Is Your Workplace Campaign a Dead Horse?
There’s a highly circulated comic that begins by sharing a piece of wisdom from the Dakota people: “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”
The comic delivers its punchline as it points out the many things that organizations do instead of dismounting their dead horses, including:
Appointing a committee to study the horse
Arranging to visit other countries to see how others ride dead horses
Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included
Reclassifying the dead horse as ‘living impaired’
Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse
Harnessing several dead horses together to increase the speed
Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance
Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance
Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses
The comic is cheeky, but its warning should not be ignored; far too many organizations fail to face the reality that their mainstay horse is dying. In fact, this satirized approach for dealing with a dead horse is a perfect analogy for how many United Ways approach their workplace campaigns.
Instead of acknowledging the slow, inevitable decline of workplace campaigns and looking for alternatives, many United Ways are doubling down on campaigns by:
Hiring new resource development directors with more fundraising experience
Adding more staff members to focus exclusively on workplace campaigns
Attending conferences to learn how other United Ways are trying to grow their campaigns
Decreasing annual campaign goals so the inevitable decline is not as noticeable
Merging with other United Ways to save on overhead costs and increase fundraising capabilities
Exploring online technologies to making giving in workplaces easier
Marketing workplace campaigns more aggressively
But why is this happening? Why are more United Ways not earnestly seeking a more reliable horse when workplace campaigns are on a permanent downward slope?
It’s because – for most United Ways – the workplace campaign horse isn’t quite dead yet.
With a little life left in workplace campaigns, many United Ways become blindly optimistic and believe they can spur growth and movement again if they can just develop a new strategy for beating their nearly dead horse.
Of course, beating a dead horse serves little purpose. The truth is that workplace campaigns are fading, and no one expects them to return to their former glory. While new strategies for beating the workplace campaign horse, like shifting campaign goals or hiring new resource development staff, might squeeze a bit more life out of workplace campaigns, death is inevitable. A change is coming, and workplace campaigns will not be the horse that carries most United Ways through the next decade.
So, what’s next? If not on the backs of workplace campaigns, how will United Ways sustain themselves in the future?
First, United Ways need to accept that the period of workplace campaign dominance is coming to an end. Second, United Ways need to start looking for a new model for fundraising. Quite likely, this new model will look a lot like what most other nonprofits do. The financial future of United Way will be rooted in grants, corporate sponsorships, special events, fundraisers, planned giving – and maybe a few lingering workplace campaigns.
As you work your way through campaign season, keep your dying horse in mind and start to look at how you might secure the financial future of your United Way. Consider networking with other United Ways to ask about their special events rather than their workplace campaigns. Explore grants that could support your initiatives and programs. Join us for webinars like Create A New Revenue Stream Using Corporate Sponsorship or Yes, You Can! Raising Money Outside of the Workplace.
However you do it, save your United Way from future trouble and start looking at new horses today.