The Power of the Story
I was meeting with some really good people at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission in the heart of Atlantic City, N.J. We were there to help them build a major-gift program and start developing real relationships with donors.
If you ever wanted to see a city in turmoil, this is city to visit. I won’t go into all the details, but the city is in big trouble—businesses are closing down and this rescue mission is bursting at the seams with an influx of people needing its services.
People who were once donors are now in line waiting for meals.
The rescue mission has some really faithful donors, but many of them have not been challenged to make a real investment in the mission. We were there to help the organization start building a structure for major gifts and to inspire it to start creating meaningful relationships with donors, just like it does with the people it serves everyday.
At the end of our day, the executive director asked my colleague and me if we’d like a tour. It was eye-opening and amazing. This is where we met Tyre.
Tyre is the head chef of the Mission Kitchen. He met us at the door of his kitchen as we started our tour. He was young and vibrant, and had a smile on his face. He was extremely proud of this humble kitchen. That night, he was serving lamb and red potatoes—food that was donated by a nearby casino.
I asked him to tell us his story.
Tyre had grown up in the food industry, starting as a dishwasher when he was a teenager. He then became a line cook, and eventually he worked his way up to a sous chef for one of the largest casinos in Atlantic City. He loves food and loves to cook. He’s worked under some very famous chefs.
One day, in the middle of a hectic time preparing dinners for some of Atlantic City’s wealthiest high rollers, he got a random text from a friend of a friend who asked him if he’d consider being the head chef for the rescue mission.
In the middle of ordering around a number of line cooks, he sort of brushed this text off. But something drew him to respond. “Sure, I’ll talk to you.” The next day he talked to the executive director of the mission, and the day after that he asked what the salary was. It was about half of what he was making.
He was ready to hang up the phone when the executive director said, “Wait, just come in and volunteer for a couple of days, and see what you think.”
Reluctantly, Tyre went in and volunteered.
He never left.
Tyre explained that to be able to feed people in great need, see their appreciation and be the head chef of his own kitchen was something he could not turn down.
So, with the blessing of his wife and small child, he took a big pay cut, but changed his life forever.
Tyre went on about how creative he has to get with the food that is donated from area casinos and local farms. He said that he feeds between 700 and 1,000 people a day.
But this is not just ordinary cafeteria food. This is pasta with homemade cream sauce, clam chowder, and rack of lamb with mint jelly. This is food that many of his “customers” have never had the privilege of eating. And for some, it’s food that they once ate, but haven’t tasted in years.
I watched as his face lit up talking about what they do everyday in the kitchen and how much joy he has doing this work. I teared up listening to him describe the life he could have had—money, recognition, his own restaurant—and the life he has now: joy, satisfaction and a sense the he is making a difference in someone’s life. He talked about the joy he has watching the faces of the people come through his food line when they taste his food—a joy he would have never seen in the faces of the people at the casinos.
As I walked out of the kitchen and back to the executive director's office, I said to the team, “Your work is to bring your major donors right here and listen to Tyre’s story. Your major donors give out of emotion. Facts and figures are great, but if they looked into Tyre’s eyes, heard his story and felt the joy that emanates from his soul, they would be moved to invest beyond anything you ever imagined.”
I’ve been in fundraising a long time, but even so, listening to Tyre’s powerful story while standing in his kitchen was incredibly moving, and it made me pause and consider all the blessings in my life and, perhaps, to think less about my own petty worries.
This is the power of what a story can do to change the hearts and minds of your major donors. If you really want to be the bridge between your donor’s desire to change the world and the need you are addressing with your organization, you have to tell a powerful story to your donor. A story like the one I just told you.
Today, think about all the stories your organization has. Then think about how to bring your donors into that story so that it will break their hearts. You will be doing those donors a huge favor by helping them change their lives through their giving.
If you like baseball, tennis, golf, Gregorian chant, jazz, rock, good wine and deep conversation, then you’ll like to hang out with Jeff.
If you are passionate about fundraising, Jeff will inspire you to be a true “broker of love” for your donors, helping you bring together a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. Jeff believes that if nonprofits truly want to grow and obtain more net revenue for their mission, it will come through creating, building and successfully managing major-gift programs. The Connections blog will give you inspiration and practical advice to help you succeed. Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit fundraising experience and is senior partner of the Veritus Group.