United Way changes message to restore donor confidence

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Giving to the United Way was simply a thing most people did out of habit years ago, but changing generations and economic factors mean that is no longer the case.

That is the issue laid out by Neil Parekh, director of marketing for United Way Worldwide to the leader of the United Way of Licking County on Tuesday morning.

He said many people saw the United Way’s purpose as too broad, making it difficult to understand its purpose. Fragmented branding across the organization didn’t help, either.

He said internal surveys showed trust in the United Way had dropped among residents. This correlated with a 39 percent decline in donors over the past decade and a 14 percent drop in donations.

He said this led the charitable organization to realize it needed to refine its messaging and convince people that United Way was more than just a program people signed up for at work.

“We wanted this to be a passion for people,” he said. “We wanted people to want to be in United Way.”

This meant showing directly how the United Way helps lives in a community and focusing on organizations that truly make a difference. For example, he said instead of supporting an organization that reports dozens of kids who took swim lessons, the United Way should support an organization where dozens of kids learned to swim. The difference is subtle, but he said the organization needs to focus on outcomes vs. outputs.

Locally, the United Way has embraced the messaging challenge. In a promotional video, the organization highlights numerous issues, communities and possibilities in Licking County.

The messaging challenge comes as the United Way focuses its vision on people not making enough to live in their communities.

Steven Hollon, president and CEO of Ohio United Way, discussed the portion of the population that makes more than the federal poverty line but below what it takes to live. These people are employed but constrained by low incomes and are unable to pay for the needs of family life including child care or health care. Dubbed ALICE for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, the population makes up about 24 percent of households in Licking County.

In Licking County, the United Way has focused on three priority areas: behavioral health; children, youth and families; and poverty.

Found in The Newark Advocate January 23, 2018

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