United Way is the world’s largest privately funded non-profit organisation. It is 133 years old, has 3 million volunteers, 8 million donors and operates across 40 countries – including the UK where they’ve had a presence since 2014. Last year it raised around $5 billion.
United Way Worldwide is a social franchise; it owns the brand and sets rules on financial reporting, governance, ethics and inclusivity across 1,800 communities globally. It also manages relations with the United Nations (UN), the World Economic Forum (WEF), corporates and governments.
Brian sheds light on his background. He formally joined United Way as a trainee back in 1981 and has thoroughly enjoyed the journey. A word of wisdom he likes to share with folks who are just starting out on their careers is simply ‘be prepared to say yes’ – we’re so wired to say no. So, just say yes.
Last year United Way generated around $5 billion in income, which is a remarkable sum. Brian notes the breakdown of this income is roughly split as follows: 15% from corporations (such as IBM, UPS, FedEx, Samsung and IKEA); 35%-40% from the employees of the 65,000 companies they work with (employees who tend to give via payroll); and the other 50% comes from individuals.
United Way has approximately 8 million donors. There are 600 donors who have given $1m+; 40 donors who have given $10m+; and approximately 25,000 donors who are regularly giving $10,000 annually. The average donor gives $300 per year. Brian notes that United Way is most effective when it reflects and looks like its community. And, in order for a community to succeed, everyone in that community needs to succeed.
When asked about what success looks like for the next 10 years, Brian responds that, for him, inequality is the biggest issue in the world today. In 10 years from today the world is going to have to be more equitable, more just and cleaner environmentally. This change will either happen through enlightened political, corporate, and non-profit leadership; or it’s going to happen through social unrest. He is optimistic about how things will shape up for the next 10 years, although he notes he’s less optimistic about the next 18 months.
On the issue of COVID-19 around the world: Brian observes that it’s the countries with strong public health systems (countries who look after the health of all their citizens) that are doing much better than places like the US. Likewise for countries where there’s a strong social contract, a commitment to the common good and where people care about each other – these are the countries that are coping better. For him, the pandemic is wildly instructive in terms of what success looks like in the next 10 years; there needs to be a focus on the common good.
There is a great deal of digital transformation and innovation taking place at United Way. Brian sheds much light on how the organisation has evolved; he provides insight into their traditional business model and how they’re now embracing digital technology to increase efficiency and transparency in their philanthropy.
United Way helps to take the resources in a community and to match these with people in need. The business model at United Way was to pool your money; United Way will then assess who are the best non-profits out there, and then they’ll give them that money and ensure they’re doing a good job, and then they’ll tell the donors about it.
However, Brian notes that digital technology is now eliminating the middleman in transactions. So, you don’t necessarily need to go through institutions any longer, you can do it individually. So, what United Way has been working towards is how to build this community exchange without individuals having to come to them as a vertical institution.
What United Way has done is build individual donor and volunteer digital profiles. They’re working with Salesforce – building first in workplaces and then beyond – on the ability to build your own profile (what do you care about philanthropically in terms of where you want to give; how you want to volunteer; what you want to advocate) and they’ve taken all of their work in education, income, health, migration etc and they’ve digitised it all. They have also taken all of their impact content and turned it into digital.
They’re putting their donors and volunteers together with this content on one platform so they can interact with each other without necessarily going through United Way.
Brian notes that if United Way is to go from 8 million donors to, say, 18 million donors, they’re going to have to give up some control as an institution and instead create an environment and a technology ecosystem that allows the donor and the volunteer to get directly to the service provider or even the person who needs help – so that United Way facilitates that process instead of managing it. Fundamentally, it’s about how can United Way help individuals connect directly to what they want to achieve philanthropically.
This digital platform they’ve created with Salesforce is called Philanthropy Cloud; it is now live in around 350 companies in the US and there are around 70,000 people using it.
As the users use Philanthropy Cloud, the tech gets smarter. The Salesforce AI (artificial intelligence) is in the tool itself. Brian has Philanthropy Cloud installed on his phone; it tracks things for him, it makes recommendations for him to read about certain philanthropic topics, it provides stories and information that are relevant to him.
The way Brian describes it is: why can’t the philanthropy on his phone be just like his Spotify account? Why can’t it watch him use the service and then make suggestions to him – so that’s what Philanthropy Cloud is about. That’s what it does.
Brian’s key takeaway for listeners: We need to connect with each other. We’re better together than we are apart; this applies to philanthropy. Let’s be generous; let’s share with each other. If we do this there’s nothing that will stop philanthropy generally, and therefore society. Brian is increasingly learning that there are so many things he doesn’t know. Appreciating this has allowed him to be freer, to think abut United Way’s work differently; to think about who they might partner with that they wouldn’t have partnered with before. It’s that old adage: if you hold the bird too tightly in your hand you kill it, and if you open up your hand it flies away; so you have to hold on to these things gently. United Way now finds its thinking to be much more open. For those of us in philanthropy – no matter what segment of philanthropy – you have to be open, you have to be willing to learn, you have to be a bit vulnerable and you have to trust more than we trust right now. We have to be open and generous and, if we are, good things will happen!
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