Clevelanders can claim credit for some of the nation’s great inventions — from the alkaline battery and the electric traffic light to rock ’n’ roll and Superman. But another important Cleveland invention has been making an impact for over 100 years: Community Chest, one of the first modern charities, has roots in Cleveland that date back to 1913 and is the precursor to today’s United Way.
“Cleveland has been the center of innovation in a variety of industries and fields, including philanthropy, why wouldn't we do so for the next iteration of United Way,” says Dan Mansoor, vice president, resource development, and chief philanthropy officer for United Way of Greater Cleveland.
Mansoor and his team are reinvigorating the way United Way raises funds for services that help in four strategic areas: financial stability, education, basic needs and health.
Workplace campaign reboot
“In the past, we were successful due to our method,” he says.
Mansoor asserts that the trademark workplace campaign remains the backbone of United Way, but that the organization is getting away from some of the rigid structure and timing of past years. Rather, United Way is treating companies more individually and creating options that work best for them. They are finding common ground and wrapping campaigns around causes that are important to employees. A case in point is this year’s campaign at First Energy Corp., where employees chose the theme of the opioid crisis.
United Way is looking to form stronger relationships directly with donors, in addition to going through their employers, Mansoor explains.
“We will be less shy about communication with our donors,” he says, “especially as employees tend to change jobs more frequently than years ago when people stayed at the same company for their entire career.”
United Way also plans to reach out more aggressively to the broader community beyond the roughly 1,000 workplaces where they currently run fund raising campaigns. This broader audience is a huge and generally untapped market for United Way.
United Way has been stepping up its presence on Facebook and is now live streaming key meetings and other informational content. Other tools like email, direct mail and special events are also under development.
Branding and messaging
One big thing that sets United Way apart from other charities will not change. They are experts in assessing broad community needs and allocating funds efficiently. This is a key branding message that Mansoor emphasizes.
“We are stewards of your gift, and we hold nonprofit agencies accountable for results,” he explains.
Volunteer-driven “community impact groups” assist in deciding where to allocate all the funds raised. They engage in a rigorous process of analyzing community needs and, in turn, directing the funds where they will produce the greatest results.
“Our community impact groups are really smart people from all over Greater Cleveland looking at the broader landscape to see what’s working and what is not,” adds Mansoor.
Serve and solve
Mansoor hopes United Way will tackle more solutions to long-term problems, while keeping up with all the day-to-day needs.
“We need to care for people in need right now,” he says. “But … the big challenge is strategic investment for the future.
“These are philanthropic investments in a cause to help find solutions,” he says. “We are seeking donors willing to invest outside of an annual fund gift to help find solutions to long-term problems in our community.”