Your Community Doesn't Care

Spoiler alert: Your community doesn’t care how much money your United Way raises.

If you’ve worked with United Ways for a long time, this statement likely contradicts your instinct. You might be thinking: “Of course people want to know our campaign goal! The newspaper reports on our goal and whether or not we’ve reached it every year! Our campaign liaisons have been rallying support for our campaign goal for years. It’s what people expect to hear.”

It may be true that your community expects to hear about your campaign goal – campaign goals are deeply ingrained in United Way culture, and it’s not uncommon for United Ways to have decades-long traditions of reporting a campaign goal. However, while your community may expect to hear about your campaign goal, it is not the message they need to hear.

Our research shows that sharing your campaign goal with stakeholders does not encourage them to give. Whether your United Way’s goal is to raise $12 million or just raise $100,000 more than last year, knowing your United Way’s campaign goal does nothing to increase the average person’s willingness to give.

However, what does influence people’s willingness to give is understanding the vision your United Way is working toward, the progress you’ve made toward that vision, and how they can be a part of the change you’re making in the community.

Think about why you give to your favorite charity: Do you give because you know that the charity has an annual goal it’s trying to reach or because you believe in the vision and achievements of that organization? If you’re like most people, you give because you believe in the vision and work of the organization.

Campaign goals are a holdover from when donors gave out of obligation – simply because it was the right thing to do. The world doesn’t operate that way anymore. If you want stakeholders to invest in your United Way, you need to stop asking them to give to support your campaign goal. Instead, you need to start asking your audiences to give in order to make you community better in some specific way.

Whether you make your community better by working to eliminate poverty, making sure all kids have access to healthy food, or ensuring seniors citizens have access to the healthcare they need, sharing your vision is far more impactful than sharing the amount of money you hope to raise.

Just as important as telling stakeholders about your vision for a better world is telling them how they can bring that vision to life. United Way is built on the mantra of give, advocate, volunteer. If you want to garner as much support as possible for your United Way, you need to bring all your stakeholders into the fold by letting them know how they can engage with your United Way and support your vision for a better community.

The reality is that you have a limited amount of time to convince a stakeholder to support your United Way. Whether someone is driving by your billboard, leafing through a brochure, or sitting in a campaign presentation, every second is precious. Don’t waste that valuable time with information that neither benefits your United Way nor is of interest to those you’re communicating with. If you want your asks to be as effective as possible, focus on what your community cares about: your United Way’s vision for the future, the progress you’ve made toward that vision, and how they can support pursuit of that vision.