How Stieglitz Helped United Way Achieve It’s Best Growth EVER?

How Stieglitz Helped United Way Achieve It’s Best Growth EVER


My company has been a platinum United Way supporter for ten years, and I have served as a United Way volunteer several times.  One year, the regional director who knew my experience in effecting change asked: “Our regional campaign grows about three percent a year. I think it’s because we aim to grow that much. What can we do to grow by 50 percent?”  I responded: “We need a strategy and a plan that produces 50 percent growth, even if some sectors grow more and others grow less.” He asked me to help develop the plan, and I agreed.

Set Subsidiary Goals

The regional campaign had four sectors: businesses, high net worth individuals, county workers, and the education department. We helped the leaders in each sector set their goal, select a strategy, and prepare a plan.

We were leading one of the sector planning meetings on the morning of September 11th when American Flight #97 crashed into the Pentagon less than a mile from our meeting. Contributions in many United Way regions declined in 2001 because people donated to 9/11 funds.  However, that United Way region grew 8 percent, its best year-on-year growth ever, a visible success! Setting big goals produces superior results even in difficult years!

Leaders Set Goals – Goals Create the Future

Leaders sense the changes around them, and willingly accept responsibility for using that environment to generate extraordinary results.  They seem to create goals from thin air – like a 50 percent increase in contributions. Albert Einstein doubted Newtonian physics, so he committed himself to discover new physical laws.

President John F. Kennedy announced: “We will put a man on the moon in this decade!” Martin Luther King told everyone: “I have a dream!” Where do goals like those come from?  Leaders create them with little concern for how, when or resources. Those are merely details to be ironed out during planning. As a leader, when you set goals for your organization, you are creating its future success (or not).

Select the Strategy

Setting measurable goals is an essential prerequisite to developing an effective strategy and executable plan.  There almost always is more than one strategy available to achieve a goal.

For example, for two of the four United Way sectors the 50 percent growth strategy was to increase the number of donors.  For two others it was to increase the size of the average donation. At first, the debilitating fear-of-failure caused the sector leaders to consider 50 percent growth as ridiculous.  We helped them eliminate that fear by selecting a strategy for their sector and developing multiple techniques to support the campaign strategy.  They each left their planning meeting believing that 50 percent growth was a stretch possibility.

Real World Results

In the real world, some techniques work and others fail and unpredictable events (usually not as shattering as 9/11) are not at all unusual over the course of a year.  In my experience (and probably yours too), unexpected events are more often negative than positive.

In any case, your results will be directly proportional to the goals you set, since such events affect big goals and small goals equally.  The size of the goals you set today put a ceiling on the peak success you might experience tomorrow.  Are you setting your goals high enough to achieve the success you really want for yourself and your organization?

About the Author

Richard G. Stieglitz, PhD, ( is consultant to owners of privately held companies and author of the best-selling book: “Expensive Mistakes in Buying & Selling Companies – And how to avoid them in your deals.”


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