We’re Saved!

Sheldon and Rose had retired, and they were taking a well-deserved luxury vacation to Australia.  But on their way across the Pacific, their plane encountered mechanical difficulties and was forced to crash-land on a deserted tropical island.


They were blessed that they were able to land safely, but the pilot was unable to radio their location.  So it would be awhile before they were found.


Sheldon and Rose were sitting on the beach, when Sheldon says: “Rose…before we left, did you send the Fund for Israel our check?”


“What?,” Rose asks.  “No Shelly — what with all the preparations for the trip, I forgot.”


Sheldon walks away for awhile.  Then comes back and asks:  “Rose…what about the check to the ACLU?”


“Why, no Shelly — It wasn’t due for a few weeks yet, so I thought I’d do it when we came back.”


Sheldon walks away again, muttering.  Ten minutes later he comes back.  “Rose…what about the check to the United Way?”


“Sheldon!  No!  I was too busy getting ready!  I didn’t send that check either!”


He rushes up, kisses her and says “Thank God!  If anyone can find us, it’s the United Way!”


November 7, 2018

I heard this joke some years ago from a United Way CEO — it’s one of the old jokes that people used to tell about the United Way.  It’s a take on the power we had in corporate America for 50 years, coordinating individual and workplace gifts in our communities.

When I joined the Tulsa Area United Way almost 8 years ago, it was still possible to look back in our database at the individual giving records of folks I’d worked with at earlier companies, my wife’s historic giving from over a decade earlier, etc. etc.  The granularity of our workplace giving data was that good, and constant.

We don’t have it that way anymore.

Over the years, corporations started balking at sharing individual giving data.  Citing privacy concerns, they would run campaigns as always, but just tell us the total donation amounts.  This inadvertently broke one of our connections — the ability to thank individuals or recognize exceptional personal philanthropy. Only if they chose to self-identify (Leadership Giver, Affinity Groups, Alexis DeToqueville) could most of these persons’ identities be known.  Along with that, the ability to maintain relationships as people moved from company to company — requiring us to work harder either to keep track of folks or be forced to replace these donors with new.

The pendulum is swinging back the other way, and it started via electronic pledging.

Having companies run such e-Pledge campaigns, we get a list of their company email addresses, they log in, and pledge via the web.  The ability to reach out to individuals again, and over time tell them the good news of their donations — and perhaps move them “up the escalator” to increased levels of giving as they moved up the company pay scale.  If they take part year over year, we get a clean, verified email list each year.

If the personal connection is broken for long enough, some companies move to their own charitable foundation.  They create their own fund and gather donations from their employees.  They can then either disburse those funds to nonprofits directly that match their corporate giving profile, or they operate as an emergency fund for their own employees.  Perhaps an employee is suddenly struck by a medical or financial hardship, and the company can assist directly.  This enhances employee morale, which increases retention, etc. etc.

It’s a challenging time for us local United Ways: we’re staffed for the old-fashioned way, where we manage periodic, transactional campaigns.  Faced with the realities of the world beyond our walls, we need to help companies design their own community engagement programs, and demonstrate how the United Way can provide the best method to accomplish those goals.

I’ve written earlier about United Way Worldwide’s efforts to move towards the Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud, aka SPC, aka Project Rubicon.  Without restating anything, the goal of the project is to aggregate donor data in a massive, cloud platform so that one can (a) not lose people as they move, (b) give them continual opportunities to give, volunteer and advocate for issues important to them, and (c) be able to keep them engaged for their lifetime.

I think that when faced with the Internet commerce-enabled world we’ve created, this is probably our future.  Much as all our individual social media data is contained in massive cloud platforms owned by Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google.  Having all our data in one platform is the same, but for the nonprofit universe.


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