The Urgent Need for Strategic Planning


Back in the day, life was pretty good for United Ways. United Ways were able to raise increasing amounts of money year-after-year, and many donors would support United Way until retirement without giving it a second thought.

But the times have changed. Over the past three decades, an endless stream of new challenges has made the work of United Ways more difficult than ever. These challenges include economic recessions, growth in the number of nonprofit organizations, open campaigns, third-party processors, the ability to find and support any charity and cause on the internet, downsizing companies, organizations not disclosing donor information, companies that no longer have local leadership, scandals, Facebook and social media, online giving, Giving Tuesday, Red Nose Day, GoFundMe, partner agency competition for funds, difficulty getting outcomes for funded programs, increasing designations . . .

You get the idea. The challenges are there – you know them all too well.

These challenges make it clear that doing what United Ways have always done is not going to work moving forward. For United Ways to be sustainable, relevant, and impactful in the future they will need to determine what they are trying to accomplish, select the best strategies to achieve their goals, and decide how they are going to implement those strategies.

In short, United Ways need to be doing strategic planning. Even if your United Way’s mission is still absolutely right for your community and its needs, the strategies your United Way will be using and how your United Way implements the strategies will need to change. Strategic planning, done well, does precisely this – articulate a clear purpose, select appropriate strategies, and plan to implement and execute the strategies successfully.

If you think your United Way’s mission is on-track, I would encourage you to take a couple minutes and read my blog post “The $6 Million Question.” Think about the reason why your United Way exists and perhaps try the $6 million question with your board at your next board meeting.

Some United Ways find themselves heading in several directions at once. After you read my blog post “You Only Need One Compass” you may find that your United Way has a lot of compasses. For United Ways to be successful, it is absolutely essential to clarify your mission and purpose, one of the first steps in our strategic planning process.

Many United Ways tell me they already have a strategic plan. Great, but does it help your United Way jump higher or farther? Take a moment to read my blog post “Jump Higher or Leap Farther?” for some perspective on strategic plans that will move your United Way forward. With all the challenges facing United Ways, it is imperative to be leaping farther, which is something we address with our playbook of transformational strategies that we use with United Ways during our strategic planning process.

Strategic planning is urgently needed at most United Ways. Most United Ways are still doing what they have always done and have not yet fully evolved to address the challenges they are facing. If United Ways expect to remain relevant, sustainable, and impactful, they cannot wait any longer to address their challenges.

We know that United Ways are unlike any other nonprofit organization. Because we only work with United Ways, our strategic planning process is unique. Our strategic planning process recognizes the unique aspects of United Ways, including workplace campaigns, designations, allocation processes, partner agencies, community impact, and affinity groups. If the time has come for a new strategic plan or an update to your current strategic plan at your United Way, check out our strategic planning information and let’s start a conversation about how we can ensure that your United Way will be relevant, sustainable, and impactful for years to come.