Digitally Transforming United Way

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United Way is one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the world, with more than 120 years of history and a tradition of good work that guides everyone associated with the organization. But if you think back 120 years ago, the way things were done look alien to how things are done today. This is a digital world and that carries over into the way people give back. In order to keep up with the times, United Way has recently been in the process of a major digital transformation and in order to accomplish their digital goals, the folks in charge are relying on the Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud to help make an impact. On this episode of IT Visionaries, we spoke with Ann Edmonds, the Program Lead for Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud at United Way, and William Browning, the Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer for United Way, as they discussed everything involved in the transformation, why Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud has been a great partner, and what the future might hold.

Key Takeaways

  • The demands of the younger generations have created an environment of digital transformation in every industry, including philanthropy
  • Creating unique experiences will go a long way in building strong, lasting relationships with users
  • You can’t wait for the perfect solution — you have to iterate constantly

Changes at United Way

United Way does $5 billion worth of business all over the world and the focus is moving away from a more traditional model to one that uses technology in order to further engage people on their terms. William says the goal is to transform the way United Way does business to create more intimate relationships, as opposed to ones that are transactional. But, United Way has 33,000 board members and offices around the world, so this transformation is a challenge. The way they are going about it is through the Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud. They see Philanthropy Cloud as a way to improve their relationship with corporate partners who care about communities and want to engage them differently than they have in the path. Philanthropy cloud brings together everything in one place with the goal of giving individuals the opportunity to find what they want and organizations the ability to use the platform to promote objectives. 

“Companies are looking to change the way that they’re working locally. They care about their local communities. They want to be doing good, they need to engage their employees differently than they have in the past. And so they’re looking to United Way to help them reinvigorate those programs. And part of the way we do that is through Philanthropy Cloud, which is this technology platform that brings together the individuals , the corporations, and our nonprofit partners all in one place.” –Ann

Digital Transformation

Because technology has changed the way people work, interact and give back, a digital transformation was necessary at United Way and for many of its corporate partners. Historically, United Way relied on workplace giving, but today’s workers and the younger generation want more options and more personalized experience. By using a tool like Philanthropy Cloud, the needs of different users can all be met in unique ways. Data is a critical way that those needs are identified and then built for in the cloud. 

Data is an invaluable asset. United Way need to gather data on all aspects of the digital transformation to bring unusual partners together to solve problems. Salesforce.org is a partnership that is perfect to help reimagine community philanthropy in a marketplace approach to build partnerships where everybody wins. 

“It’s really about how do we actually implement solutions that are going to change the game for an entire community. We’re not a point solution. We don’t run food banks or run schools. What we really do is understand the complex issues facing the community and rally the political, the nonprofit and the business partners together.” –William

“With mobile technology and digital technology, the demands of the millennial and the younger generation have changed quite a bit. They want to be able to give when they want, they want to give year-round, they want a higher value. In addition to that, our corporate clients are looking for solutions that improve recruitment and improve retention, improved revenue, improve partnerships, improve their brand reputation. So for us, digital transformation is understanding how we actually provide our corporate customers with better capabilities such as Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud while at the same time reaching into the lives of our donors, understanding what they want, how they want it, when they want it, where they want it, and actually making sure we build a very intimate experience with them.” –William 

“Our role really is to ask how do we mobilize the caring power of community? And it starts with making sure we can actually connect, inspire, inform, and mobilize people to the causes they care about.” –William

 Creating unique experiences

In order to create the best experience for every user, United Way works closely with its partners to get a feel for what they want to achieve and how they want their culture to feel. Then they can create a digital experience to match those two things. 

“The beauty of it is it’s going to look different at every company and for every individual in those companies. So, we’re able to really tailor the experience to the company and have the platform reflect their branding, their objectives and their culture.” –Ann

The initial focus of the digital transformation

Initially, digital transformation is about putting the right team in place to make the changes needed. William says it’s about paving the road to the future. Additionally, in order to move forward in the digital transformation, there has to be the freedom to put things out even if they aren’t perfect. There is always a chance to iterate and experiment, and it’s important not to let the lack of perfection stop you from putting out something useful to your users.  

“For us, and I think for my colleagues in the world doing digital transformation, it’s about being persistent, about being patient and about being exceptionally agile to learning. It’s assuming that most of your going-in assumptions are going to be incorrect and need adjustment, and to not have your ego get in the way of making those adjustments as necessary.” –William

“What we’re learning is that you have to start, you’ve got to iterate, you’ve got to do it again and again and again. You can start with a feature and then build on it. You don’t have to wait for the end ideal solution because it’s changing so quickly. I think that that was one of the big shifts for us, culturally.” –Ann

Lessons learned

When it comes to digital transformations, there are a few lessons William and Ann have learned. First, you have to be clear about your assumptions while going through the transformation and set your ego aside. Second, when you’re in the middle of a digital transformation you miss obvious things. So, you have to look back at things and learn from those experiences. Also, the content being produced now is miles ahead of anything that was produced in the past, and that is a real advantage for organizations like United Way and its partners as it builds relationships with all users. And in doing so, they have found that there are ways to digitally have an impact – and possibly ones larger than they ever have before. 

“I think we’re clearly in the community impact business. And so what’s exciting is that these new technologies like Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud enable us to inspire, inform and activate people differently.”

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Ann Edmonds, the Program Lead for Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud at United Way, and William Browning, the Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer for United Way discuss the challenges and benefits of digitally transforming one of the largest nonprofits in the world.

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