Philanthropy Journal – Taking care of business – Enterprise at United Way

By Todd Cohen

As the economy shrinks, the challenge for charities is to grow – not just in the dollars they raise and the services they deliver, but also in the way they think and work.

Change can be tough any time, but tough times are precisely when charities need to think ahead about doing what it takes to get the job done.

Consider local United Ways in North Carolina, which are getting ready for their annual fund drives with plans to work more closely with other groups, make more savvy use of technology and be more aggressive in telling their story.

In Charlotte, for example, the United Way is getting back to basics, reaching out to new donors by making the case that it’s not simply an annual fund drive, but a key community player all year long.

The United Way in Greensboro also wants to connect with new donors, and push existing donors to give more, by linking them with causes they care about, while the United Way in Winston-Salem is targeting high-tech firms it has overlooked in the past.

And in High Point, the United Way is using technology to better reach donors and save money in its operations.

“Using technology and creating strategic partnerships and collaborations are essential to any business nowadays,” says Claudia Stowers, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater High Point. “We’re trying to operate this nonprofit like any well-managed business.”

With fundraising already a sophisticated and competitive business, the deteriorating economy makes it more critical than ever that charities work smarter and more productively.

Like the United Way, charities need to think about teaming up with other organizations, putting technology to more productive use and looking for creative ways to market themselves.

And like a growing number of enterprising nonprofits, other charities should invest the time and effort to plan for the long-term, setting goals and then tracking their progress and adjusting their course if they find they’re not hitting their targets.

None of that is easy. It takes hard work and a willingness to take risks. And it’s even tougher in the face of a deteriorating economy.

But the payoff can be a stronger organization that does a better job of serving people – added value that donors can understand, and in which they should want to invest.

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