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Tell Stories to Win Hearts and Raise Money

Too often, we fundraisers get wrapped up in telling people what wonderful organizations we have. Our newsletters and websites are packed with these offerings:

  • Team picture of a committee
  • Full-page story on the new board member
  • Wrap-up of the gala, with a line about how much money it raised and photos of well-dressed people
  • Spotlight on the emergency room, with an interview of a hospital administrator talking about how busy a typical day is and how many patients are seen in a year.
  • Nothing wrong with thanking people for a successful gala, tipping your hat to the committee, telling your audience you have dedicated new trustee. But when these articles dominate, it’s easy to forget about the opportunity to tell stories about how your great work changes lives.
  • To touch hearts and raise more money, tell more stories about how your mission changes peoples’ lives.
  • For example:
  • RENEW International’s faith-sharing programs inspired one man to sponsor a child in Tanzania – and later to visit the poverty-stricken country on a medical mission that raised $15,000 toward a new maternity ward. RENEW’s mission is to connect faith with action, and this man’s action spotlights the power of that program. You can read it in RENEW International’s 2013 annual report.
  • I love the New York Presbyterian Hospital stories about patient outcomes in TV ads and on the hospital’s website. One patient was a US Army special ops officer who had served in the Middle East and earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. When he came home, the nightmares of war plunged him into a dark place. However, new therapies for post-traumatic stress at New York- Presbyterian have, in his words, “brought me to a point in my life where I can move on…”
  • CARE, the international relief agency, has many stories in the Impact section of its website. One moving story is about Rolando, a rice farmer in the Philippines who came up with an ingenious way to protect his family from getting swept away during Typhoon Haiyan. His village was flattened, as the buildings were made of lightweight material. The story moved donors to send CARE enough money for sheet metal, supplies and labor to rebuild with stronger materials.
  • For me, stories leave enduring impressions. When I was in business school a few years ago, I learned more from case studies about people analyzing data and solving problems than I did memorizing formulas.
  • When I was in high school many years ago, the gym teacher lashed out at the kids who left their gym uniforms at home. He told us a story about a man in his 40s who was seeing life from a wheelchair because he didn’t pay attention to his health. I had already heard the adage “If you don’t have your health, you have nothing.” But after that story I really believed it – and I took extra care to pack my gear on gym days.
  • Use stories. They work.

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