Tell Your Donors "It's You - Not Us"


I’m not talking about wording some kind of harsh breakup. I’m talking about the best way you can help your stakeholders understand how they can make a difference in your community.

When you’re talking to your stakeholders, use YOU not WE. In other words, focus your marketing on the impact your stakeholders have instead of framing impact as the result of United Way’s work.

The unfortunate reality is that many United Ways have a bad habit of only talking about themselves. For years, United Ways had to convince their communities of United Way’s merit. Statements about United Way had to be made like: “We vet the organizations your dollars support. We invest in the community where the need is greatest.” While there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with these statements, donor preferences have shifted, and United Ways need to catch up.

Your donors – especial those of younger generations – want to be more involved. They feel a sense of personal responsibility to make the world a better place. They want to understand how they are making the world a better place – not how United Way makes the world a better place.

To better address this generation of donors’ priorities, your language needs to shift. You must stop talking just about United Way’s investment and fundraising process and help stakeholders understand how an investment in United Way changes the community. When communicating with current and potential donors, use phrases like: “You have the power to help the community. When you give, you’re making a difference where it’s needed most.” Phrases that focus on the power of an individual to make a difference will resonate more strongly than messages that focus on United Way as a mechanism for making a difference.

It is important to mention that there is an exception to the You-Not-We rule, as it is possible for United Ways to effectively use WE in their marketing if the meaning of WE is broadened. To appeal to younger donors, WE can no longer mean just United Way; WE must mean your United Way and all your stakeholders that want to make a difference in the community.

To broaden the meaning of WE in your marketing, use signal words like TOGETHER or UNITED. Words like this help your supporters understand that change requires everyone pitching in. Saying “Together, we will end homelessness” is far more compelling than “With your support, United Way will end homelessness.”

As you begin to prepare for campaign season, keep the You-Not-We rule in mind. Remember that younger donors do not want transactional experiences with nonprofits – they want to know that they are playing a key role in changing the world. Just a simple shift in language can help your stakeholders better understand why they should support your United Way.