Who Cares?


Your donors do NOT care about . . .

  •  The number of partner agencies that receive funding from your United Way
  •  The number of programs funded by your United Way
  •  The number of hours spent by volunteers to determine your allocations
  •  Your number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers
  •  The number of priority areas of investment or targeted goals at your United Way
  •  How many of your workplace campaigns had 100% participation
  •  Your total number of donors and the average amount contributed by your donors
  •  How much donors designated to other nonprofit organizations
  •  How many people used your volunteer connection website
  •  The number of people in your leadership giving society and how much they contributed
  •  How much money was invested in each of your priority areas of investment
  •  How much money was raised at your social fundraising event
  •  The amounts contributed by your top 20 workplace campaigns
  •  How many people are on your board of directors
  •  Your campaign goal

. . . because none of these things tell a donor why they should give to your United Way.

Your donors care about . . .

1)  What issue does your United Way address?

2)  What is your United Way doing to impact your issue?

3)  What results has your United Way achieved to impact your issue?

. . . because when your donors know these three things, they will know why they should contribute to your United Way. Learn more about the power of one issue and one bold goal to attract donors by becoming issue-focused on our website here.

Successful United Ways tell donors what they want and need to know.

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Six Simple Sayings Every United Way Should Know

Over the course of working with United Ways for the past 27 years, I have come up with a variety of different sayings which find their way into my speech on a fairly regular basis. I have selected six of the sayings I use most frequently for your consideration:

Why comes before how. You need to decide first why your United Way exists, and then you should decide how your United Way is going to achieve your why.

It is better to be known for one thing than to be known for nothing. If trying to explain everything your United Way does is nearly impossible for your staff and board, then don’t expect your donors to “get it.”

Your issue is the issue. Our donor research finds that between 40-60% of local United Way donors do not know what issues their local United Way addresses, and the number one thing donors want to know from your United Way is the issues you are addressing.

Measuring the right thing imprecisely is better than precisely measuring the wrong thing. United Ways using workplace campaign thermometers are precisely measuring the wrong thing.

Some donors who designate do so because they don’t know the alternative. When a donor does not know what United Way does, they will designate their contribution to a charity they know.

More fundraising staff results in more fundraising. More impact staff results in more impact. Your United Way is not a community impact organization if you are staffed for fundraising.

Do you agree with these simple sayings? Do you disagree? Feel free to post a comment, or shoot me an e-mail at Gary@perspectives4uw.com.


I Am Not Sure We Are Changing Things

Recently, Kasey and I were facilitating a board retreat for a local United Way. During a discussion about the future of their United Way, one of the board members said “Right now we are helping people, but I am not sure we are changing things.” Let’s consider what this statement means for the future of your United Way.

Many United Ways struggle with being able to tell donors what was accomplished with their contribution. For a board member to say “Right now we are helping people” suggests that even board members, who have intimate knowledge of all aspects of United Way work, struggle with being able to state exactly how their United Way is making a difference. The phrase “helping people” is generic enough that it would apply to every human services organization. “Right now we are helping people” is a statement that board members at many United Ways would make throughout the United States.

The second part of the statement, “but I am not sure we are changing things” goes to the core of why United Way exists. Does United Way exist to “help people” or to “change things?” If United Way exists to help people, then changing things is not necessarily the goal. But, if United Way exists to change things, then this board member is calling into question whether their United Way is changing anything at all. 

Should your United Way be “changing things?” As United Ways wrestle with relevance, a goal of changing things may make your United Way more relevant to your donors. In our experience, United Ways that adopt an issue focus become more relevant to donors. Our donor research finds that donors at issue-focused United Ways understand what their United Way accomplishes, and have a better opinion of their United Way. Designations at issue-focused United Ways decrease as donors more clearly understand why giving to their United Way makes a difference, rather than using United Way to pass-through their contributions. Total resources increase at issue-focused United Ways as additional funds are secured from diversified funding sources interested in changing the issue.

Is “helping people” enough to engage your donors and make your United Way relevant – or should your United Way by “changing things?”


Our Manifesto

For years, as part of our Strategic Planning Process, we have challenged the boards of United Ways to agree on a clear understanding of the purpose of their United Way. This is not an easy question because there can be a variety of different reasons why a United Way exists. Every so often, one of those board members will ask us what we feel is the purpose of United Way.

This is a question that we discuss among ourselves frequently, but we have never fully answered the question until now. Over the past couple of weeks, we have taken the time to write down our beliefs regarding United Way's purpose and our role in supporting United Ways in what we call "Our Manifesto."

Do you agree with us or do you think we are missing the point? Leave us a comment or send us an e-mail at gary@perspectives4uw.com or kasey@perspectives4uw.com and let us know what you think!

Perspectives' Manifesto

We love United Ways – we always have, and we always will.

But, we do not believe United Ways exist to:
•  Fundraise for local nonprofit organizations
•  Pass-through donors’ designations
•  Group partner agencies into categories, like education, income, and health

We believe United Ways exist to:
•  Impact local issues and needs
•  Identify and fund programs and strategies that create meaningful change
•  Convene and lead donors, volunteers, and organizations to make a difference in the community

We exist to:
•  Help United Ways that want to impact their community
•  Provide consulting for United Ways to successfully transition to a mission of impact
•  Guide United Ways in focusing their impact, diversifying their resources, and sharpening their message

If you believe, as we believe, that your United Way exists to impact your community, we will help you succeed.


Simple Math?

If you are one of those people who hears the word “math” and runs away screaming because math is not your thing, bear with me for a paragraph or two. There is no question that math itself can be complicated and complex, but mathematics can allow us to quantify and simplify complex ideas and concepts. Let’s see if math can help us understand the role and purpose of United Way.

Here is a simple equation we might use to help understand the role and purpose of United Way:

Donor + United Way = X

The obvious question is: What happens when a donor makes a contribution to your United Way? If we used this equation for Goodwill, as an example, it would look like this:

Donor + Goodwill = Helps create jobs

But, unlike Goodwill, every United Way is different, so instead of being able to say “helps create jobs,” we have to use a placeholder like the letter “X” to represent all of the different possibilities. There are several possibilities for what “X” could be at your United Way. If you have adopted issue-focused community impact, your “X” might be:

Donor + United Way = Reduce poverty by 50% by 2025

Donor + United Way = Increase the graduation rate to 90% by 2018

Donor + United Way = Halt hunger

Perhaps your “X” could come from your mission statement. If you have a well-crafted mission statement, your equation might be:

Donor + United Way = Improving lives and building a strong community

Donor + United Way = Permanently break the cycle of poverty for our most vulnerable neighbors: families, children, veterans, and the homeless

Many donors struggle to see what “X” is at their local United Way. When we conduct research with donors, many donors are unable to tell us how their contribution makes a difference or how their contribution changed their community for the better.

It is absolutely imperative that you are able to clearly and concisely complete this equation with an “X” that is meaningful to your donors. At your next staff meeting, take a moment and have each staff member try to complete this equation. Compare your results and see if there is a clear, concise, and consistent equation among all staff. For a real challenge, ask your board members to do the same at their next board meeting. I can predict that your board members will come up with about as many equations as there are board members.

But, defining “X” for your United Way is only the first of the two questions you need to answer. The second question is: How does including United Way in the equation make “X” greater? You must be able to demonstrate the value your United Way adds to the equation, or donors will not see the need to be a part of the equation.

The inability to describe the value of United Way is why a lot of donors designate their contribution. We have done enough research with local United Ways to find that lack of understanding about what United Way brings to the equation is the number one or number two reason why donors designate at most United Ways.

The United Ways that struggle the most are the ones that think their value is to raise a lot of money. Their equations look a lot like this:

Donors + $6.8 million = X

Our research with donors clearly shows that very few donors care about the total amount raised by United Way. An equation based on the total raised by a workplace campaign is meaningless to most donors. The equation is most effective when you can list what United Way does in order to achieve your “X.” For example:

Donors + United Way that convenes and leads the entire community to reduce poverty by identifying and implementing effective poverty-reduction programs with demonstrated success = Reduce the number of people living in poverty by 25,000 by 2025

This type of equation answers both questions, so that donors can see why their contribution plus their United Way results in a better community. The equation does not need to talk about every last thing that United Way does – it would be much too complicated and complex. Make a list of the value that your United Way adds to a donor’s contribution and then pick one or two key benefits and plug them into your equation.

This equation really is simple math, involving the addition of just two items. But, it is not a simple equation for most United Ways to solve. If it has been a long time since you had to do math, then ease back into math by tackling “X” this month and your value as a United Way next month. By the end of the year, you will be solving this equation.

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