How Do You Win?
Recently, I caught the end of a televised University of Michigan football game. The Wolverines ended-up on the losing end of the score, and the television announcers were talking about what the loss meant for Michigan. I must admit that I do not have high expectations for television football announcers, so I was not expecting them to say anything too profound or thought-provoking. But, the one announcer summed up Michigan’s football woes this way: “You need to know who you are, and you need to know how you win.”
The announcer was basically challenging the Michigan football team to decide if their football team was a running team or a passing team. The Michigan football team will know who they are once they decide if they are a running team or a passing team. The Michigan football team will then be able to answer the question about how they win – by either running the football a lot or passing the football a lot.
This question of who you are and how you win is exactly the question many United Ways are wrestling with every day. If your United Way is a fundraiser, that means you would answer the “who you are” question by saying you raise money to support local partner agencies and programs. Accordingly, if you are a fundraiser, then “how you win” is that you win when you raise as much money as possible for your partner agencies and funded programs.
If your United Way is community impact or issue-focused, then you would answer the “who you are” question by saying you make measurable change that impacts lives in your community. In this case, if your United Way is all about impact, then “how you win” is that you win by impacting as many lives as possible in your community.
These answers to the questions of “who you are” and “how you win” suggests that United Ways are actually playing two different games. Some United Ways are playing a game which keeps score with dollars and cents, while other United Ways are playing a game which keeps score with the number of people whose lives are changed. However, you can’t win playing both of these games at the same time.
I am sure some of you are asking “Why can’t my United Way play both games at once?” Here are four reasons why you can’t play both games at once:
1) Your United Way has limited money, people, and time. Your staff will never have a clear understanding of which game they should be playing and when. When you try to play both games at once, you spread your limited resources a mile wide and an inch deep.
2) Donors will not understand what your United Way does. When your messages are both “Give to United Way to fund over 50 health and human service programs” and “Give to United Way to end poverty,” donors will struggle to understand what game your United Way is playing.
3) Your administrative costs will be a problem. It is impossible to play both games at once when your supporters have competing expectations. If the way you win is by raising as much money as possible for local agencies, your donors expect low administrative costs so that you can effectively pass through their donations to local agencies. Meanwhile, if you win by while creating measurable community change, your administrative costs will be higher because creating impact requires investing in greater internal capacity and capability.
4) Your United Way will not be able to win both games because the requirements to win at each game are different. Your United Way will never win a gold medal in both fundraising and impact at the same time because they require different roles, staff, messaging, allocations, resources, etc.
There are plenty of United Ways that are winning at the fundraising game. There are also plenty of United Ways that are winning at the impact game. However, there are not United Ways winning while playing both games.
When you think about the future of your United Way, be sure to take time to answer these two questions: “Who are you?” and “How do you win?” As for University of Michigan football – there is always next year.