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John McMillin: Blend of new and old still required to reach donors

John McMillin • Updated May 15, 2018 at 6:30 PM

About this time every year, United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland staff work to have the most accurate information possible relating to how well we did in raising funds to support our internal and partner programs. Most people would probably think this should be evident, but it’s not because many fundraising campaigns are carried out by other United Ways and companies from distant areas.

There was a time when all of our fundraising campaigns were completed by Dec. 31 of any given year. That meant we had about three to four months to devote to looking at applications for funding along with the other work of allocating those campaign funds. It also meant there was a lot of unity. One thing changed everything.

I’ve tried to put my finger on what has changed over the years for nonprofits, and I keep coming back to the same thing, the internet. In many ways the internet has been wonderful for people doing research on where to donate or where to get help. It has given us an opportunity to seek funding from some who might not have had the opportunity to give otherwise. However, those numbers are limited. Even the best fellow nonprofits don’t seem to rack up large numbers from internet donations.

The internet also allows people to give on their own time schedule. That might be in the middle of the night, one week before we are trying to assess the maximum amount of money we can distribute to support programs that help our local residents.

I’m not complaining. Still, there is a challenge in working with companies large and small, national and local and those that want to conduct business as they have for decades and those that want everything to be digital. On top of this we have the recent Facebook questions that have arisen which, frankly, makes us debate which method of reaching our donors is best. 

For a long time, whether it was the United Way or any other non-profit, there was no question. You had to make face-to-face interactions with your public to have successful fundraising campaigns. I would say that much of our local fundraising is still most successful when we can find a way to do this. Not everyone will agree, but there are things that are just conveyed better in person for a large portion of our giving public.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology, but sometimes we have to resort to the old-school methods to reach out to people. Our donors still react positively to looking them in the eye when we talk to them about giving. They like to tell us stories about their family member who was helped and we love to hear those stories.

So as we enter another season of deciding how best to distribute what funds we have to help the most people possible, don’t be surprised to see our United Way using a mix of internet and technology with some old-school methods to start a new campaign in the coming months.  

John McMillin is president of the United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at [email protected]

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