Where Did Your Donors Go?


Many United Ways have faced the challenge of decreasing numbers of donors. Frequently, United Ways tell us that their donor rolls have dwindled over the years, no matter how hard they try to attract and retain new donors.

So, if you are asking “Where did your donors go?” you would not be alone. The simple answer is that your donors have not gone anywhere. Our research has found that over half of all people who did not give to United Way this year, have given to United Way in the past. Think about that for a moment. When you walk down the street, visit the mall, or attend a sporting event, one out of every two people you see will have given to United Way in the past. Your donors, or former donors, are all around you.

While your donors are still in your community, they may not be where you last left them. Many of these former donors are no longer employed at companies where you are running workplace campaigns. Some of these donors have retired, have left the workplace, and are no longer supporting United Way. Some of these donors are now employed at organizations that do not have a workplace campaign, and are no longer supporting United Way. In fact, our research has found that one of the top reasons former donors do not give to United Way is that they were not asked.

To get these former donors back, you will need to offer your donors an opportunity to engage with your United Way outside of the workplace campaign. You must reach out to your former donors and ask them to engage with your United Way through affinity groups, special events, volunteerism, and alternative giving opportunities. These engagement efforts must be more than putting a “Donate” button on your Web site and hoping former donors find it. Providing opportunities for donors to engage with your United Way is intentional and deliberate work. You must put the same intentional and deliberate effort into reaching out to donors in your community as you do to organizing and conducting workplace campaigns.

But, while our research has found that some former donors no longer give because they are not asked, even more former donors do not give because they prefer other charities. If a donor has given to United Way in the past, and no longer gives to United Way because they prefer other charities, what went wrong? The answer from our research is that most United Way donors do not understand the impact of their contribution, they do not know what their contribution accomplished – in short, they do not know what United Way did with their contributions.

Attracting these former donors back will require United Way to articulate a simple value proposition, such as “When you give to United Way you are reducing poverty” or “Giving to United Way ends homelessness.” Value propositions like these make it clear to a donor what their contribution will accomplish, but the ability to articulate these kind of value propositions requires that your United Way has a clear focus.

An issue-focused United Way has a clear focus. Issue-focused United Ways address a single issue like poverty, hunger, early childhood education, homelessness, or the graduation rate as examples. They have a bold goal like “By 2025, reduce poverty by 50%” or “90% of all children ready for Kindergarten by 2020.” By focusing on one issue with a single bold goal, issued-focused United Ways are easily able to articulate a value proposition which attracts and engages donors.

Engagement opportunities like affinity groups, special events, volunteerism, and alternative giving opportunities are not new to United Ways, and many United Ways are already doing these things. But, the difference is issue-focused United Ways form affinity groups to reduce poverty, or hold special events to end homelessness for example. Issue-focused United Ways provide opportunities for people to volunteer to increase the graduation rate, and provide alternative giving opportunities to end hunger just to name a few. Issue-focused United Ways offer former donors opportunities to engage with United Way and donate to impact an issue in their community.

It is not difficult to find your former donors; they are all around you. Starting an affinity group or holding a special event outside of the workplace campaign will not bring your former donors back by themselves. It is essential to have a clear value proposition so that your donors will know what their contribution will accomplish. The challenge is finding your clear focus that resonates with donors.

Becoming issue-focused has many other benefits for United Ways, including reduced designations, diversified resources, and engaging the younger generation. Find out if an issue focus is right for your United Way with our Introduction to an Issue Focus Board Retreat or give us a call and we’ll talk.