Write (and Tell) Your Story
How many times have you been neatly dressed and all prepared to meet a potential donor? You have your materials nicely packed and ready for show. You are ready to dazzle the prospect with tons of information you think is great about your organization and cause. Statistics and facts are pouring out of your body. In your mind, you have every base covered. You have all of the information you think others long to hear. In effect, you are the perfect robot designed for failure and you don't even realize it.
I just attended a Summit Marketing Strategic Fundraising Symposium in Savannah, Ga. What a beautiful place to visit. The highlight of the trip besides the education learned was the evening I visited the location where Tom Hanks sat on a bench during "Forest Gump." And I enjoyed eating at Paula Deen's The Lady & Sons Restaurant before the bench visit.
The business part of the trip was listening to dedicated and talented individuals speak to professionals, including me, encouraging us to think about disseminating information in a different way.
In this symposium we learned about the impact of storytelling and the effect it has on prospects. Using music, videos, social media and real-life experiences, Summit Marketing professionals told us we need to open the window to emotion when presenting information to prospects. They told us where stories come from and how to rethink stories in a digital world. They noted we are visual learners, and sight reinforces sound.
They also taught us how to bring to life stories that inspire. We heard a variety of guest speakers tell their personal stories relating to the mission of various charities they represented. I understood that facts were important, but of greater importance was who communicated these facts, how they communicated this information and what was communicated. The key to communication success is expressing emotion and visual impact.
Summit Marketing is based in Kansas City, Mo. This company provided symposium participants with ideas for innovation, thoughts for solutions and best ways to target prospects. While I could not enjoy Savannah to a great degree due to time constraints, I did leave the symposium inspired and full of new ideas to approach future prospects. I now have a greater appreciation for the fact that you must tell your story through many outlets including radio, television, print media, direct mail, social media and face-to-face interaction. It was noted that stories must be dynamic and not static in nature.
The moral of the story is simple. When you approach a prospect with impersonal facts only, you will fail to connect. That approach is like watching a black-and-white television set in the 1950s. If you paint a vivid and colorful emotional message using stories that people can relate to with similar life experiences, feelings will fly. People will watch the story unfold in "HD" color. They will better understand why you need funds and the tremendous impact their donations can make to help others.
Over time, prospects will get the message you want to convey in powerful ways even you cannot imagine. I thank Summit Marketing for recharging my intellectual battery. I now have a better understanding of the fact it is not what you say but how you say it. That approach makes all the difference between ultimate funding success and failure. You definitely make a greater impact if you can do research on prospects and understand their needs and wants. It is not about you — it is all about them.
Nonprofit competition is keen. You must create a story that is unique and separates your organization from others in the community. You should always try to understand why donors give to your organization and what makes your organization special. If you don't know, start calling them on the phone and ask them. You will be surprised at what you learn.
We all have a story to tell. It is up to you to write your story today!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.