tellyourstory 2014-Sep24

A Culture of Philanthropy

From your CEO down to the janitor,
your non-profit embraces your donors as central to your mission,
as central as your organization’s programs to change the world.

Storytelling for non-profits has generated a ton of information and “chatter” lately. In fact, there is even a huge conference in Seattle in November just on storytelling and why it’s so important for effective non-profits.
I say, “it’s about time.” You see, I cut my teeth in this business working for an agency that did direct-response fundraising. What I learned most was that the better “the story,” the higher the response rates, and thus the revenue increased. I don’t care if it was a direct mail letter, radio program or email – telling incredible stories that moved the donor with emotion always worked.
And it will work for you and your organization IF you know how to do it, and IF your entire organization embraces it.
To be honest, major gifts has lagged behind in telling the story of your mission. For some reason people have this idea that major donors only want to hear about statistics and return on investment. While those are critical pieces, they are NOT what inspire a major donor to give. Major donors, like all donors, want their hearts to be broken.
Recently, I was at a breakfast for a large non-profit in the New York City area. Fr. McShain, the President of Fordham University, was the keynote speaker. Fr. McShain is a very dynamic speaker… he exudes passion. He told the story of a capital campaign that Fordham had just successfully completed. But when they first started the capital campaign, it was going nowhere.
The messaging of the campaign was all about the great buildings they were going to build and renovate on the campus. No one wanted to give to that. Finally, someone smart recommended to Fr. McShain that what donors wanted to hear is not what Fordham is, but who Fordham is – the students, faculty and alumni who make up the school.
Once they stopped talking about buildings and focused on the people that make up Fordham and how they will benefit from the campaign, the campaign took off. So he stressed once again, “Donors don’t want to know what you do; they want to know who you are. Who you are is you, the people you serve and the donors.”
You see the difference there? One is organizationally focused, and the other is donor-focused.
Here are some questions to ask yourself about whether or not your organization understands the importance of telling your story:

  1. Does “your story” include donors? If donors are your mission too, they have to be part of your story. In fact, you should have donors that can tell that story as well, inspiring others to become donors and stakeholders in your organization.
  2. Can your story be told by all the staff of your organization? This is really important. Is everyone clear what your mission, vision and values are? This cannot be left to development staff. Everyone is responsible for being able to articulate the story of the organization. If this isn’t happening, then a total re-education of staff needs to happen. In the end, you want everyone in your organization to be “storytellers” that invoke passion for your mission to change the world.
  3. Is your messaging all about donors and what you do to change the world? This has to be done every day, all the time to inspire your staff, donors and prospects.
  4. When people hear your story, are they moved to take action? If it doesn’t move people to action, then your story is not being told correctly. I mean, the whole reason you are telling your story is only because you want others to take action to make a difference.

If you want a radical culture of philanthropy at work in your organization, it’s absolutely necessary for everyone to be able to tell the story.
Series details:

  1. Getting Your Head and Heart Right
  2. Donors are your Mission
  3. Leadership Must Be On Board
  4. Telling Your Story
  5. Get Everyone Involved
  6. Expressing the Need

Also, see our free White Paper: Building a Culture of Philanthropy