Donors

Is This Question Hard to Answer?

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Why does your United Way hold workplace campaigns? At first, this will seem like an easy question to answer. But, I would ask you to think about it at a deeper level – beyond raising money or because United Ways have always held workplace campaigns.

For some United Ways, holding workplace campaigns is about providing funding for local partner agencies and programs. United Ways promote the results of the funded programs to attract people to give to their workplace campaigns, and partner agencies use United Way funding to operate the programs that provide these results. There is a mutually reinforcing relationship between these United Ways and their partner agencies. Local partner agencies and programs rely on United Way to organize workplace campaigns to provide part of their funding. United Way relies on the partner agencies to provide results that are used to attract people to support the workplace campaigns. United Ways and partner agencies need each other to succeed.

Other United Ways might answer the question by saying they hold workplace campaigns to impact the education, income, and health needs of their community. The money raised from workplace campaigns allows United Way to invest in programs that will reduce poverty, increase the graduation rate, help the hungry, or provide mental health counseling as examples. These United Ways do not hold workplace campaigns to fund programs, but to impact or change conditions in their community. These United Ways ask people to support their workplace campaigns because of the issues or categories they address and not because of the partner agencies they support.

While there are plenty of United Ways that would give one of these two answers when asked why they hold workplace campaigns, can you see what is missing in these two answers? Neither of these two answers mention donors. These answers are all about partner agencies or impact, rather than about the donor. If your United Way is going to have effective workplace campaigns, your donors must be the primary reason why your United Way holds workplace campaigns, as they are the ones who are making the contributions.

Perhaps the best way to answer the question is to think of workplace campaigns as an invisible connector between your donors and what your donors what to accomplish. Your workplace campaigns give your donors the opportunity to support partner agencies, impact an issue in their community, or even to support a local nonprofit they care about by designating their contribution. Your workplace campaigns allow your donors to fulfill their desire to give back, help people, change someone’s life, feel good about themselves, and/or make the community a better place.

Based on our donor research, few donors give to United Way simply because it is an easy and efficient method of charitable giving. Donors have other choices for giving if they are looking for an easy and efficient method of charitable giving such as the internet, GoFundMe, and Facebook fundraisers. Your donors are the reason your United Way holds workplace campaigns, and donors give to your workplace campaign because of what they can achieve by doing so.

As you plan for your upcoming workplace campaigns, start with your donors. Be sure that your workplace campaigns connect donors to what they want to do and help your donors feel like they made a difference. Make your workplace campaign all about your donors – not all about United Way.

When you start thinking about holding workplace campaigns to meet the needs and desires of your donors, you will start to think much differently about your campaign brochure. Our next Master Class webinar, “Get Them to Give: Designing Your Campaign Brochure” on Tuesday, April 9th addresses the topic of what donors want and expect in your campaign brochure. Consider joining us for this one-hour webinar and we will show you how to design a campaign brochure that allows your donors to fulfill their needs and desires.

In Defense of Designations

The issue of designations can be controversial. While some United Ways promote designations as a way to encourage donors to give, others discourage designations by placing restrictions on which organizations can be designated to or by requiring a minimum designation amount. Still, there are other United Ways that do not allow designations in any form.

While some United Ways insist that allowing designations runs in opposition to the spirit of the United Way movement, others insist that promoting designations embodies the historical roots of the United Way movement.

The reality is that every United Way and every community served by a United Way is unique. Therefore, there is no single, definitive answer for how all United Ways should handle designations.

With that in mind, there are three tenets that a United Way must consider when determining how to address donor designations: 

  • Donor designations are not inherently good or bad.

  • The value of designations depends on the individual United Way’s priorities and community.

  • Therefore, United Ways should select their approach to designations based on their unique situation.

These three points may not seem ground-breaking, but they are essential in determining whether or not designations are right for your United Way. Take for instance the question of whether or not your United Way should allow designations to any 501(c)3 in your community.

It’s easy to understand why a United Way might not want to allow designations to any local nonprofit. A United Way that accepts designations of this type has no control over where those donated dollars are invested in the community. Not only that, but it takes a tremendous amount of work to process donations when donors are designating to everything from the regional food bank to local churches.

If designations of this type limit a United Way’s ability to make strategic investments in the community and cuts into already limited staff time, when would a United Way want to consider allowing donors to make designations to any local nonprofit agency?

Allowing such designations makes sense when – above all else – a local United Way sees itself as a fundraiser. If a United Way prioritizes mobilizing as many dollars as possible during campaign, the best way to do that is to allow donors to give to whatever local nonprofits they want.

In the United States, there are examples of United Ways that have double and tripled their campaigns by encouraging donors to do all of their charitable giving – including church tithing – through United Way! For United Ways that define success according to the amount raised during campaign, there is no better way to maximize success than by allowing donations to be directed to any local nonprofit.

Of course, not every United Way defines success according to campaign. For United Ways that determine success according to measurable impact made in the community, the investment of staff time to process designations is likely not the most effective way to support impact work.

Every United Way is unique, so there is no single right answer when it comes to handling designations. Whether your United Way allows designations with no questions asked, places restrictions on designation amounts or recipients, or bans designations completely, your United Way needs to make the choice that best supports your goals.

If your United Way is focused on implementing community impact, you should assess whether or not staff time currently spent processing designations could be better spent working on impact initiatives. If your United Way wants to raise as much money as possible, you will be well-served to consider redirecting staff efforts to encouraging designations.

Whatever your United Way’s priorities, it is worth looking at your relationship with designations and assessing whether or not that relationship supports your United Way’s goals.

How to Survive Philanthropy Cloud

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I’m worried about Philanthropy Cloud.

Not as it exists now – available exclusively to United Ways. I am worried about what will happen to United Ways when Philanthropy Cloud is made available to all nonprofits.

Here’s why: Philanthropy Cloud has the potential to put United Ways at odds with not just their vetted partner agencies and programs but every other charitable cause too. When Philanthropy Cloud is made available to all nonprofits, the easy and exclusive access to workplaces that United Ways once enjoyed will be eradicated, and fundraising will be every organization for itself.

When Philanthropy Cloud is adopted by workplace campaigns and the platform is open to nonprofits other than United Way and its partner agencies, the Philanthropy Cloud platform will have commandeered the traditional benefits of giving through United Way. When Philanthropy Cloud is open to all nonprofits, United Way will no longer be the easiest way for employees to donate to a wide variety of local nonprofit organizations – with just a few clicks of the button, Philanthropy Cloud will allow employees to give to whichever organizations or causes they choose. When workplaces adopt Philanthropy Cloud, United Way will no longer be the only way to ensure donations go to worthy organizations – with its integration with GuideStar, Philanthropy Cloud will put the power to vet nonprofits at donors’ fingertips.

If United Ways are no longer the easiest way to give to many worthy causes or the easiest way to ensure donations go to worthy organizations, how will United Ways be able to sell themselves?

The conversation about the benefits of giving to United Way will have to fully shift away from the process of giving to United Way to the outcomes of giving to United Way. United Ways utilizing Philanthropy Cloud will need to clearly articulate their relevance in terms of the good they do in their communities.

However, this brings us to another challenge.

The current reality is that when many United Ways report results, they’re reporting the outcomes of partner programs – not their own work. Any remotely astute donor recognizes that all the summer meals or after-school programs or mental health interventions their United Way references in an annual report are really the result of another agency’s work. With increasing awareness of overhead, many donors are left wondering why they wouldn’t make their donations directly to the organizations “actually doing the work.”

Of course, no United Way is going to stop providing funds to partner programs and start only providing direct services. So, the question becomes: How can United Ways that lack their own unique programming restructure their relationships with their partner programs and agencies in order to have their own results?

For many United Ways, the solution will be fully and truly implementing community impact.

Since 2003, United Ways throughout the system have been adopting and experimenting with community impact. The central tenants of community impact are clear and familiar, and adopting community impact allows the focus on United Ways’ work to shift from the funding United Ways provide local programs to the work United Ways do to develop and implement impact strategies in partnership with others. Convening and guiding collaboration and partnerships to identify new solutions is a result that resonates with donors. Donors like knowing that their donations fund innovative partnerships that produce impactful results.

While implementing community impact can be a significant departure from what some United Ways are currently doing and therefore require a significant investment of effort by staff and board members to reset the priorities of their United Way, I can see no other downsides.

Transitioning to community impact allows United Ways to secure more grants, more deeply impact their community, and – most importantly in the world of Philanthropy Cloud – help United Ways ensure their long-term relevance by giving them their own results to sell.

To survive when Philanthropy Cloud is available to all nonprofits, United Ways will need to strengthen the products they have to sell. Although this will certainly be challenging for many United Ways, stronger products will mean making investments more strategically and will therefore mean greater local impact.  

For all my worries about Philanthropy Cloud, I think the looming challenges of an open Philanthropy Cloud platform will ultimately lead to the start of a more impactful and relevant chapter for United Ways.