- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

If you’ve ever worked in a mid- to large-sized organization, you probably have witnessed the annual campaign run by local affiliates of United Way of America, based in Arlington. There’s often some coffee, doughnuts, a pep talk and — of course — a pledge card to fill out and return for a payroll deduction to help your neighbors.

Caffeine is bad for you, they say; as for doughnuts, don’t ask. In the digital age, paper forms suggest about as much modernity as a buggy whip.

So, what’s a charity to do? Change with the times. United Way has come up with “UnitedeWay,” which lets people sign up online to make donations, direct them to a favorite agency, as well as explore volunteer opportunities. It’s gone from zero to more than $400 millionworth of giving in about two years, says Michael Schreiber, executive vice president for enterprise services at United Way.

Listening to Mr. Schreiber describe the changing nature of the workplace — and of giving — and it makes sense that United Way is looking to technology as a way to boost revenue, money that goes to those in need.

Workplaces are spread out, over geography and work shifts; people are telecommuting or are “road warriors” spending time in the field. Assembling the entire “crew” for a dog-and-pony show is therefore more difficult.

“In the old days, a printed card offered everybody the same choices,” he explained. With a Web-based form, “you can customize for [a donor’s] needs and past giving. Tailoring it to the types of things that person is sensitive to.”

“In the business world, it’s considered a cross-sell, [but] for us, it’s something new,” Mr. Schreiber said. “It’s effective for us and it’s very popular with the donors. It’s truly relevant to the things that they’re interested in.”

And, he asserts, it makes United Way “relevant” to potential donors and volunteers. Using technology “makes a night and day perception difference with how United Way is perceived. Even among the people who chose not to participate in the electronic solicitation, their opinion of United Way went up.”

That’s important, since there are many charities competing for public attention, and the United Way, whose roots go back to 1887, might not seem relevant to young givers.

Thus Mr. Schreiber is trying to position UnitedeWay as more of a corporate service, something that can even serve as an employee benefit, a sign an employer cares about the community.

“When you look at provision of services to companies for workplace philanthropy, the driver is more like a financial service than anything else,” he said.

It also helps the United Way, which is taking more of a national view of its campaigns within larger firms, track progress. Before, with paper, it was nearly impossible to aggregate data quickly; now, Mr. Schreiber says, officials can view reports on a national basis, and see where in a company’s campaign extra efforts have to be targeted.

“You can make sure an e-mail has been sent to everybody [in a firm], that they went into site and even if they didn’t give, you can see that they were there,” he said.

What’s next for the charity? Globalization. Test projects in at least two companies are aimed at increasing donor involvement or recruiting volunteers. With business going global, it’s a natural that giving should be worldwide, too.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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