Resource Development

Are the Times Changing?

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One of the most common refrains I hear from United Ways is that the times are changing. Society is changing, technology is changing, the economy is changing, and even competition for charitable giving is changing.

Just consider this headline from an article in the New York Times: “United Way, Faced With Fewer Donors, Is Giving Away Less.”  You can easily attribute the downward trend in the number of donors to changes in society, technology, the economy, and competition – among other reasons. As you would expect, the article talks about corporate downsizing, increasing competition for charitable dollars, and donors choosing to designate their contribution or just by-pass United Way and give directly.

There are a variety of United Way directors quoted in the article saying things like “There is a disconnect between what United Ways do and what people think they do and the reason for that disconnect is our ineptness at explaining what we do” or “We drive the agencies nuts because they don’t know from year to year what they will get.”

The article also shares some of the strategies being used by United Ways to counteract this trend. For example, United Ways are focusing on growing leadership giving, which according to the article presents a new challenge: “United Way is now competing more with its member agencies to raise money from the wealthiest people.” Another strategy mentioned in the article for stemming the downward trend in the number of donors is allowing donors to give to charities of their choice – designations.

If all this sounds strangely familiar, it should. The New York Times article I am referring to was published on November 9, 1997. No, that is not a typo. The year was 1-9-9-7 or just over 21 years ago. Nearly everything that was mentioned in the article still applies today – over the past 21 years the challenges mentioned in the article have not gone away – they have become the new reality.

Solutions to these external changes are not easy. Instead of being on the receiving end of all these changes, what if United Ways led change? United Ways can change conditions in their community, but that change will not be measured by the number of donors or how much money is given away. United Ways that exist to impact their communities, what we refer to as issue-focused United Ways, are creating change in community conditions by reducing the number of homeless or increasing the number of high school graduates, as examples.

Issue-focused United Ways exist to measurably change a critical issue in their community. Their success comes from measuring lives changed, not from how much money was raised or distributed to partner agencies. An issue focus is one solution to the changes facing United Ways today. Does it make changes in society, technology, the economy, or competition go away? Of course not, but an issue focus allows United Ways to be relevant, sustainable, and impactful in spite of these changes. You can learn more about the Issue Focus Model on our website and learn more about how one issue-focused United Way is relevant, sustainable, and impactful in their community.

It may not be surprising that the New York Times article still applies today, but it is probably disappointing. We all hope that the New York Times will be able to write a different article about United Ways 20 years from now, but that will require United Ways to lead change rather than be crushed by change.

2018 Great Rivers Conference

We invite you to join us at the upcoming 2018 Great Rivers Conference, a regional United Way conference being held from March 5th-8th in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gary and I will be presenting two sessions at this conference:

 

CEO Workshop: Leading Your United Way to a Successful Future   

On March 6th, we will be presenting a special session exclusively for United Way CEOs, Executive Directors, and Presidents. This session will show you how to lead your United Way to a successful future by transforming to an issue focus.

As the issue-focused experts, we will show you the power of an issue focus to simplify your United Way's message, diversify your resources, and maximize your impact. We will take an in-depth look at a variety of progressive issue-focused United Ways of all sizes, as we share stories of their successes and challenges. You will learn about the four essential steps for becoming a successful issue-focused United Way and the importance of including all of your stakeholders in the process. This session will provide you with a deeper understanding of what it means to be issue-focused and the knowledge you need to lead your United Way to a successful future.

Strengthen Your Financial Position by Effectively Diversifying Your Resources               

On March 7th, we will be presenting a session about diversifying your resources. We know workplace campaigns have been the bedrock of United Way fundraising for decades, but future financial stability will depend on effectively diversifying resources beyond workplace campaigns.

In this session, we will explore several proven methods for diversifying resources that will allow your United Way to strengthen your financial position in the future. We will begin by discussing a variety of possibilities for diversifying resources and evaluating the requirements and potential for each possibility. You will learn how to implement these possibilities to diversify your resources, illustrated by examples from progressive United Ways. Strengthen your United Way's financial position by learning how to effectively diversify your resources at this session.

For more information and to register for the 2018 Great Rivers Conference, visit https://unitedwaywi.site-ym.com/page/GRC2018. We hope to see you at one or both of our sessions in March!

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Great Rivers – Great Times in Green Bay!

Gary and I headed back from Green Bay, Wisconsin last night after attending the 2017 Great Rivers Conference. It was a wonderful conference and we enjoyed meeting with United Ways from across the Midwest!

While we were at the conference, we presented two sessions and had a lot of great discussions with United Ways about how we can guide them in transforming to an issue focus.

During our first session, "Positioning Your United Way for 2020: What You Must Plan & Start Doing Today," we started by talking about the common communication, resource development, and impact challenges facing United Ways across the country. We then asked United Ways to think about the important question of why their United Way exists and whether they are fundraising-focused or issue-focused. Finally, we discussed the strategies being used by progressive United Ways, such as various issue investment methods, donor-centric methods, and creating a call to action.

Our second session, "Effectively Communicate on Social Media," focused on what people want to know from your United Way and how to use social media effectively, based on our research with United Way donors and community members across the country. We shared examples of how to inform and engage your donors and community members, and attendees had discussions about best practices and ideas for using social media effectively.

We are so glad we had the opportunity to connect with so many wonderful people while attending the conference, and look forward to working with some of you in the near future!