affinity group to the next level and Make It Awesome!

How to Take an Affinity Group and Make It Awesome!

  1. Connect it to a specific issue. If you have adopted an issue focus like United Way of Central Virginia, it is important to connect your issue to your affinity group. United Way of Central Virginia adopted the issue focus of education readiness and the bold goal of "90% Third Grade Reading Proficiency by 2025," after we guided their board and staff through our Direction-Setting Process. Instead of having your Women’s Leadership Council focus on categories, such as education, income, and health, have your Women’s Leadership Council focus on your issue focus, such as education readiness. Engage young people in your community by encouraging them to join your Young Leaders Society to help address your issue focus. Explain to your affinity group members how they can get involved by volunteering, giving, or advocating for your issue focus. If you have not yet adopted an issue focus, let your affinity group members decide on a specific issue to focus on addressing. People will be more likely to participate in an affinity group if they understand that they are helping to make an impact on a specific issue in your community.
  2. Let the members lead the group. Many United Ways have told us they don’t have the staff capacity to lead an affinity group and therefore do not offer an affinity group at their United Way. Whether you have an affinity group already or are considering offering one, consider letting the affinity group members lead this group. You have so many intelligent leaders in your community who are capable of leading your affinity group, once they receive guidance on the issue you are focused on addressing and your bold goal/what your United Way is focused on accomplishing in your community. Give your affinity group members the guidance they need to lead and grow your affinity group, and encourage them to invite their peers to participate and come up with ways to make an impact on the issue in your community.
  3. Get rid of the minimum level of contribution. Stop asking for a minimum level of contribution in order to participate in your affinity group. If you want to have leadership giving societies, make them separate from your affinity groups. If people want to make an impact on the issue your United Way is focused on addressing, encourage them to do so by joining your affinity group. Do not limit the number of people you could engage by requiring a minimum level of contribution. Instead, encourage people to become part of your affinity group to make a difference on a specific issue in your community. United Way of Central Virginia does not list a minimum level of contribution for their Young Leaders Society – not requiring a minimum level of contribution is especially important if you want to engage young people. Think about the number of young people you could engage if you invited them to make an impact on your issue by volunteering or advocating, rather than asking them to give a large amount of money.

By following these three simple ideas, you will take a great affinity group and Make It Awesome!

If you would like us to review something your United Way is doing and Make It Awesome! send me an e-mail at As your issue-focused consultant, I will share great tips and ideas with you about how to enhance what you are doing, and will provide you with the information your donors and community want to know, based on our research and experience in working with United Ways.