Learning from the United Way campaign

Nov 06, 2009

We’re on a bit of a high after this year’s United Way campaign at our headquarters, and I think we learned a lot about how people respond to a call for support.

Amway has held a United Way campaign for many years. It’s always a challenge to make it fresh and new, especially when we are racing around during the campaign getting all of the logistics taken care of.

This year, we hit on the right formula. Employees gave more than they have in ten years, and participation was at an all-time high.

I think it is worth sharing our approach this year. It certainly reflects the culture of Amway people, but it also reflects principles of engagement that can be applied to an Amway business.

We developed three overall strategies to engage employees. First was empowering and celebrating our volunteer coordinators. We trained a person in each department, and then gave them a lot of time and attention to make sure they were able to run successful “mini-campaigns.”

We’ve always had coordinators, but they often get lumped together and treated like a group rather than individuals. But it is so important to identify their individual needs and goals. Some are covering hundreds of manufacturing workers. Others support a small group of office staff. Some organize fundraisers and others collect envelopes.

Our entire corporate citizenship team split up the 83 coordinators so each of us had around 10-15 of them. This gave us the ability to make calls, give theme encouragement, answer questions and make suggestions.

The second strategy was emphasizing the need. We realized that people were overwhelmed with news about the economy, job losses and long lines at the food banks. Instead of adding to the negatives, we focused our communications on the difference a donation makes.

United Way has amazing statistics like $1 per week provides a cane for a client who is blind” or “$5 per week sends an at-risk child to day camp for a week” We posted these statistics around the company and through all of the traditional employee communications channels.

Finally, we set clear expectations and a direct call to action. For the first time in many years, we set a dollar amount goal and stuck thermometers at all the entrance gates, so people knew how close we were getting to the goal each day as they drove into work. It’s a little old fashioned, but it gets the message across. Our communications didn’t just talk about participation in the campaign, it asked people to give.

This call to action seemed to be a crucial point. I’m amazed at how some people do not respond unless they are asked directly. You can give them all the tools, but unless you find a way to close the deal, those tools are easily dismissed.

When we put all these strategies together, there was a real energy this year. Our participation rates were higher than they have ever been. Departments ran silent auctions and bake sales and food drives. More than 230 volunteers turned out for a community-wide Day of Caring. And we blew through our goals.

Not everyone participated, and not every action we took brought results, but the principles were solid. And I think they can apply to the Amway business. You’ve got to empower individual people with a caring touch. You’ve got to help them understand the impact of their efforts. And you’ve got to explicitly ask them to engage.

Thanks to our employees and thanks to United Way for making a much-needed difference in our communities!

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