The Other Half

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For nearly 30 years, we have been conducting donor and community research for local United Ways throughout the United States. Over time, the questions we ask have changed – for example, we now ask about social media usage, but we no longer ask if people use email.

One of the questions we have consistently asked is: “If you did not give to United Way this past year, have you ever given to United Way?” We have found that the percentage of people who did not give to United Way this year but have given to United Way previously has increased over time. In every survey we have conducted since 2014, at least 50% of all people who did not give to United Way in the past year had given to United Way previously.

Here is a sobering thought: Half of all people who did not give to your United Way this year have given to United Way previously. When you walk down the sidewalk or through a store, take a moment and think that one out of every two people you see has probably given to United Way at some point in their lives but did not give to your United Way this year. It makes you want to grab them by the collar and ask them “Why aren’t you supporting United Way?” doesn’t it?

But, it is not their fault – you can’t blame them. The reality of the situation is that most of those people don’t give because they are no longer asked to give by their United Way. Perhaps they retired and are no longer exposed to a workplace campaign, or maybe they changed employment and now work at a company that does not have a workplace campaign.

The vast majority of people who did not give to United Way this year but have given previously did not give for any reason other than they were not asked to give. How do we know? Because when we asked them, most community members who have previously supported United Way indicated they would support United Way again if asked. This is especially true with retirees.

I can already hear some of you thinking “Hey! We give people an opportunity to give online on our website.” While this may be true, the challenge with providing an online giving opportunity is that your potential donors need to “find” the giving opportunity. Workplace campaigns reach out to potential donors by bringing the giving opportunity to the donor. Most charitable giving occurs because the charity brings the giving opportunity to the potential donor through direct mail, social media, a golf tournament, or even cookie sales. Online giving portals fail to do this.

For all of the United Ways that are wrapping up their workplace campaigns, it is now time to start working on reaching the other half of your donors. What giving opportunities can your United Way provide to engage your former donors such as special events, affinity groups, or alternative giving opportunities? There are United Ways that we have worked with that raise up to one-third of their total resources from these types of activities.

We are not suggesting that United Ways eliminate their workplace campaigns. Instead, we are suggesting that they actively seek to attract donors outside of the workplace campaign. Based on our research and the increasing percentage of people who have given to United Way previously, reaching donors outside of the workplace campaign will be essential to long-term success.

If attracting former donors is a priority for your United Way, let us know and we can help you explore potential opportunities for reaching donors and develop a plan based on the most effective and efficient methods for your United Way.

The other half of your donors are waiting. Now is the time to begin the other half of your fundraising.

P.S. Be sure to join us at 2:00 p.m. EST next Monday, February 4th for our webinar “Get Your Board Onboard: Secrets of the Engaged Board.” You can learn more about “Get Your Board Onboard: Secrets of the Engaged Board” and all our webinars here.

Back to Basics?


In less than two weeks, we will be holding our next webinar: “When the Basics No Longer Work, What’s Next?” If you are struggling with workplace campaigns, how to explain what United Way does, and/or are tired of partner agencies feeling entitled to funding, then this webinar is for you. We will talk about how what used to work for United Ways no longer works so well, and more importantly, what United Ways should be doing now. This webinar will show you how your United Way can be more relevant, sustainable, and impactful in the future.

“When the Basics No Longer Work, What’s Next?” is the next webinar in our series of nine webinars we will be presenting monthly between now through next July. Our webinar topics include: engaging your board, using social media successfully, effective affinity groups, connecting with the younger generation, designing campaign brochures, and what donors want from United Way. Click here for a complete list and description of all nine webinars.

You have two weeks to sign up for “When the Basics No Longer Work, What’s Next?”, which will be held on Wednesday, December 19th. If you can’t join us for the live webinar, we will be recording the webinar which will also be available for purchase.

Two promises for you.

First, we promise you that every one of our webinars will provide you with information your United Way can use and put to work immediately. Following our “Six Methods to Maximize Your Impact” webinar last week, we received an email from an attendee who said: “Great webinar yesterday. It was very informative!”

Second, we promise you that our webinars will be your most productive training investment as you can have everyone at your United Way watch our webinars – staff, board, and volunteers. Additionally, your United Way will have access to the recording of the webinar for one year.

We look forward to having you join us for “When the Basics No Longer Work, What’s Next?” on Wednesday, December 19th and for all of our upcoming webinars.

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P.S. As a reward to people who read the P.S., if you send me an email at, I will send you a promo code you can use to save on our webinars!

Are the Times Changing?


One of the most common refrains I hear from United Ways is that the times are changing. Society is changing, technology is changing, the economy is changing, and even competition for charitable giving is changing.

Just consider this headline from an article in the New York Times: “United Way, Faced With Fewer Donors, Is Giving Away Less.”  You can easily attribute the downward trend in the number of donors to changes in society, technology, the economy, and competition – among other reasons. As you would expect, the article talks about corporate downsizing, increasing competition for charitable dollars, and donors choosing to designate their contribution or just by-pass United Way and give directly.

There are a variety of United Way directors quoted in the article saying things like “There is a disconnect between what United Ways do and what people think they do and the reason for that disconnect is our ineptness at explaining what we do” or “We drive the agencies nuts because they don’t know from year to year what they will get.”

The article also shares some of the strategies being used by United Ways to counteract this trend. For example, United Ways are focusing on growing leadership giving, which according to the article presents a new challenge: “United Way is now competing more with its member agencies to raise money from the wealthiest people.” Another strategy mentioned in the article for stemming the downward trend in the number of donors is allowing donors to give to charities of their choice – designations.

If all this sounds strangely familiar, it should. The New York Times article I am referring to was published on November 9, 1997. No, that is not a typo. The year was 1-9-9-7 or just over 21 years ago. Nearly everything that was mentioned in the article still applies today – over the past 21 years the challenges mentioned in the article have not gone away – they have become the new reality.

Solutions to these external changes are not easy. Instead of being on the receiving end of all these changes, what if United Ways led change? United Ways can change conditions in their community, but that change will not be measured by the number of donors or how much money is given away. United Ways that exist to impact their communities, what we refer to as issue-focused United Ways, are creating change in community conditions by reducing the number of homeless or increasing the number of high school graduates, as examples.

Issue-focused United Ways exist to measurably change a critical issue in their community. Their success comes from measuring lives changed, not from how much money was raised or distributed to partner agencies. An issue focus is one solution to the changes facing United Ways today. Does it make changes in society, technology, the economy, or competition go away? Of course not, but an issue focus allows United Ways to be relevant, sustainable, and impactful in spite of these changes. You can learn more about the Issue Focus Model on our website and learn more about how one issue-focused United Way is relevant, sustainable, and impactful in their community.

It may not be surprising that the New York Times article still applies today, but it is probably disappointing. We all hope that the New York Times will be able to write a different article about United Ways 20 years from now, but that will require United Ways to lead change rather than be crushed by change.