Local United Way eyes broader donor base

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After losing more than 6,000 donors in a single year, the United Way of Central Indiana is making its first concerted effort to reach people outside their workplaces.

United Way leaders say they’re responding to a long-term trend of smaller payrolls at the region’s top employers, but they’ve only recently gained a sense of urgency about it.

The 7-percent drop in donors from 2008 to 2009 probably stemmed from widespread layoffs, United Way officials believe. But CEO Ellen Annala isn’t counting on economic recovery to correct the problem.

Ellen Annala Annala

In fact, the numbers could get worse. The local United Way’s single-largest supporter, Eli Lilly and Co., is in the midst of permanently cutting its work force by 5,500, many of which will be in the Indianapolis area.

“The growth is in mid- and small-size companies,” Annala said. “Our staff isn’t increasing at all to be able to reach all those. There was a very strong feeling we had to do something extraordinary.”

Kicking off a campaign to raise $41 million earlier this month, UWCI hitched its marketing wagon to the Indianapolis Colts. The team is helping promote the campaign in part by offering donor incentives, such as a chance to win a trip to the 2011 Super Bowl.

It’s hard to imagine a better bet for mass appeal than one of the nation’s top football teams. Yet diversifying United Way’s donor base is a tall order.

Number of donors to United Way from 2005 to 2009The local United Way draws more than 98 percent of its 75,809 donors from on-the-job campaigns. Companies control the relationship with donors. If a longtime donor retires, for example, it’s up to the company to make sure he or she stays in touch with United Way, Annala said.

Despite an eroding donor base, UWCI’s fundraising has stayed on an even keel. The organization, which supports more than 100 human-service agencies in Indianapolis and five other counties, raised $38.8 million last year, the same amount as in 2008.

That’s because those who did give dug deeper. In 2005, when UWCI had 88,784 donors, the average gift from people at large companies was $258. By 2009, the average rose 26 percent to $324. (United Way defines a large company as one with more than 50 employees.)

Lilly alone raised more than $9 million, or a quarter of United Way’s total last year. CEO John Lechleiter personally gave $1 million. And this year, the company actually increased its fundraising target. Jodie Mitchell, a corporate attorney who is leading Lilly’s local campaign, said there are still untapped donors among the company’s 11,143 Indianapolis employees.

As chairman of this year’s campaign, Barnes & Thornburg attorney Don Knebel set a goal of 2,500 net new donors. He and other United Way officials hope many jump on board because of the Colts partnership.

Fans will see a United Way ad on the big screen during home games at Lucas Oil Stadium, as well as in their programs. They’ll also hear United Way ads during the Colts’ radio broadcasts.

The campaign kick-off on Sept. 10 coincided with the Colts’ Blue Friday. Players and cheerleaders were on Monument Circle downtown signing posters, and United Way agencies set up booths.

Attendees were encouraged to “pony up $10” by texting COLTS. Those donors were entered in a drawing for tickets to the Sept. 19 New York Giants game.

In a separate promotion, people who give $100 for the first time, or who increase their giving by $100, will be entered in a drawing where the grand prize is a free trip to the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas.

Tapping new donors

Acquiring new donors isn’t necessarily difficult, said Tim Seiler, director of the fundraising school at IUPUI’s Center on Philanthropy. “Maybe a bigger test for non-profit organizations is establishing a relationship with a donor after that first gift so there will be subsequent gifts.”

Knebel hopes some of the new donors will provide an entry for United Way to set up new workplace campaigns.

Annala said she hasn’t completely figured out how to keep the new recruits interested in United Way’s mission. UWCI has a fundraising staff of 20 people, but more than 75,000 donors to reach, so it relies heavily on corporate cheerleaders.

The new effort employs blogging and social media.

“Fortunately, I have a lot of creative, younger staff who know how to do all this,” Annala said

The Eli Lilly Foundation is supporting United Way’s mass-marketing efforts. The corporate foundation last year gave $50,000 to get the broad-based campaign started with its own website, liveunitedgiveunited.org. This year, the foundation put $100,000 toward the Colts sponsorship.

Early results are modest. The first round of text-to-give promotions attracted 70 new donors.

“It’s been a long time since we had this kind of outreach effort,” Annala said. “What’s interesting is the Colts incentive… is adding a whole lot of energy to the workplace campaigns.”

Recast for new economy

Some United Way chapters have recast themselves according to the local business culture, Boston University sociologist Emily Barman said.

Barman published a book in 2006 that compared United Ways in the “new” economy of San Francisco with the “old” of Chicago. Silicon Valley business leaders didn’t see the point of having United Way serve as an intermediary.

The organization responded by acting more like a community foundation with giving priorities set by top donors, rather than the needs identified by United Way’s independent research.

“In Chicago, there was an affinity between how United Way works and the world view of local business leaders,” she said. United Way took hold as a workplace fundraiser in Detroit’s auto industry, so its legacy in the Midwest is much stronger.

United Way has been around in Indianapolis, in one form or another, since 1918. Given that tradition and name recognition, Barman said, the effort to reach people outside their workplaces might be successful.

“You have to have a culture of people who see a value in United Way,” she said.

United Way no longer relies on corporate leaders to overtly lean on employees to give their “fair share,” but workers can still see the value to a company’s reputation.

Mark Steingold worked at Lilly for 15 years, before he was laid off from the corporate strategy group this summer. He said he always gave a “comfortable” amount to United Way.

“I wanted to benefit local organizations. I also wanted to benefit Lilly’s involvement in the community,” he said.

Now that Steingold is working for himself as a consultant, he said, he’ll give directly to his favorite charity, the Jewish Community Center of Indianapolis.

Without the corporate tie, Steingold said, United Way might be attractive to “someone who doesn’t know where to give, but wants to do good in some way.

“I appreciate the people wearing the white T-shirts—the ‘Live United’ campaign. I would still say they need to be real clear on what the value is that they’re bringing.”•


  • United Way Comparison
    UWCI is a four star organization. Good enough for me. http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4632
  • Know the facts
    I have been a UWCI volunteer, worked for a UWCI agency and have been in the non profit arena for 20 years in this city. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I have provided constructive criticism to UWCI over the years, but I can assure you it is not because the CEO is overpaid or their overhead is outrageous.

    UWCI is a $50 million organization with the responsiblity of providing good stewardship to these funds and that is exactly what they do. If you read the tax returns properly, you would know:

    1. The millions socked away in the bank are RESTRICTED funds by the DONOR as IndyGuy indicated above. They are not allowed to spend any of these funds.

    2. Sure the tax returns show the CEOs salary and benefits. There is absolutely nothing for UWCI to be ashamed of. They hired a talented and hard working person who earns every dime she makes. Again, as IndyGuy says above, there are plenty of non profits that pay their CEOs some pretty eye popping salaries, UWCI is not one of them.

    3. The admin costs at UWCI are not enormous. Currently, for every $1 someone gives to UWCI, only 8 CENTS goes to admin. That is not outrageous. Before the economy tanked, that number was 5 CENTS per every dollar.

    4. The volunteers at UWCI can look up the pay of their execs just the same as you can. I fail to follow your logic that this is a "scratch my back, scratch your back" system.

    I can assure you, I can't think of a UWCI volunteer that does not ALSO volunteer for an "actual" charity. These volunteers understand that often collective action is more efficient and impactful, which is why they do both. You don't have to do one without the other.
  • UWCI is unique amongst its peers
    If you did a bit more research, you'd learn that that nearly every dollar given to the United Way of Central Indiana. If you remember, through the generosity of the Lilly Endowment (which is why the $$ in the bank are so great), UWCI has an endowment to offset administrative costs so more dollars go directly to member agencies and programs. Our local UW continues to support local agencies (something other UWs across the country are getting away from) - and highlight these smaller nonprofits such as The Damien Center, Joy's House, etc. to audiences greater than they could on their own.

    As for executive compenstation, given the budget and size of UWCI, the pay if rather fair given the tenure of the executive. If you want to see ridiculous nonprofit pay look at some of your arts and culture organizations - IMA ($500K), Children's Museum ($400K), etc.
  • Also...
    You make a big deal about UW execs being "answerable" to a "board of directors." Boards of Directors for non-profits are staffed by other CEOs and execs. You think they're going to start challenging the pay of execs at UW? Of course not. They don't want their own pay challenged. It's a you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours system.
  • Check Out Tax Returns
    Volunteer, please tell me how you know by simply volunteering how much UW pay their execs. The United Way's tax returns are available on-line. The pay their CEO and other execs get is outrageous. You can also so the enormous administrative costs the organization has as well as the millions UW has socked away in the bank.

    Instead of volunteering for UW, why not volunteer for an actual charity, instead of UW. You will be doing a lot more good. Right now most of your work is just enriching highly-paid UW execs.
  • Keep your facts straight
    Regarding your comment Fred, If you want to find out how UWCI works... volunteer. You are wrong to think it is top heavy with highly paid staff. UWCI fiscally is responsible to a Board of Directors and its donors and they ask for people to give undesignated dollars so that all the 100+ agencies will get funding to help accomplish their missions. UWCI also has specific programs to improve early education so that children can enter the education system at the same level and not be left behind from the start. United Way of Central Indiana continues to help people in need across this state and I know my dollars are being well spent.
    • United Way is the Wrong Way
      Please do not contribute to United Way. Give the money directly to the charity you want to help. United Way is an organization with huge overhead and which pays numerous execs six figure salaries. That's where your money is going if you give to United Way.

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