Issue Focus Transformation


After working with United Ways for more than 30 years, we have seen that the most common challenges experienced by United Ways often arise from a conflicted sense of purpose or priorities. These challenges often result from tension between the traditional United Way priority of raising as much money as possible for partner agencies and the new desire to generate measurable community impact.

We’ve worked with United Ways throughout North America to help them to identify their priorities and realize their full potential. With an issue focus, we’ve helped United Ways to grow their total resources under management, simplify their marketing and messaging, and become leaders of change in their communities. 

If your United Way wants to create targeted community impact that brings about lasting change, an issue focus transformation may be the solution for you.

The Issue Focus Transformation Process

Adopting an issue focus requires transforming many aspects of your impact/investment, resource development, and marketing/engagement practices, which typically takes between three and five years. Since the transformation to an issue focus requires a substantial investment of time, the process begins with a discussion of whether or not an issue focus is the right choice for your United Way.

  • Challenges and Opportunities Retreat: The purpose of this retreat is to decide whether or not an issue focus is right for your United Way. In this retreat, we discuss the United Way continuum, the benefits of becoming a fundraising-focused or issue-focused United Way, and provide ample time for your staff and board to discuss the necessity of moving along the continuum.

If your board decides that adopting an issue focus is the change your United Way needs, we will walk alongside you throughout your transformation through the following services: 

  • Stakeholder Research: This step will help you understand your donors’, community members’, and partner agencies’ reactions to your new issue focus, which allows you to better anticipate and prepare for future challenges.

  • Direction Setting: Once you understand the needs of your community, as well as the expectations of donors, community members, and partner agencies, you select the issue that your United Way is going to focus on addressing and the bold goal you will rally your community to work toward.

  • Strategic Planning: With your bold goal in mind, we work with your board and staff to develop a comprehensive strategic plan that will map your path forward toward maximum impact.

  • Implementation Guidance and Support: Transforming to an issue focus means breaking many deeply ingrained habits, so we provide guidance and coaching to help you successfully implement your strategic plan.

Adopting an issue focus is a complex process, but the issue focus model addresses many common United Way challenges at their source, including:

Next Steps

The Issue Focus Model is nuanced, so we’d love to share more resources with you that explain its origin and structure, as well as its benefits and challenges. To learn more about how adopting an issue focus can help your United Way to increase its resources, maximize its impact, and remain relevant in your community, contact us.

Here’s what our clients have to say about working with us: