Aligning with your audience’s needs may challenge your customary practices

Like clockwork, United Way of Greater Cleveland kicks off its annual campaign in August with the pancake flip event at Public Square. The fanfare as we announce our fundraising goal is a routine for United Way. When the campaign concludes in March, we have more fanfare to announce the end of the campaign with our annual meeting. So, when is it time to break tradition?

Last year, United Way celebrated its centennial anniversary. In 1913, the local population was growing and unfortunately so was poverty, child neglect, illness and unemployment. The solution was a coordinated effort to raise money for local organizations working to solve community problems.

This created the blueprint for the modern United Way. We are historically known as a fundraising entity. But just as our community is constantly changing, United Way is an organization in need of constant transition.

Tough decisions

Change is both exciting and uncomfortable.

Many nonprofits, including United Way, are fortunate to have a committed group of board members and various volunteer-driven committees. While in transition, governing volunteers are faced with many of the organization’s tough decisions. They are often tasked with evaluating things such as community partnerships and investments; and determining if tradition outweighs innovation.

As an organization transitions to a new normal, it’s important to be strategic in the decision-making process.

First, identify areas of improvement in your business strategy. Explore all options and anticipate consequences to determine how breaking tradition impacts internal and external stakeholders. Before making a tough decision, consult research, case studies and best practices. 

Remain relevant

Every profession competes for customers. Nonprofits are no different, competing for contributions, ambassadors to advocate for their cause and volunteer hours.

It’s integral for audiences to distinguish your work from others and understand how your organization advances the common good.

Here are ways United Way broke tradition to remain relevant, that may also work for your business:

  • Ask and listen to your community’s aspirations. Talk directly to your clients, stakeholders and consumers to gauge their needs and how your organization can best address them.
  • Adaptability is key to relevancy. Yesterday’s priorities may not successfully deliver today’s desired results. Our landscape is changing — from the way nonprofits engage donors to the mobile methods used for communication. Redefine your priorities to align with audience needs.
  • Keep people interested. Tap into new and long-term staff members and volunteers for unique ideas for communication strategies, volunteer opportunities and events. A different approach at executing your mission will further engage your audience, freshen your brand and change public perception. Your audience will stay tuned for what’s to come.

Insanity has been defined as doing the same things and expecting different results. Straying from tradition ensures your organization is not doing the same things you have always done simply because you have always done them.

In 1913, United Way was developed with the intent to solve our community’s most pressing needs through fundraising. Our narrative has changed, however, and we’re now an organization breaking tradition to create true community impact through giving, advocating and volunteering in Greater Cleveland.