Why United Way Is Taking the Leap and Hiring Its First CMO

Plans to make a big digital push with millennials

Headshot of Lauren Johnson


Current gig Evp, global CMO at United Way Worldwide

Previous gig Evp and CMO at Clear Channel Outdoor

Twitter @VickiLins

Age 51

Adweek: How has digital changed the act of giving to United Way?

Vicki Lins: We've moved into a space where we accept bitcoin. We're also doing text-to-give and crowdsourced programs. We're looking at partnering with our corporate partners for this upcoming campaign season in ways that will enable digital giving and make the corporate partnership shift from what started as a paper-heavy framework into a digital space. We're developing a digital TV series where we're going to focus on community, growth and people who are making a big difference in the world.

You are United Way's first CMO. What attracted you to the position?

It's the first time that the organization has shifted its focus toward marketing as opposed to strictly branding. We're the world's largest, privately funded nonprofit, and we deliver global scale in local communities.

Millennials are going to be key in driving your growth going forward. How are you targeting that generation?

The millennial generation is really eager to change the world, but one of the things they want is an outlet. Digital is incredibly important to us. Mobile giving and mobile connectivity are really important. That's a very different model than what the employee campaign within a corporate structure looks like.

What other opportunities are you looking at?

We have a 40-year partnership with the NFL. In its heyday, it carried a lot of media weight with it. A lot of people say that they heard about United Way because of the NFL. But as the technology, media, sports and philanthropy landscapes changed, you don't have all of that media weight going against any one partner anymore. Our work with [the NFL] has largely been behind the scenes—we're now exploring [how to] leverage the work that the NFL and United Way have been doing together all along and put it out into the public forum in a more meaningful way.

What's the biggest challenge in shifting United Way toward a b-to-c organization?

At our core, we really are a collective-impact organization—we're not a single-issue organization. If you give a dollar to your local food pantry, that's a wonderful thing, and you're going to feed someone. If you give that dollar to United Way, we may give part of it to the local food pantry, but we're working to create a longer-term, more sustainable change in the community to address hunger. One of the big challenges for United Way is that we've been viewed as the pass-through organization that collects funds, gives it out to other organizations [but] doesn't really add value.

You've also worked for Comcast and Clear Channel. What from the world of media can you apply to the client side?

Marketing is a complement to the core media business. For other more consumer-driven businesses, marketing is an imperative business driver. I've already found ways to partner with my former colleagues. United Way was just part of Red Nose Day that aired on NBCUniversal.

@laurenjohnson lauren.johnson@adweek.com Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.
Publish date: June 22, 2015 https://dev.adweek.com/brand-marketing/why-united-way-taking-leap-and-hiring-its-first-cmo-165472/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT