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Pro Bono: Maximizing the Value of United Way’s Charitable Event with Advanced Analytics

Written by: Vittorio Raimondi
Date: September 19, 2023

United Way is a non-profit organization that works in nearly 1,800 communities across 40 countries focusing on boosting the quality of life specifically around education, financial stability, and health.

The organization has a signature mid-year volunteer event for the Greater Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) that focuses on providing backpacks filled with supplies to children in need. In 2019, roughly 40,000 backpacks were provided by over 4,500 volunteers.

Foresight Strategy has been working with United Way on a pro bono basis to assess their signature volunteer event and make it better for the next year and sought answers to the following questions:

  1. Does the event dilute donations or encourage year-round giving?
  2. Can we further grow the event recruitment through increased social media engagement?
  3. Can email calls-to-actions be more focused based on participant segmentation?
  4. Are there certain individuals who provide the greatest donation opportunities?


We approached this assessment in a similar way we approach consumer problems: through segmentation and growth levers. We identified three high-level segments: non-attendees, attendees, and donors as well as five growth levers for activating these segments: retain donors, increase donations, convert attendees, recruit new attendees, and recruit new donors.

Our analytics showed that out of these five levers, retaining donors and increasing donation amounts both offered the highest opportunities and ability to impact:

1. Retain Donors

Donation data shows a significant increase in donors on for the event year on year. However, upon a closer look at the data, we discovered that the vast majority of the donors in 2019 were new donors – showing a very poor retention rate from the previous year.

Our Team assumed a similar donor retention rate for the following year and recommended putting together a strategy to increase the donor retention rate. Benchmarking analysis showed that better levels of retention were not only feasible but also a top opportunity.

2. Increase Donations

The majority of 2019 donations came at the suggested donation levels and showed a growth rate of ~27%. Donations were measured in “backpacks” – a majority of donors picked 3 backpacks to donate (the highest pre-defined category) and a significant majority chose to donate an amount equal to more than 3 backpacks. The Foresight Team simulated adding a 5-backpack option and estimated the potential donation growth opportunity for 2020 to come in at a +28% growth rate.

Converting Attendees

During the “Donation Ask” campaign, early bird registration emails were essential in getting volunteers to return year after year (and help with new registrations) but showed a poor correlation to donations. On the other hand, social media platforms, especially Facebook had a big impact on initial donations and a low impact on registration.


Note: The volunteer event in 2020 ended up being a remote event due to the global pandemic and hence Foresight’s recommendations could not be implemented as they were originally intended.