Who Cares?


Your donors do NOT care about . . .

  •  The number of partner agencies that receive funding from your United Way
  •  The number of programs funded by your United Way
  •  The number of hours spent by volunteers to determine your allocations
  •  Your number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers
  •  The number of priority areas of investment or targeted goals at your United Way
  •  How many of your workplace campaigns had 100% participation
  •  Your total number of donors and the average amount contributed by your donors
  •  How much donors designated to other nonprofit organizations
  •  How many people used your volunteer connection website
  •  The number of people in your leadership giving society and how much they contributed
  •  How much money was invested in each of your priority areas of investment
  •  How much money was raised at your social fundraising event
  •  The amounts contributed by your top 20 workplace campaigns
  •  How many people are on your board of directors
  •  Your campaign goal

. . . because none of these things tell a donor why they should give to your United Way.

Your donors care about . . .

1)  What issue does your United Way address?

2)  What is your United Way doing to impact your issue?

3)  What results has your United Way achieved to impact your issue?

. . . because when your donors know these three things, they will know why they should contribute to your United Way. Learn more about the power of one issue and one bold goal to attract donors by becoming issue-focused on our website here.

Successful United Ways tell donors what they want and need to know.

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Six Simple Sayings Every United Way Should Know

Over the course of working with United Ways for the past 27 years, I have come up with a variety of different sayings which find their way into my speech on a fairly regular basis. I have selected six of the sayings I use most frequently for your consideration:

Why comes before how. You need to decide first why your United Way exists, and then you should decide how your United Way is going to achieve your why.

It is better to be known for one thing than to be known for nothing. If trying to explain everything your United Way does is nearly impossible for your staff and board, then don’t expect your donors to “get it.”

Your issue is the issue. Our donor research finds that between 40-60% of local United Way donors do not know what issues their local United Way addresses, and the number one thing donors want to know from your United Way is the issues you are addressing.

Measuring the right thing imprecisely is better than precisely measuring the wrong thing. United Ways using workplace campaign thermometers are precisely measuring the wrong thing.

Some donors who designate do so because they don’t know the alternative. When a donor does not know what United Way does, they will designate their contribution to a charity they know.

More fundraising staff results in more fundraising. More impact staff results in more impact. Your United Way is not a community impact organization if you are staffed for fundraising.

Do you agree with these simple sayings? Do you disagree? Feel free to post a comment, or shoot me an e-mail at


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?”