Thursday, September 17, 2009

United Ways 2009: A Confusing Mix of Missed and Missing Goals

In the Nonprofit Quarterly’s Nonprofits in the Age of Obama project, we have committed to following significant trends in and around nonprofits as our economic and political environment re-calibrates. This has led us to follow news reports of the traditional goal setting of the nation’s United Ways. We noticed some interesting trends and wanted to get your input on what you see happening in your locale.

One of the most important barometers of the recession's impact on nonprofits—and how nonprofits are adjusting to this increasingly terrible economic downturn—maybe found in the 1,400 affiliates and chapters of the United Way. At Nonprofit Quarterly, we increasingly find ourselves noticing changes in the United Way system that raise additional questions about the direction of this network

It's not simply that most reports on last year's campaigns, at least those reported in the press, describe fundraising shortfalls of as much as 20 percent, though some sites such as the Twin Cities appear to have made or surpassed goals. There are significant changes in United Way fundraising strategies across the nation.

During the past month, the NPQ Newswire has run several stories about an apparently new practice among United Way campaigns. United Ways in Sudbury, Ontario; Stanly County, North Carolina; Belleville, Ontario; Lee County, Alabama; and Kansas City, Missouri have eschewed the longstanding tradition of establishing fundraising targets for their annual campaign in favor of no-target or no-goal campaigns.

Ditching the longstanding common practice of setting a fundraising target is a major cultural shift in the UW system. Explanations of the fundraising shift vary from agency to agency. In Sudbury (Sudbury Star, September 10, 2009), the UW is substituting a target of increasing the number of individual donors from 9,000 to 12,000 for a dollar goal. Oddly, this is not because of poor campaign totals in 2008; Sudbury actually did well, surpassing its 2007 total by raising $2.4 million. But entering 2009, the locality faces layoffs in two ma-jor employers, thousands of job losses in the mining supple and service sector, and labor turbulence between local employers and locals of the United Steelworkers and others. Read more here.

No comments: