WinBack: Important, not Urgent

Steven Covey popularized the Eisenhower Method for time management/ decision making in the 1994 book: First Things First, distinguishing between the important and the urgent.

Earlier this week, United Way Worldwide shared the most recent fundraising results from the 2014 fall campaign: US giving is down another $48 million (-1%). And while the rate of loss of individual donors is slowing, United Ways lost another 370,000 donors last year. This is on top of a 30% decline in United Way donors over the prior 8 years. Overall, there are nearly 4 million fewer donors than a decade ago.

For any other business, the loss of over 30-35% of your customer base would be considered a “burning platform”. Yet, in my conversations with many United Way executives, there is very little visibility/action on this issue. Why is this?

United Ways are in the midst of a massive reinvention: focusing the community on a handful of significant challenges to improve the human condition locally. This work is positioning the organization from a classic “middleman” to valuable community partner. Diversifying partnerships and revenue sources to move the needle is hard, difficult and time consuming work.

Yet, I recall a wise and experienced United Way leader who once shared with me after a lengthy strategic planning session early in my career: “It’s one thing to aspire to change the world. But, if you don’t deliver results on growing resources, it is only but a dream.” Important words indeed to me, in my then role as Resource Development leader. Yet, I believe there is an essential truth here as well. It requires significant resources to drive massive change.

As a person who has spent my entire career inside and along side United Ways, these trends are ominous. The cumulative loss of these donors is now costing local human service efforts probably on the order of $400 million each calendar year.

And while that dollar loss is urgent, it is not as important to me as the loss of potential engagement of nearly 4 million people. The lifetime value of their ongoing participation and potential influence upon others in incalculable. This is what drives me to become a student of WinBack/customer retention strategies and to form a cohort of like-minded organizations with a laser-like focus on this opportunity. Today, we’re a small band with limited resources–but we are determined, focused and resilient–and we WILL make a difference in reconnecting lost donors with the opportunity to become involved once again.