Monday, September 22, 2008

The Truth about the United Way?

Doubting Thomas
I hate to be the Doubting Thomas, but...

Kim Horner at the Dallas Morning News reported that the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas set its "largest fundraising goal ever at $58 million." Read the DMN article here.

However, the same article also states that the agency raised $60M last year... so I am not sure how $58M can be the most ever. But I was at the event: they said it time and time again in their fight for relevance in a world that is increasingly filled with appeals for charitable support.

"Biggest goal ever."

I have an inside source who told me that last year's $60M total reflected a few one-time gifts, possibly designated for special causes that will not be repeated. So, they somehow do not count this in their total.

Additionally, the UWMD claims to be re-focusing their work on not just recruiting gifts, but a tri-fold approach of:




The better angel of my nature wants to believe them, and expect big changes (particularly in the area of advocacy, where I have always felt that the United Way was squandering its capacity to drive real, substantive change on a systemic level around the issues that they claim to care about).

However, the darker side of me is skeptical at best. My concern is that they are only using "volunteer" and "advocate" in their branding pitch as a way to get people to give more.

Another of my inside sources at UWMD confirmed my suspicions, as (s)he told me that this whole approach is really just about fundraising.

"We don't do any of this, but the new approach 'tests well' with donors. They think that they can raise more money off it," said my version of Deep Throat. I'll call him/her ... Deep Pockets.

Basically, Deep Pockets told me that donors like the idea of other people volunteering and advocating for systemic change, and will throw money at organizations that can get them to do that. And the UWMD knows this, and wants to capitalize it.

We'll see. Time will tell.

For now, I just hope that they hit their $58M.

(On a sidenote, did you know that it takes over $50M to operate the Dallas Symphony Orchestra each year? I find it sad that the local United Way has to fight like hell to raise funds for the top 92 human service organizations in town while our community shells out nearly as much cash for ... what? a few dozen concerts and some 'outreach'? I am not saying that is not valuable, but seriously.)

As I reread this piece before hitting "Publish," I am tempted to call it "Don't Tell the Donor" ... but that title is already in use over at the fantastic blog of the same name(

Alas. Perhaps I should launch an anonymous blog to tell you what I really think?