Sometimes it’s hard to understand why volunteers join a board but don’t seem to engage. Most nonprofit organizations create worthwhile materials, sponsor training, share processes, articulate an “ask” and acknowledge gifts. Many host cultivation events so new board members can “get to know us” and even offer to “do the talking” at one-on-one meetings. So why are board members often recalcitrant to fundraise?
Answer: Board members haven’t yet found their voice! No matter how many documents we might provide to keep our board well-informed, what matters most is that each member can comfortably and passionately articulate the unique value proposition of your cause.
Why? Everyone has a story to tell about their connection to a cause and motivations for making a gift or being involved. Once a story becomes innate and easy to tell, asking for money becomes easier.
Let’s review the necessary elements of a nonprofit’s story
Element 1: – Basic plot
The basic plot includes understanding a nonprofit’s mission, facts and figures, accomplishments and obstacles preventing program advancement.
For example, one of my favorites is the Phamaly Theater Company. It’s mission is to inspire people to re-envision disability through professional theater. Only those with a disability can join the company. What ‘s relevant to know today? The company is in its 25th season and will offer a touring musical, “The Velveteen Rabbit”, travelling across Colorado for the first time. It will engage over 200 actors this season reaching over 20,000 in multiple venues. This requires money!
Element 2: The Ending
Writers often know how their story might end. When asking for money and creating a campaign, nonprofits need an end goal, too. The “Ending” tells potential donors how much money the nonprofit needs to raise and how the funds will be used.
Since subscriptions and ticket sales do not fully cover the cost of operations, Phamaly annually raises money to close the gap in its $600,000 budget. Perhaps to honor its 25th Anniversary year, this organization will launch a campaign for a new and specific story. Once again, know your ending.
Element 3: Segment Your Audience
It’s not possible to be everything to everyone and donors are no exception to this rule. Board members need to understand the different donor segments and their motivations for supporting a cause. Once potential donor segments are identified, specific outreach plans can be organized. Board members’ storytelling begins by segmenting their own sphere of influence and determining how best to connect with them about the cause. Their friends will actually appreciate knowing about the causes they support. Know your readers.
Element 4: The Platform
Nonprofits should create a structure for delivering the story. This includes providing your board members with a pithy introduction and or an Elevator Pitch, email templates, social media posts and thank you copy. Together these create a delivery platform for your message.
Elements 1-4 encompass the basic components of a fundraising story. These elements, however, will not guarantee your story becomes a bestseller. Element #5 is the key.
Element 5: The Emotional Hook…Your own story!
Let me tell you mine. For over thirty years, my family and I have raised money for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. Why? Because we want my brother to get out of his wheelchair! We want to see him stand again, take a step and look us in the eye. We want our father who started this quest to look down from heaven with joy that his son gets an opportunity to walk again. That’s my story and it’s consistently brought donors to the Reeve Foundation for over three decades.
There’s no such thing as a right or wrong story, just a genuine one. Everyone has a story of their own, what matters to them, that’s good enough. Your board members don’t have to be dramatic, just sincere. It’s about sharing the story. That’s how your board will contribute to fundraising without a demanding uncomfortable effort.
Start with your story and the rest will unfold with a most satisfying plot.
Here’s what I propose:
1. Practice your story; start sharing with friends. Let them know what you care about and how you’re involved in a particular cause.
2. Gather the other elements- facts, mission, outcomes, how money will be spent…and then add to your own story
3. Before long you’ll be able to say in normal conversation:
It would mean so much to me if you could make a gift to this organization.
Stay tuned for a second blog this month that reveals how nonprofit leaders, development staff and board chairs can enable storytelling.
Thank you to the AFP Coffee Chat in Denver who inspired this blog.