The Story of Julie Capaldi and the United Way of Pickens County

Have you experienced a loss in your donor base? Do you feel like you need to better connect with your donors and community members?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you will be able to relate to what Julie Capaldi experienced at United Way of Pickens County (Easley, SC) as President over the past 24 years.

Julie recently shared her story of how United Way of Pickens County experienced a significant loss in their donor base and how she turned things around and now better connects with donors and community members, while riding the Nonprofit Story Tour bus.

During the video where Julie shares her story, she talks about how essential it is to communicate impact about a specific issue and to share "S-S-T" with donors and community members. "S-S-T" is our acronym that we first shared with United Way of Pickens County in 2011, which stands for Statistics, Stories, and Trust & Accountability. Based on our years of experience in conducting research for United Ways, we have found that about one-third of donors want to see statistics, about one-third want to hear stories, and about one-third care about trust and accountability.

Julie also talks about "a consultant from Michigan" and gives a shout-out to Gary at approximately 10 minutes into the video, referring to Gary Goscenski, one of our Issue-Focused Consultants here at Perspectives. Gary has been working with Julie and her team at United Way of Pickens County since 2011 to focus and maximize their impact, resources, and communication.

On the homepage of our website, we share a quote from Julie, which says: "You were so right! We are a little United Way, and focusing on the issue of early childhood education and summer learning loss has resulted in raising more money from grants and campaigns, attracting new donors, and reduced designations. This is all we talk about – at campaign presentations, to donors, and to our community – and now everyone knows what United Way of Pickens County does in the community."

We love how Julie talks about how people felt moved to give to United Way of Pickens County when she shared a story about summer learning loss and their Camp iRock program. We encourage you to come along for the ride as Julie explains how focusing on a specific issue has been the key to engaging donors in the community – check out the video here.

To learn more about an issue focus, visit If you are interested in becoming issue-focused, you can find more information about how we can guide your United Way in your transformation at

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One Tough Job

This afternoon, Kasey and I spoke to a public relations class at Western Michigan University, our alma mater. The professor asked us to talk about public relations in nonprofit organizations, and specifically, public relations at United Ways. We both have a background in public relations, and a ton of experience with United Ways, so we were excited to share our knowledge with future public relations professionals.

When preparing our talk, we quickly came to this conclusion: public relations at United Ways is one tough job. This is not to say that public relations is ever easy, but that public relations at United Ways is really difficult. Three of the challenges that make public relations at United Ways more difficult than at other nonprofit organizations include: many stakeholders, finding the story, and limited resources.

Compared to most nonprofit organizations, there are significantly more “publics” who need public relations at United Ways, such as: donors, community, board, partner agencies, workplaces, and even clients for United Ways that provide direct services. Each of these publics has a unique relationship with United Way, making it impossible to have a one-size-fits-all public relations approach. Maintaining public relations with this many publics is one tough job.

Most nonprofit organizations have a straightforward story to tell, compared to a United Way. A United Way’s story is, at a minimum, complex and more often downright convoluted with a language all its own. For some United Ways, the story is not just a story of United Way, but a story of partner agencies and programs funded by United Way. All these stories make it incumbent on public relations to simplify, edit, filter, and distill in order to communicate the message effectively to all of the publics. Figuring out the public relations message for a United Way is one tough job.

Finally, the budget and resources available for public relations at many United Ways is very limited. At smaller United Ways, public relations is just one of the many responsibilities of the executive director or president, which means there is limited time for public relations. Smaller and mid-size United Ways rarely have the budget to outsource public relations services. In fact, many United Ways with the resources to be able to hire someone dedicated to public relations are conflicted when it comes to spending money on anything other than funding programs. Limited time makes public relations one tough job.

Combine more publics than you can shake a stick at, with a message that often requires a decoder ring, and just a couple of minutes at the end of the day to get the job done, and it is easy to see why public relations at a United Way is one tough job.

Kasey and I pulled no punches when we explained the challenge of public relations at United Ways to the students. We made certain the students understood the need for public relations at United Ways, despite the challenges. And before we walked out of the lecture hall, we explained to the students how effective public relations at a United Way impacts lives and the community.



Encouraging Supporters to Share Their Story

Is your United Way sharing stories on your website? If so, are they stories about your United Way or your partner agencies?

Many United Ways struggle with finding and sharing stories about their United Way. Most commonly, United Ways share stories about how community members have been helped by their partner agencies’ programs or about how those organizations are making an impact in the community. However, the problem with only sharing partner agencies’ stories is that your donors and community members will learn about what your partner agencies are doing, but not what your United Way is doing, and may therefore choose to contribute directly to your partner agencies instead of your United Way. This is why it is absolutely essential that you share stories about your United Way.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "I would share a story about our United Way if we had one, but we only have partner agency stories to share because we don’t offer any direct services." Or you may be thinking, "We already are sharing one really great story about someone who was helped by one of our United Way programs, but it is really difficult to find more stories we are able to share."

In our work with United Ways across the country, I have heard United Way staff members make comments like these, and I completely understand the struggle to tell your own story. However, the advice I give to these staff members is to share stories of people who "Live United" (people who give, advocate, volunteer, or serve on your board). Even if you don’t have stories to share of people who have been helped by your United Way, you should be able to share stories of donors, volunteers, or board members who have helped people in your community through their involvement with your United Way.

United Way of Greater Portland (Portland, ME) does a great job telling stories and they share stories of people who "Live United" on their website and on social media. Check out their amazing "LIVE UNITED storytelling library (LUbrary)" here and a previous blog post I wrote about them here.

One United Way that is promoting storytelling this month is United Way of Genesee County (Flint, MI). They have a webpage called "Love What Matters" on their website and they are asking community members who support their United Way through giving, volunteering, or serving to share their story.


United Way of Genesee County is then sharing the stories they receive throughout the month of February on social media and in their e-newsletter.

Consider doing what United Way of Greater Portland or United Way of Genesee County is doing, and share stories of people who are involved with your United Way. Your community will enjoy seeing and hearing about fellow community members who are helping to make a difference, and will be more likely to contribute once they learn about the impact of contributing to your United Way. Remember to tell stories about how your United Way is helping, and if you do talk about partner agencies’ programs, connect them back to your United Way.

If your United Way decides to become issue-focused, it will make storytelling a lot simpler. You will have one issue to communicate about and you will be able to explain how your United Way is making an impact on this issue in your community. Also, people want to know about results, not processes, so if you become issue-focused, your United Way will be able to communicate results about the progress you are making addressing the issue in your community. If you are interested in learning more about an issue focus, visit:


Volunteering & Seeing the Impact

My family and I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity of Kent County this fall in memory of my aunt Peg who passed away from cancer earlier this year. My aunt Peg volunteered for Habitat for Humanity of Kent County in the past, so my family and friends wanted to come together and do something that she loved doing in her memory. I was looking forward to volunteering with my family and friends to help make a difference in someone’s life, while spending time together and sharing stories of my aunt with one another.

The day we were scheduled to volunteer, I was prepared to paint walls, as that was the activity I had been told our group would be doing. However, when I arrived, I was informed I would be working on wood flooring instead. I was surprised and a little bit nervous, as I had never done a job like wood flooring before! But, with a quick overview of how to use some tools, including a miter saw, and some instructions about how to put the flooring down, I was ready to tackle the job with my team. I was the designated cutter, so I cut pieces to the appropriate lengths and helped to line them up and place them together. After the first few rows, my team got the hang of it and started moving along more efficiently. We made good progress and finished a large portion of the dining room floor, and I was proud to see the work we had accomplished at the end of the day.

Wood Flooring

My volunteering experience with Habitat for Humanity of Kent County turned out to be so empowering, as I was in a group with two other women working on a job none of us had experience doing. I learned that I was capable of using tools like a miter saw and laying down flooring, and I even enjoyed doing it!

On Tuesday, December 6th, I had the pleasure of attending the dedication ceremony at the house I had worked on and had the opportunity to see the entire house completed. The house was packed, as dozens and dozens of people showed up for the event. There were introductions, speeches, and gifts given, but my favorite part of the evening was when the new homeowner, Tiara Vandam, spoke.

As a volunteer, I was able to see and hear about the impact I had made for Tiara and her family, and it was so great to know the home was going to someone who was kind and deserving.

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In addition to hearing Tiara speak, I was able to read her story, which was included in the program at the dedication ceremony.


A few days after the ceremony, I received an e-mail from Habitat for Humanity of Kent County, thanking me for volunteering.


Habitat for Humanity of Kent County did a great job of communicating impact by sharing stories and results, and thanking their volunteers. My experience with Habitat for Humanity of Kent County was wonderful and I will be more likely to volunteer/donate to their organization in the future, knowing that I made a difference for a deserving family.

Habitat for Humanity of Kent County is a great example of making your volunteers’ experience great by communicating impact and thanking your volunteers. Remember it is important to build relationships with your volunteers by offering direct volunteerism opportunities at your United Way, rather than passing all of your volunteers through to partner agencies. Volunteers will be more likely to contribute to your United Way if their volunteering experience is with your United Way, rather than another organization.

Becoming issue-focused opens the door to direct volunteerism opportunities at your United Way, and increases engagement with your volunteers and donors. Check out our Web page about what it means to be issue-focused here.


Honoring & Supporting Moms This Mother’s Day

A donation has been made in your honor this Mother’s Day to help Bay Area mothers living in poverty provide for their families. We are touched by this generosity and hope you are, too. On behalf of the community we serve, thank you and Happy Mother’s Day.

These are the words your mom will see this Mother’s Day, if you visit United Way of the Bay Area’s Web site (San Francisco, California) and purchase a card for a small donation of only $5 for an e-card or $15 for a printed card. For just $5, you can honor your mom and support other moms in the Bay Area.

When you arrive on United Way of the Bay Area’s Web site, the Mother’s Day cards are the first thing you see. At the top of the homepage, a list of moms being honored is scrolling across the page. You are invited to choose a card for your mom and personalize it by including a message inside. Then, you select whether you would like United Way of the Bay Area to e-mail or mail the card to your mom.

I think this is a great idea and I love that it is tied to United Way of the Bay Area’s issue and bold goal, which is to cut Bay Area poverty in half by 2020.

United Way of the Bay Area is also promoting these Mother’s Day cards on social media. The posts explain that you can buy a Mother’s Day card for your mom, while also helping out other moms. My favorite post is the Facebook post (above right) that shares the story of a woman who was homeless five years ago and is now living in a home, working, and will be attending college – all with the help of United Way of the Bay Area. I love that this post shares a story of someone who was helped and communicates the impact that contributions have in the community.

By promoting these Mother’s Day cards on the homepage of their Web site and on social media, United Way of the Bay Area’s community members will see that their United Way is working on addressing the issue of poverty. In addition, the moms who receive the cards, as well as their friends and family, will also be aware of the issue. Therefore, United Way of the Bay Area will not only receive donations for these Mother’s Day cards to use toward meeting their bold goal and supporting moms living in poverty, but they will increase awareness among donors and community members for the issue they are addressing in the community.

It is essential to inform your donors and community members of a specific issue your United Way is addressing, as they want to know the impact of their contributions and how your United Way is making a difference.

United Way of the Bay Area’s Mother’s Day card idea is a simple way to inform and engage your donors and community members, while also making an impact on the issue you are addressing. Consider doing something similar at your United Way next Mother’s Day or the next holiday – but first, you must be focused on a specific issue.

We have helped United Ways across the country to take their community impact to the next level by adopting an issue focus. Learn more about an issue focus and our Introduction to an Issue Focus Board Retreat by visiting our Web site. Shoot me an e-mail or give me a call at (269) 657-5400 to find out how we can help your United Way maximize your impact, resources, and communication by adopting an issue focus.