picture of a cuff link that says "tell your story" storyStorytelling. It’s now part of our fundraising lexicon. There is a major annual conference on storytelling in fundraising; this year it’s in San Diego. As a major gift fundraiser, you are expected to tell your organization’s story and to know your donor’s story. All of it is important so you can bring those two together to make amazing things happen.
But there is another story you need to know – your story.
Every great major gift fundraiser or development professional that I know is deeply in touch with their story and why they do this work. They are grounded. Their passion for fundraising comes from either a profound experience or a life led with intention. Are you in touch with your story?
I’m going to tell you mine.
I was in my junior year of college at St. Cloud State University. St. Cloud sits on the banks of the Mississippi River, and it’s my hometown in Minnesota. This was 1987. I had led, up until that time, a pretty nice (albeit sheltered) life. St. Cloud was pretty white and rural, but a nice town to grow up in.
Pretty much like the Garrison Keeler’s “Lake Wobegon” of Prairie Home Companion.
But I was feeling restless with my life. You could say I was lost.
I was studying to be a high school history teacher, but I just didn’t have the passion for it at that time in my life. I thought I would get my degree, teach high school history in St. Cloud, and lead a pretty comfortable life.
Yep, that was what I thought my life was going to be.
A friend of mine did an internship in Philadelphia with kids in public housing the summer before, and when I told him I was sort of in a rut in my life, he urged me to go and take some time to help poor inner-city kids.
So I did. I left the comfort of central Minnesota and landed in Southwest Philadelphia in an area that I thought a bomb had actually hit and destroyed.
Over the next two months, I witnessed some incredible heartache, was scared out of my mind, laughed harder than I ever had, was robbed at gunpoint, was protected by gang members, enjoyed many meals with people who took me into their humble homes, and taught basketball to black, inner-city middle school kids. Yep, me from Minnesota – it still makes me laugh.
Those two months broke me.
I left Philadelphia a different person. I had never thought about racial justice before that experience. I never thought about what poverty really looked, felt and smelled like. But I made friendships and heard the stories of people that I would never have considered sitting down with before. Real people. Poor people – people that did not look like me at all – who loved a white guy from Minnesota.
I came back to St. Cloud to finish my degree, and the day after graduation moved back to Philadelphia to live in the inner city. I never looked back.
At the young age of 24, it grounded me in something real and profound.
That experience in Philadelphia changed my worldview so dramatically that it led me to work for a non-profit that focused on racial justice.
That led me to fundraising. Which led me to finding my joy!
This is why I do what I do.
Now, I want you to be able to tell your story. Why are you a fundraiser? What happened in your life so that you now have a passion for being the bridge that brings together a donor and the need, creating joy?
Sometime a donor will ask you for your story. She may ask, “Why are you doing this work for this organization?”
Do you know?
Great fundraisers are grounded in something deeper. They are passionate about life, about people, about making the world a better place. They work hard for their donors because they know it’s all about helping donors find joy in their lives through their giving.
What is your story?
PS — Please join me for a free webinar this Wednesday called “How to Think about Major Gifts