Business is now Human-to-Human. How A Homeless Stranger Helped Transform Our Brand, and Me. By Lisa Bowman, CMO, United Way Worldwide

I walked into my position as Chief Marketing Officer of United Way Worldwide slightly more than a year ago with a challenge to transform the United Way brand to one that is accessible, relevant and meaningful to more people everywhere. I brought my years of experience from UPS to this new role, excited about the chance to work towards the health, education and financial stability of every person everywhere, and confident that my experience, drive and passion could propel the transformation.

What I found behind the scenes at United Way was more surprising than I had anticipated. I found a network of more than 12,000 United Way employees and nearly 3 million volunteers that are concerned about, and unafraid of, the world’s biggest problems. I found a team of motivated and impassioned people that do their very best every day to help make the world better.

When it came time to initiate a brand refresh last year, I was ready for the challenge. This was marketing for United Way – the intersection of my passion and my purpose.

I found an equally passionate partner in our new advertising agency, BVK. We researched our messages and the philanthropic landscape. We tested for brand awareness and polled internal and external audiences on our new brand credo, “United Way fights for the health, education, and financial stability for every person in every community” so that we could develop the most impactful, meaningful and efficient Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign possible.

The PSA filmed in three locations. On set in Miami while the crew was setting up, I noticed a pile of trash blocking the scene where we would be shooting. I went to move the trash to make way for the crew and to my astonishment, I realized that underneath the bundle of papers, bags, and blankets was a person. A person with a name and a story.

Deon is his name. He was sleeping on the sidewalk bundled up and doing his best to keep warm until the January Miami sun came up. I was shocked to be confronted so bluntly with the problems that message testing, story boards, and viewer surveys could not, and did not, prepare me for. Here was a human being I almost mistook for garbage.

I told him I was from United Way, and asked if he’d heard of us. Squinting in the early morning sun, he replied, “Yes. I think I’ve heard of you. You’re the people that help all the other people.”  Through the next hour, I got to know Deon and learn some of his story. He lost his family in a car wreck, but he survived. He had medical bills beyond what his insurance covered that he could not afford. Through a series of circumstances, he lost his job and his home. His address was now the corner of Hopeless and Helpless.   Before we said our goodbyes, he let me hug him; one person to another. In doing so, Deon transformed me. At that moment, our PSA became personal.  It was no longer about B2C or B2B, but rather H2H; human to human.

Deon changed this brand transformation experience for me and ignited my commitment to its success and my professional promise to increase awareness of United Way and of our work around the world. Deon is featured in our PSA campaign, and his photo sits framed on my desk. Deon’s image is a reminder of the work all of us here at United Way do every day, everywhere in the 1,800 global communities that we serve.

Our PSA ask viewers to “join the fight.” We use strong, graphic imagery that shows the real problems that result when we don’t fight for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in every community.  Problems that people like Deon face. People like Deon just need an opportunity. They need a chance and someone to care. This is what drives me and all of us at United Way Worldwide.

I implore you to watch our PSA and share it. I ask you to join our fight. Whatever you have to give: your time, a donation; whether large or small, your compassion, your interest, your desire to make the world a better place–please consider joining our fight. We have one life. To live better, we must Live United.