Newspapers and United Ways

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There was an interesting talk show on NPR several weeks ago about the demise of the printed newspaper. For nearly three decades, newspaper circulation has declined every single year. On a yearly basis, the decline in circulation was never very large, but it has been consistent. As a result, nearly 2,000 newspapers have closed or merged in the past 15 years.

Several newspaper executives participated in the show, and their consistent theme was that if newspapers are going to survive, they must no longer think of themselves as publishers of a printed newspaper, but rather as news content providers. Because when you look closely at the statistics, you will find that people still want to read their news, but now they do so online. This presents an entirely new challenge for newspaper publishers turned content providers - how to make money providing content online.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The reason why newspapers exist has not changed over time. People still want to be informed about the news of the day. What has changed is how newspaper publishers provide the news.

I believe that United Ways have an even bigger challenge than newspaper publishers. Although many workplace campaigns are declining, I am not sure that donors are looking for a more technologically advanced way to give to United Way. The challenge facing United Ways is one of relevance – why would a donor want to give to United Way?

No one buys a newspaper because the newspaper publisher has a goal of selling 35,000 copies of the newspaper. Similarly, we know from our research with United Way donors that no one donates to United Way because they have a campaign goal of $3 million.

Newspaper publishers figured out that their “why” is obtaining and distributing news. For many years, how they distributed the news was via a printed newspaper. United Ways need to figure out their “why.” Workplace campaigns are not why a United Way exists. Workplace campaigns are how United Ways accomplish their “why.”

There are two primary reasons why a United Way exists. Some United Ways exist to fund deserving programs provided by local nonprofit organizations – these are fundraising-focused United Ways. Other United Ways exist to make long-term measurable change on a social issue – these are issue-focused United Ways.

The “why” for many fundraising-focused United Ways is funding deserving programs provided by local nonprofit organizations. Perhaps part of the reason why workplace campaigns are declining is that donors no longer value and need their United Way to provide funding to deserving programs provided by local nonprofit organizations. The younger generation may never truly value or need their United Way to provide funding to deserving programs provided by local nonprofit organizations.

For issue-focused United Ways, examples of their “why” include reducing poverty, increasing the graduation rate, and all children enter kindergarten ready to learn. Donors to issue-focused United Ways donate because they value and need their United Way to reduce poverty, increase the graduation rate, or have all children enter kindergarten ready to learn. Our research has found that most United Way donors prefer the “why” of an issue focus over the “why” of a fundraising focus - especially the younger generation.

Newspaper publishers and United Ways are both facing challenging times. Newspaper publishers are on the path to future success because they understand their “why” and have changed their “how” accordingly. For United Ways to succeed in the future, it will be essential to look beyond the “how” of the workplace campaign and consider why United Ways exist.

If this topic interests you, you may want to check out these previous blog posts I have written about the existential question of why United Ways exist: Why Before How and Can Your Board Answer This Question?

 

Quote of the Month: April 2018

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Our April Quote of the Month comes from American novelist Ellen Glasgow:

“All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward.” – Ellen Glasgow

Recently, I was talking with the president/CEO of a United Way that was going through some challenging times. He told me his board knew that the circumstances required change and that they could not keep doing what they had always done. We spent the majority of our conversation talking about making positive change to move his United Way forward, and not just changing for the sake of change. Many United Ways are changing, but it is not always change that results in growth or movement forward. If your United Way is facing the need to change, take a look at how an issue focus could move your United Way forward. Recognizing the need for change is important, but determining how to change is critical to long-term success. If you have a quote you would like to share for our Quote of the Month, please let me know at gary@perspectives4uw.com

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Why United Way?

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In the past couple of weeks, several articles and editorials with ominous titles like “Do we still need the United Way?” have once again questioned the relevance of United Ways.

These articles reference all the challenges facing United Ways, such as: declining workplace campaigns, changing demographics, increasing competition, tax law changes, donor advised funds, technological opportunities for charitable giving, lack of understanding of United Way’s work, etc. Several decades ago, United Ways played an integral role in the charitable giving landscape but, with all of these new challenges, it is a role that is no longer needed if you believe these articles.

There is no question in my mind that United Ways are needed now more than ever before. But, the answer to the existential question of why United Ways are needed is dramatically different today. The role United Ways must play now is one of uniting communities to make change.

The goal can no longer be how much money is raised. The goal now must be community change such as increasing the number of high school graduates, reducing the number of homeless, or halting hunger. United Ways have the unique capability to convene their community, donors, volunteers, nonprofits, workplaces, governments, schools, and religious organizations to make measurable change.

We refer to the new role for United Ways as issue-focused. Issue-focused United Ways address a single issue, with a long-term bold goal for how they will change the issue. For example, a United Way focusing on the issue of early childhood education may have a bold goal such as “All children enter kindergarten ready to learn.”

For most United Ways, change is inevitable. It is not a question of if your United Way will need to change, but how your United Way will change. The challenges facing United Ways cannot be overcome by doing more of what United Ways have always done. Organizing more workplace campaigns will not mitigate the fact that workplace campaigns are declining – they will continue to decline. The change must start with a transformation of the role of United Way.

Our communities still need United Way to bring us together, to focus our time and money on addressing a critical community issue, and making measurable and long-lasting change. When United Ways unite communities to make change, no one will question the need for United Ways.

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Quote of the Month: March 2018

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Our March Quote of the Month comes from educator and journalist Helen Keller:

“Worse than being blind would be to be able to see but not have any vision.” – Helen Keller

Every United Way can clearly see what they want to do, but not every United Way has vision. A fundraising-focused United Way raises money for their partner agencies or to fund programs, and their vision is achieving their campaign goal. In recent years, as workplace campaigns have become more challenging, some fundraising-focused United Ways have stopped publicizing their campaign goals, making their vision invisible. Issue-focused United Ways address a single issue in their community, such as high school graduation or homelessness. The vision at issue-focused United Ways is achieving their bold goal – halting hunger, reducing poverty, or all children entering kindergarten ready to learn as examples. A bold goal is a crystal-clear vision that anyone in the community can understand and appreciate. Whether your United Way is fundraising-focused or issue-focused, seeing what you do is not enough – you must have vision to engage your community and donors. If you have a quote you would like to share for our Quote of the Month, please let me know at gary@perspectives4uw.com

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Quote of the Month: February 2018

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Our February Quote of the Month comes from author John C. Maxwell:

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – John C. Maxwell

It is all too easy to fall into the comfortable pattern of doing the same things every day, or in the case of United Ways, doing the same things year after year. Personally, we are not doing the same things every day we did as teenagers, nor will we be doing the same things every day when we are retired. Today’s social, cultural, technological, and economic environment demands that United Ways change from the ways of the past. Growth for United Ways should no longer be measured by the campaign goal. If a United Way is going to grow in today’s world, that growth will be measured by how a United Way impacts their community, such as reducing poverty, ending homelessness, or increasing the graduation rate. Issue-focused United Ways impact a single issue in their community, and their impact grows every year. When the time comes for your United Way to change, carefully consider how your United Way’s impact can grow in your community. If you have a quote you would like to share for our Quote of the Month, please let me know at gary@perspectives4uw.com

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