Understand My Community

The Other Half

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For nearly 30 years, we have been conducting donor and community research for local United Ways throughout the United States. Over time, the questions we ask have changed – for example, we now ask about social media usage, but we no longer ask if people use email.

One of the questions we have consistently asked is: “If you did not give to United Way this past year, have you ever given to United Way?” We have found that the percentage of people who did not give to United Way this year but have given to United Way previously has increased over time. In every survey we have conducted since 2014, at least 50% of all people who did not give to United Way in the past year had given to United Way previously.

Here is a sobering thought: Half of all people who did not give to your United Way this year have given to United Way previously. When you walk down the sidewalk or through a store, take a moment and think that one out of every two people you see has probably given to United Way at some point in their lives but did not give to your United Way this year. It makes you want to grab them by the collar and ask them “Why aren’t you supporting United Way?” doesn’t it?

But, it is not their fault – you can’t blame them. The reality of the situation is that most of those people don’t give because they are no longer asked to give by their United Way. Perhaps they retired and are no longer exposed to a workplace campaign, or maybe they changed employment and now work at a company that does not have a workplace campaign.

The vast majority of people who did not give to United Way this year but have given previously did not give for any reason other than they were not asked to give. How do we know? Because when we asked them, most community members who have previously supported United Way indicated they would support United Way again if asked. This is especially true with retirees.

I can already hear some of you thinking “Hey! We give people an opportunity to give online on our website.” While this may be true, the challenge with providing an online giving opportunity is that your potential donors need to “find” the giving opportunity. Workplace campaigns reach out to potential donors by bringing the giving opportunity to the donor. Most charitable giving occurs because the charity brings the giving opportunity to the potential donor through direct mail, social media, a golf tournament, or even cookie sales. Online giving portals fail to do this.

For all of the United Ways that are wrapping up their workplace campaigns, it is now time to start working on reaching the other half of your donors. What giving opportunities can your United Way provide to engage your former donors such as special events, affinity groups, or alternative giving opportunities? There are United Ways that we have worked with that raise up to one-third of their total resources from these types of activities.

We are not suggesting that United Ways eliminate their workplace campaigns. Instead, we are suggesting that they actively seek to attract donors outside of the workplace campaign. Based on our research and the increasing percentage of people who have given to United Way previously, reaching donors outside of the workplace campaign will be essential to long-term success.

If attracting former donors is a priority for your United Way, let us know and we can help you explore potential opportunities for reaching donors and develop a plan based on the most effective and efficient methods for your United Way.

The other half of your donors are waiting. Now is the time to begin the other half of your fundraising.

P.S. Be sure to join us at 2:00 p.m. EST next Monday, February 4th for our webinar “Get Your Board Onboard: Secrets of the Engaged Board.” You can learn more about “Get Your Board Onboard: Secrets of the Engaged Board” and all our webinars here.

Where Did Your Donors Go?

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Many United Ways have faced the challenge of decreasing numbers of donors. Frequently, United Ways tell us that their donor rolls have dwindled over the years, no matter how hard they try to attract and retain new donors.

So, if you are asking “Where did your donors go?” you would not be alone. The simple answer is that your donors have not gone anywhere. Our research has found that over half of all people who did not give to United Way this year, have given to United Way in the past. Think about that for a moment. When you walk down the street, visit the mall, or attend a sporting event, one out of every two people you see will have given to United Way in the past. Your donors, or former donors, are all around you.

While your donors are still in your community, they may not be where you last left them. Many of these former donors are no longer employed at companies where you are running workplace campaigns. Some of these donors have retired, have left the workplace, and are no longer supporting United Way. Some of these donors are now employed at organizations that do not have a workplace campaign, and are no longer supporting United Way. In fact, our research has found that one of the top reasons former donors do not give to United Way is that they were not asked.

To get these former donors back, you will need to offer your donors an opportunity to engage with your United Way outside of the workplace campaign. You must reach out to your former donors and ask them to engage with your United Way through affinity groups, special events, volunteerism, and alternative giving opportunities. These engagement efforts must be more than putting a “Donate” button on your Web site and hoping former donors find it. Providing opportunities for donors to engage with your United Way is intentional and deliberate work. You must put the same intentional and deliberate effort into reaching out to donors in your community as you do to organizing and conducting workplace campaigns.

But, while our research has found that some former donors no longer give because they are not asked, even more former donors do not give because they prefer other charities. If a donor has given to United Way in the past, and no longer gives to United Way because they prefer other charities, what went wrong? The answer from our research is that most United Way donors do not understand the impact of their contribution, they do not know what their contribution accomplished – in short, they do not know what United Way did with their contributions.

Attracting these former donors back will require United Way to articulate a simple value proposition, such as “When you give to United Way you are reducing poverty” or “Giving to United Way ends homelessness.” Value propositions like these make it clear to a donor what their contribution will accomplish, but the ability to articulate these kind of value propositions requires that your United Way has a clear focus.

An issue-focused United Way has a clear focus. Issue-focused United Ways address a single issue like poverty, hunger, early childhood education, homelessness, or the graduation rate as examples. They have a bold goal like “By 2025, reduce poverty by 50%” or “90% of all children ready for Kindergarten by 2020.” By focusing on one issue with a single bold goal, issued-focused United Ways are easily able to articulate a value proposition which attracts and engages donors.

Engagement opportunities like affinity groups, special events, volunteerism, and alternative giving opportunities are not new to United Ways, and many United Ways are already doing these things. But, the difference is issue-focused United Ways form affinity groups to reduce poverty, or hold special events to end homelessness for example. Issue-focused United Ways provide opportunities for people to volunteer to increase the graduation rate, and provide alternative giving opportunities to end hunger just to name a few. Issue-focused United Ways offer former donors opportunities to engage with United Way and donate to impact an issue in their community.

It is not difficult to find your former donors; they are all around you. Starting an affinity group or holding a special event outside of the workplace campaign will not bring your former donors back by themselves. It is essential to have a clear value proposition so that your donors will know what their contribution will accomplish. The challenge is finding your clear focus that resonates with donors.

Becoming issue-focused has many other benefits for United Ways, including reduced designations, diversified resources, and engaging the younger generation. Find out if an issue focus is right for your United Way with our Introduction to an Issue Focus Board Retreat or give us a call and we’ll talk.

 

They Will Stop Asking About Your Administrative Costs If . . .

One of the more common questions we get from local United Ways goes something like this: “How do we get donors to stop asking about our administrative costs?” To answer this question, let’s start back at the beginning and talk about why donors care about United Way’s administrative costs.

When a United Way raises money expressly for the purpose of funding programs offered by local partner agencies, United Way provides a service to the donor by passing through their contributions to fund these programs. United Way provides two primary benefits to donors: first, it is an easy way to give, and second, the donation funds local programs.

The one way that donors can evaluate the effectiveness of their donation is to look at United Way’s administrative costs. In the donor’s mind this is simple. If the donor gives $1000, and the administrative costs are 18%, then $820 of their donation is going to fund local programs. The donor can now decide, is it worth it to me to spend $180 to have United Way distribute $820 to fund local programs, or would I be better served to take my own time and effort and make contributions directly to local nonprofit organizations?

I can hear some of you screaming now, “But Gary, we do more than pass-through donations! We carefully screen the partner agencies, we hold them accountable for outcomes, we evaluate what programs will best address community needs, etc.” Those things are all well and good, but our donor research has found that donors do not realize that United Way screens partner agencies, holds them accountable for outcomes, evaluates which programs will best address community needs, etc. And perhaps more important, there are donors who do not value these things enough to want to pay for them from their donation.

Donors that ask about administrative costs do so because United Way has sold them on donating to fund local programs. They do not know about, value, or want the other things that United Way does in the process of allocating their donation.

Donors will stop asking about your administrative costs if the reason they give to United Way is to reduce poverty, increase the graduation rate, halt hunger, or address some other specific issue in your community. We call United Ways that focus on addressing a specific issue in the community “issue-focused.” When a donor gives to an issue-focused United Way they are giving because they want to change their community by addressing a specific issue, not because they want to fund local programs. Campaign brochures for issue-focused United Ways talk about the issue and how the donor can give to address the issue; they do not list their partner agencies or funded programs.

Issue-focused United Ways certainly fund local programs that address the issue. But, donors donate to issue-focused United Ways to change the issue, not pass through funds to local programs. For a donor, the two primary benefits of donating to an issue-focused United Way are: first, it is an easy way to give, and second, the donation reduces poverty, or increases the graduation rate, or lowers homelessness, etc. The question that donors will ask an issue-focused United Way is: “How did the issue change due to my contribution?” For example, if the issue is increasing the high school graduation rate, donors will want to know how the graduation rate has improved over time. Our research with donors at issue-focused United Ways shows that they are not concerned about the administrative cost when they understand how the issue is changing for the better in their community.

Becoming issue-focused has many other benefits for United Ways, including reduced designations, and engaging the younger generation. Find out if an issue focus is right for your United Way with our Introduction to an Issue Focus Board Retreat or give us a call and we’ll talk.