Change The Story: The 'Why' of United Way

By Christopher Riker, director of marketing & communications at the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region



It’s humanity’s fundamental question, the first we ask as children, the last we reflect upon in old age. Simon Sinek, author and motivational speaker, says it’s the beginning of every meaningful endeavor: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”


For United Way, we must be able to answer that question—for our partners, for our supporters, for our colleagues and for the people we serve.


United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region answers in three powerful words: Change The Story. The idea of transforming lives in meaningful ways lies at the heart of everything we do.


Change The Story emerged from our desire to clearly explain the why of our mission and vision. Many people still think of United Way as a fundraiser and grantmaker. Those things are part of our work, of course, but they aren’t the reasons we exist.


We saw the need to dig deeper, to get at the why.


At UWBCKR, we believe:

  • Every child deserves a quality education and the supports necessary to realize their full potential.
  • All individuals deserve a job and enough income to support themselves and their families.
  • Everyone deserves high quality and affordable healthcare.
  • We are all interconnected. When one of us wins, we all win.
  • We all must work together to create real and lasting change.

Change The Story is a clear, simple way to explain our why—and it’s become the platform for sharing how we apply our beliefs every day.


Human beings relish stories. Stories were among the earliest forms of communication, and they remain an effective way of imparting knowledge and inspiring action. With the theme of Change The Story, UWBCKR began building its communication efforts around storytelling:

  • We revamped our website, even switching our URL to The first thing visitors see is a real person sharing a real, personal story of positive impact—either as a recipient of United Way supported services or as a volunteer or advocate for the work. We add to these stories at least monthly. The website also includes many resources to further explain the why, how and what of United Way.
  • Likewise, our social media presence aligns with storytelling as a way of showing United Way’s activities, impact and partnerships. We celebrate successes, highlight issues, and recognize people and partners on a daily basis. We also offer opportunities for visitors to donate a post or tweet, personally linking them to the value of United Way.
  • Company sponsored co-branded billboards, posters, table tents, our annual report and other promotional materials spotlight real people where possible along with specific outcomes across education, income and health. A highlight of this is our new scorecard, which focuses on individual needs in the region and how United Way support and partnerships have delivered measurable results.

Research shows that people want to feel personally connected to the charities they support. They want to know and feel that they are making a real, lasting, meaningful difference in other people’s lives. That means they’ll continue to care more about why United Way matters than in the mechanics of our work.


Change The Story is how we’ve learned to answer that fundamental question of why. We’re eager to share our experience so that you can answer it in your communities, too.

The United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region serves Calhoun and Kalamazoo Counties in Southwest Michigan. Learn more by visiting