SEATTLE, Dec. 17, 2002 — In 2001-2002, United Way of America raised an estimated US$5 billion in charitable contributions to help communities across the U.S. address their most critical issues. With such a large base of donors, the costs associated with processing each pledge — physical distribution and collection of pledge cards, entering the information into the computer and campaign accounting and management — were substantial. To automate this process, the United Way turned to Microsoft technology to build an “e-philanthropy” program to facilitate corporate giving via the Internet and bring more efficiency to its fundraising efforts.
Over the past year, Microsoft has supported this initiative through software contributions that enabled the development of a new Web-based application called United eWay, which was designed to ease the campaign administration process and paperwork for participating companies. The eWay application has now been rolled out to more than 70 major metropolitan areas across the country, helping United Way collect an estimated $100 million from more than 400,000 donors. Witnessing the success of eWay, many more United Way offices are interested in participating in the program.
Microsoft recently contributed $300,000 of software, including Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, Windows 2000 Server and the Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA Server) to help United Way eWay extend the application to as many as 1,400 United Way offices across the country. PressPass spoke with Merl Waschler, president of United eWay, and Steve Murchie of Microsoft’s SQL Server group to discuss the donation, the eWay initiative and the benefits of Internet-based campaigning.
PressPass: What exactly is United eWay?
Waschler: United eWay.org is a nonprofit membership organization made up of 70 of the larger United Way offices across the country, who came together to steer intellectual and financial resources to the development of technology applications that will further the United Way’s community outreach efforts by enhancing the corporate giving process.
The United eWay application automates the campaign process for our participating sponsor companies. eWay allows donors to use their PCs and fill out Web-based forms specifying how much they’d like to give, to which agencies and in what manner. The solution does the rest automatically, even sending a personalized confirmation and thank-you via e-mail.
PressPass: How long have you been working with Microsoft on this project?
Waschler: United eWay approached Microsoft about two years ago to provide software tools for the initial infrastructure of the eWay application. That first technology grant created the foundation for the development of version 1.0. So we’ve always been a Microsoft-based application.
Murchie: Beyond this project, our relationship with United Way goes back a long time. Microsoft has supported United Way and its affiliates through our Employee Giving Campaign for the last 19 years, and Bill Gates is an honorary chair of United Way of America. Microsoft is also a member of United Way of America’s National Corporate Leadership (NCL) program.
PressPass: What are some advantages to “e-philanthropy,” or conducting these giving campaigns online?
Waschler: Since the workplace is really the core of United Way’s fund-raising efforts, the eWay solution will be more efficient, as well as ease the process for our participating companies by reducing paperwork in the distribution, collection and processing of pledge cards, which has traditionally required many hours of staff time. Another advantage is that organizations can tailor the United Way drive to their employees, providing the same look and feel as the organization, as well as reflecting the activities that are going on in a particular community. The site can be tailored with a note from the company’s CEO for example, or the classic United Way thermometer graphic that shows how close the company is to meeting its fund-raising goal.
Murchie: Another big advantage of an application such as this is that often large companies have offices in remote areas. So the application can help the company extend its giving campaign to any location and thereby involve more people than before. And then for campaign managers, the computerized pledges allow for detailed analysis of the campaign, which can pay off both in terms of short-term strategy adjustments and long-term planning.
PressPass: How does the application work?
Waschler: The employee logs onto the giving site with their ID and a password. The application provides the same sort of comprehensive security you’d find with any online financial transaction. The user then completes the giving form and sends it electronically.
PressPass: How has it affected your fundraising efforts?
Waschler: It’s helped us raise nearly $100 million so far, and we’ve had some impressive success stories. One example is our office in Milwaukee, which saw online donations through this application increase by ten-fold, from approximately 1.8 percent of its donors in dollars to 20 percent of employee-based dollars — or from $450,000 to more than $4 million. This happened partly because we got some good coverage in the local press around the application, which sort of stoked the fire. We actually had, and continue to have, many of the large corporations in Milwaukee calling us to set them up with this program, and everyone has been very happy with the results. So it really exceeded our expectations in Milwaukee, and elsewhere as well.
PressPass: What has been the response from participants?
Waschler: We provide a survey for participants to gather feedback, and we’ve gotten typically more than four points on a five-point scale when participants are asked if the system was easy to use, confidential, secure. Another survey conducted by one of our sponsor companies showed that giving online was efficient for employees, and saves us a great deal of time processing donations.
Murchie: I just want to add here that, while our technology played a part, the success of this project is really a testament to the outstanding work that United Way has done in developing the application.
PressPass: How will this grant and this technology help the United Way to expand and achieve its goals going forward?
Waschler: On the most basic level, it facilitates workplace fundraising. That’s not the end result of what we do, but it creates the means through which we support our help and services structure within the community. Another thing that we’re always challenged with is year-round communication with donors, and this application really facilitates that, so folks don’t hear from us only once a year when we’re doing a campaign in their workplace. One of the United Way’s goals is finding better ways to inform donors about the impact of their gift and the organization’s activities in the community, and this greatly enhances our ability in that area. So it’s both a resource development tool and a communications tool.
PressPass: Does it provide any cost savings or other organizational benefits?
Waschler: It brings down a lot of the administrative costs associated with running a workplace campaign. Additionally, as Steve mentioned, it provides a lot of campaign management information. So as an organization evaluates the effectiveness of their fundraising techniques, the system facilitates the campaign management.
Murchie: Part of the reason that we say SQL Server has a low cost of ownership is that it is a lot easier to implement and maintain than many competing products. For everything from installation to application development, deployment and ongoing maintenance, the interface and tools are very straightforward and integrate tightly with the Windows platform. All these benefits result in a low total cost of ownership, which makes for a better solution overall for an organization like this.
PressPass: What’s in the future for eWay?
Waschler: From a technology standpoint, this is one of the most significant activities that United Way is undertaking to advance its workplace activities across the country. So there will be ongoing investment and enhancement of the application to help facilitate those regional and national campaigns. For example, we’re going to add features to create additional customer relationship management functionality. eWay will play a major role in how United Way works with its donors and sponsors going forward.
PressPass: What does it mean for Microsoft’s SQL Server team to participate in this initiative?
Murchie: One of Microsoft’s goals is to help strengthen nonprofit groups through technology, and online giving has been a hot topic over the past few years. We are just happy to be able to support the United Way in this effort.
Additionally, the culture of community and giving runs pretty deep at Microsoft. The company and its employees give in their own ways. But as a product group, it’s tremendously rewarding to see our product being used in a way that helps the community, helps people.