2018 Great Rivers Conference

We invite you to join us at the upcoming 2018 Great Rivers Conference, a regional United Way conference being held from March 5th-8th in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gary and I will be presenting two sessions at this conference:

 

CEO Workshop: Leading Your United Way to a Successful Future   

On March 6th, we will be presenting a special session exclusively for United Way CEOs, Executive Directors, and Presidents. This session will show you how to lead your United Way to a successful future by transforming to an issue focus.

As the issue-focused experts, we will show you the power of an issue focus to simplify your United Way's message, diversify your resources, and maximize your impact. We will take an in-depth look at a variety of progressive issue-focused United Ways of all sizes, as we share stories of their successes and challenges. You will learn about the four essential steps for becoming a successful issue-focused United Way and the importance of including all of your stakeholders in the process. This session will provide you with a deeper understanding of what it means to be issue-focused and the knowledge you need to lead your United Way to a successful future.

Strengthen Your Financial Position by Effectively Diversifying Your Resources               

On March 7th, we will be presenting a session about diversifying your resources. We know workplace campaigns have been the bedrock of United Way fundraising for decades, but future financial stability will depend on effectively diversifying resources beyond workplace campaigns.

In this session, we will explore several proven methods for diversifying resources that will allow your United Way to strengthen your financial position in the future. We will begin by discussing a variety of possibilities for diversifying resources and evaluating the requirements and potential for each possibility. You will learn how to implement these possibilities to diversify your resources, illustrated by examples from progressive United Ways. Strengthen your United Way's financial position by learning how to effectively diversify your resources at this session.

For more information and to register for the 2018 Great Rivers Conference, visit https://unitedwaywi.site-ym.com/page/GRC2018. We hope to see you at one or both of our sessions in March!

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Great Rivers – Great Times in Green Bay!

Gary and I headed back from Green Bay, Wisconsin last night after attending the 2017 Great Rivers Conference. It was a wonderful conference and we enjoyed meeting with United Ways from across the Midwest!

While we were at the conference, we presented two sessions and had a lot of great discussions with United Ways about how we can guide them in transforming to an issue focus.

During our first session, "Positioning Your United Way for 2020: What You Must Plan & Start Doing Today," we started by talking about the common communication, resource development, and impact challenges facing United Ways across the country. We then asked United Ways to think about the important question of why their United Way exists and whether they are fundraising-focused or issue-focused. Finally, we discussed the strategies being used by progressive United Ways, such as various issue investment methods, donor-centric methods, and creating a call to action.

Our second session, "Effectively Communicate on Social Media," focused on what people want to know from your United Way and how to use social media effectively, based on our research with United Way donors and community members across the country. We shared examples of how to inform and engage your donors and community members, and attendees had discussions about best practices and ideas for using social media effectively.

We are so glad we had the opportunity to connect with so many wonderful people while attending the conference, and look forward to working with some of you in the near future!

 

Where Did Your Donors Go?

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Many United Ways have faced the challenge of decreasing numbers of donors. Frequently, United Ways tell us that their donor rolls have dwindled over the years, no matter how hard they try to attract and retain new donors.

So, if you are asking “Where did your donors go?” you would not be alone. The simple answer is that your donors have not gone anywhere. Our research has found that over half of all people who did not give to United Way this year, have given to United Way in the past. Think about that for a moment. When you walk down the street, visit the mall, or attend a sporting event, one out of every two people you see will have given to United Way in the past. Your donors, or former donors, are all around you.

While your donors are still in your community, they may not be where you last left them. Many of these former donors are no longer employed at companies where you are running workplace campaigns. Some of these donors have retired, have left the workplace, and are no longer supporting United Way. Some of these donors are now employed at organizations that do not have a workplace campaign, and are no longer supporting United Way. In fact, our research has found that one of the top reasons former donors do not give to United Way is that they were not asked.

To get these former donors back, you will need to offer your donors an opportunity to engage with your United Way outside of the workplace campaign. You must reach out to your former donors and ask them to engage with your United Way through affinity groups, special events, volunteerism, and alternative giving opportunities. These engagement efforts must be more than putting a “Donate” button on your Web site and hoping former donors find it. Providing opportunities for donors to engage with your United Way is intentional and deliberate work. You must put the same intentional and deliberate effort into reaching out to donors in your community as you do to organizing and conducting workplace campaigns.

But, while our research has found that some former donors no longer give because they are not asked, even more former donors do not give because they prefer other charities. If a donor has given to United Way in the past, and no longer gives to United Way because they prefer other charities, what went wrong? The answer from our research is that most United Way donors do not understand the impact of their contribution, they do not know what their contribution accomplished – in short, they do not know what United Way did with their contributions.

Attracting these former donors back will require United Way to articulate a simple value proposition, such as “When you give to United Way you are reducing poverty” or “Giving to United Way ends homelessness.” Value propositions like these make it clear to a donor what their contribution will accomplish, but the ability to articulate these kind of value propositions requires that your United Way has a clear focus.

An issue-focused United Way has a clear focus. Issue-focused United Ways address a single issue like poverty, hunger, early childhood education, homelessness, or the graduation rate as examples. They have a bold goal like “By 2025, reduce poverty by 50%” or “90% of all children ready for Kindergarten by 2020.” By focusing on one issue with a single bold goal, issued-focused United Ways are easily able to articulate a value proposition which attracts and engages donors.

Engagement opportunities like affinity groups, special events, volunteerism, and alternative giving opportunities are not new to United Ways, and many United Ways are already doing these things. But, the difference is issue-focused United Ways form affinity groups to reduce poverty, or hold special events to end homelessness for example. Issue-focused United Ways provide opportunities for people to volunteer to increase the graduation rate, and provide alternative giving opportunities to end hunger just to name a few. Issue-focused United Ways offer former donors opportunities to engage with United Way and donate to impact an issue in their community.

It is not difficult to find your former donors; they are all around you. Starting an affinity group or holding a special event outside of the workplace campaign will not bring your former donors back by themselves. It is essential to have a clear value proposition so that your donors will know what their contribution will accomplish. The challenge is finding your clear focus that resonates with donors.

Becoming issue-focused has many other benefits for United Ways, including reduced designations, diversified resources, and engaging the younger generation. Find out if an issue focus is right for your United Way with our Introduction to an Issue Focus Board Retreat or give us a call and we’ll talk.

 

2016 Michigan Association of United Ways State Conference

 
 

Gary and I attended the 2016 Michigan Association of United Ways State Conference at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, Michigan from June 22nd to 24th. We had great weather at a beautiful location and fun was had by all! (How can you not have fun when you get a complimentary ride down the Crystal Coaster?)

Gary and I jointly presented a session called “Donor-Centric: Leave No Donor Behind,” which was based on our research studies and strategic planning conducted for dozens of United Ways. During this session, we explained how to make your United Way more donor-centric and how community impact can strengthen your relationship with donors. We discussed how to ensure that your impact/investment, campaign, and communication activities include information essential for meeting donor expectations. We received good feedback and had some great conversations with attendees after our session.

Gary moderated a great session called “Community Impact Meets Resource Development,” which explored how local United Ways are combining their community impact and resource development efforts. This session featured the stories and progress of United Way of Midland County, as told by Holly Miller, their Vice President of Communication, Outreach, and Impact, and United Way of Southwest Michigan, as told by Rachel Wade, their Vice President of Impact and Development. Holly and Rachel talked about how their United Ways are working to bring community impact and resource development together, and offered great advice about being intentional, open and transparent, and communicating to all stakeholders. Perhaps the best quote of the day, coming from Holly, was “Silos are for farmers” as she talked about breaking down the walls between resource development and community impact, and developing an internal culture where all staff have a role to play in community impact and resource development.

We also attended some wonderful sessions on a variety of topics at the conference, and want to thank Scott, Janine, Nancy, Beth, and the staff at Michigan Association of United Ways for all of the hard work they put into making this year’s conference so great!

We enjoyed meeting with Michigan United Ways and look forward to attending the conference again next year!

 

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?”