Trust & Accountability

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 www.perspectives4uw.com/issue-focus. 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 www.perspectives4uw.com/develop-your-issue-focus.

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Doing It Right! United Way of Snohomish County (Everett, WA)

In this day and age, every United Way needs to communicate their financial accountability to their donors and the community. In many cases, United Ways have a financial accountability Web page stuffed full of language that sounds like it comes straight from the small print of a financial institution Web site. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. One United Way that has figured out how to communicate financial accountability in an effective and efficient manner is United Way of Snohomish County (Everett, Washington).

On the Financial Information page of their Web site, United Way of Snohomish County includes information about why people should support United Way of Snohomish County, and how much money was raised to achieve their vision. Links within the page lead to their vision, annual report, and their code of ethics. Related links on the right side of the Web page lead to a simple explanation of where the money comes from and goes, as well as their 990 and audit report.

What are they doing right?

First, all of the financial information a donor might want is available from this page. When donors seek financial information, often all they are looking for is what United Way did with their contribution. By starting with the vision of United Way of Snohomish County, this question is answered, with additional information available in the annual report. If a donor truly wants more information, the links to “Where the Money Comes From” and “Where Your Contribution Goes” provide even more detail. Finally, seriously concerned donors will find links to the audit report and 990 filings, should they need to know every last financial detail. Most importantly, United Way of Snohomish County provides all of the information a donor might need right from this page.

Second, their trust is based on their people. Perhaps most obvious is the picture of Andrew Ballard, chairman of their board of directors. If United Way of Snohomish County was a bank, perhaps they could build a big brick or marble building so solid it conveys a trust that comes from the permanence of the building. In this case, trust is conveyed by Mr. Ballard’s picture as the person looking after the financial accountability of United Way of Snohomish County. This makes United Way of Snohomish County personal, an organization overseen by someone you know and can trust from your community.  

The personal aspect of their financial accountability continues with the link for Jeri Wilkes, the chief financial officer, and her phone number, on the right side of the Web page. This screams out “If you have a question about our finances, contact Jeri.” And it doesn’t stop with just Jeri – you can also contact Ethics Officer Becky Mackenstadt, whose phone number and e-mail are listed at the bottom of the Web page. United Way of Snohomish County actually connects their staff to many pages on their Web site, not just this page. Making United Way personal, by connecting board members, volunteers, and staff, builds trust and accountability.

Not only do we recognize how United Way of Snohomish County communicated financial accountability as being worthy of emulation by other United Ways, but last year, Jeri Wilkes, chief financial officer of United Way of Snohomish County, was named Finance Officer of the Year by United Way Worldwide. This recognition is bestowed upon a financial officer in the United Way system that exhibits outstanding leadership in financial management, and is seen as a role model inside and outside of their organization. Congratulations to Jeri!

Demonstrating financial accountability is a must for all United Ways, but for many United Ways it is merely an afterthought. At United Way of Snohomish County, financial accountability is clearly demonstrated in an effective and efficient manner. If you haven’t visited the financial accountability page of your Web site recently, you might want to take a look and see how some of the ideas used by United Way of Snohomish County might improve how you communicate financial accountability to your donors and community. United Way of Snohomish County, you are Doing It Right!

 

To Designate or Not to Designate, Why is the Question

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I recently read a newspaper article about a United Way that had to cut-back their allocations to partner agencies because too many donors designated their contributions. When asked about the cut-back, the president of the United Way blamed those donors who designated their contribution. Blaming donors for having to cut-back allocations is not only bad public relations, it is just plain wrong. The blame for increased designations lies with the United Way.

It may come as a surprise to some United Way presidents, but two of the most common reasons why your donors designate are the direct result of what your United Way does, or rather what it does not do. Our research for local United Ways has found many donors designate because they have no idea what their United Way does or they do not trust their local United Way.

Your donors make the ultimate decision about whether or not to designate their contribution, but they make that decision based on their understanding and trust of your United Way. If you are not clearly articulating what your United Way does, then you are encouraging your donors to designate. When donors do not understand what is accomplished with their contributions, they will designate to local nonprofits because they know exactly what Goodwill, the local Boys and Girls Club, or the Boy Scouts do. If you are not demonstrating that donors can trust your United Way, then you are encouraging your donors to designate. When donors think United Way misspends or doesn’t account for their contribution, then they will designate to a local nonprofit they trust. You must make the case to donors how their contribution makes a difference in your community, and that your United Way can be trusted to be accountable for their contribution.

It may be impossible to convince every donor to stop designating; however, every United Way can reduce their level of designations by communicating impact and reinforcing trust. You can learn more about communicating impact from our webinar IAR – Three Letters for Simple & Effective Community Impact and learn more about building trust with your donors from our webinar SST – Three Letters for Successful United Way Campaigns and Communication.

There are many things that may be beyond the control of your United Way, like the economy or unemployment, but designations are not one of them. Take control of your designations by making it clear to every donor exactly what your United Way does and build a trusting relationship with your donors. 

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