A Peek into Campaign Season

French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery is credited with the useful quote, “a goal without a plan is just a wish.”  At United Way of Story County we have goals in the three pillars of our work, health, education, and financial stability but we also set an annual campaign goal to work towards each year.  The preparation phase of the campaign is intense, but without that planning the monetary goal (and what those donations fund) would be merely a wish.  So how do you set a plan to inspire community members to contribute to the annual campaign? 
First, we are tasked with how to quickly explain our complex work to many different sectors of the Story County community. The evolution of how we talk about this work has progressed alongside the work itself.  In stark contrast to how it was once known as a pass-through organization at its beginning, United Way is now known for leading the fight in health, education, and financial stability for everyone in the community by being a convener, partner, and funder in these areas. Reminding people of this evolution is important.  You can now count on United Way to work on your behalf to make our community even stronger.  We try to highlight that in our campaign materials by bringing forward different stories of how United Way has touched the lives of community members. 
Preparing compelling examples of donations in action takes thoughtfulness, planning, and a little creativity. You have to ask a world of questions to get it just right:
How can we show the affects a mental health support program is making in the lives of a family without being intrusive?  
How can we capture the essence of a parenting class in action without being a distraction to those in the audience? 
How can we illustrate the freedom and autonomy various transportation programs provide to seniors? 
The answers to each of these is essential in showing the impact.  We can bring forward video shorts, photos, and quotes from consumers and partner agencies to help build out those stories. Ultimately, the stories need to be delivered quickly but with a load of inspiration.  They are built to be examples of the power that exists when a community comes together to support a variety of needs with proven solutions. 
Beyond preparing the materials themselves, we also have the large task of training volunteers who will connect with potential donors on our behalf.  United Way of Story County is extremely fortunate to have passionate volunteers working on the campaign. Some volunteers have been helping share United Way’s message for years – decades even.  Some are brand new and are learning about their position for the first time.  In both cases, we strive to provide the resources they need for their unique experience.  Many times that means seeing the work first-hand.  One way United Way helps to equip campaign volunteers with this experience is by hosting “tours” of funded programs and projects.  Visiting partner agency sites, meeting staff, and even interacting with their consumers is a great way to help people feel confident in telling the United Way story.  When possible, we try to visit one site in each of our areas of health, education, and financial stability within the tours.  This shows the variety of our work and the type of people touched by donations.  We also share details of how many people are impacted by various programs, and can provide examples of what different sizes of gifts can provide in terms of programming. 
Once our materials are prepped and volunteers are trained, we then start the delivery of the campaign message and invitation. This means visiting service clubs, scheduling campaign events, and printing community mailings.  We show impactful videos, utilize partner agency speakers, and deploy United Way staff and volunteers to connect with potential donors. Our goal is to inspire people to take action, whether that is through giving, advocating, or volunteering.
This preparation is time consuming, but definitely time well spent.  Making sure our message is crafted to perfection is of utmost importance.  Getting this invitation right makes the world a much different place for many people and for our community.  When we get it right, we’re able to fund programs and projects to keep people in stable housing, ensure parents are equipped to be their kids’ first teachers, provide a safe environment for seniors and so much more.  We want everyone in the community to see that in order to live better, we must LIVE UNITED.  In thinking about how vital the campaign is to Story County, we can easily see that preparation is key in laying the groundwork for success.