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Eavesdropping: A New Way to Make Your Case for Support

Eavesdropping: A New Way to Make Your Case for SupportHaving trouble figuring out how to communicate the impact of what you’re planning?

I’ve found a great new exercise to help you understand and communicate in a compelling way the impact of your capital campaign. It’s a simple idea. But like some simple ideas, it’s powerful.

You just need to do a bit of time traveling. But who wouldn’t love to do a bit of that?

Become a Time-Traveling Eavesdropper!

Imagine yourself two or three years after you’ve finished your campaign and built your building and started your new programs.

Let’s say you’ve traveled to the year 2025.

You, like A Christmas Carol’s Ebenezer Scrooge, are eavesdropping on conversations about your organization. But, unlike Scrooge, the conversations you overhear are glowing. ...

  • First you hear a conversation between two parents who have students at your school.
  • Then you hear a conversation between two students.
  • Then a conversation between two of your donors.

You will, of course, make up the conversation pairs that are appropriate for your organization.

In each conversation, two people are talking about the amazingness of your organization and the impact it has had, both on their lives and the lives of others.

Write a short paragraph capturing each of these imaginary conversations.

Here’s an example:

One parent says to another parent ...

It’s amazing how this school has transformed over the last few years. I have my third kid there now and there’s no comparison. The new student center has breathed a new kind of energy into the entire place. My daughter comes home excited most every day. And really, it’s not only about what she’s learning, but she has a sense of being part of a learning community. She’s actually excited to go to school in the morning and that certainly wasn’t the case with my older kids when they were at the school."

This little story captures much more than any description of the new student center could. It communicates the energy and enthusiasm and results that your campaign has had.

Compare it, for example, with this more standard description:

The Highline School plans to build a new community center on its campus. The new facility will provide a center for students to congregate at various times during the day. Until now, Highline has not had a space large enough to gather the entire school community. We anticipate that this new 10,000 sf building will serve as a centerpiece for our campus. It will have an auditorium, several smaller meeting rooms and a lounge area for students to gather for their club-work."

Big difference. Right?

Communicating What Matters Most in Your Case

As we work with organizations in the run up to a capital campaign, we find that almost everyone has trouble communicating why what they are doing really matters.

They know what they need and can describe that handily, but they aren’t able to convey the power and impact of what they plan.


Because in most cases, what’s exciting isn’t just that you are solving practical problems, but that once your problems are solved, the people you serve will act and feel different.

They’ll be inspired and hopeful and excited. They’ll be happier and more motivated. Donors will be proud of the difference they’ve made. Staff members will feel like they are part of a winning team. You’ll not only serve more people, you’ll serve them better.

Use what people will say to make your case.

The intangible results of what we build are often conveyed more easily by what people say about your success than by the words you use to describe what you’ve done.

This eavesdropping strategy may get you on the right track. Try it.

In fact, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that writing up these little imagined conversations inspires YOU, too.

Eavesdropping: A New Way to Make Your Case for SupportThe preceding is a cross-post by Andrea Kihlstedt from the Capital Campaign Masters blog. Andrea is president of Capital Campaign Masters, which provides online resources to help organizations get ready for capital campaigns. She is the author of four books on fundraising, including Capital Campaigns, Strategies That Work, now out in its fourth edition.

Topics: Fundraising