In Part 1 of this two-part series we discussed your board members’ role in fundraising, and how to help them embrace it more fully. It begins with taking away their fears and showing them how to reframe the task from “yucky chore” to “gift of a compelling tale.”
The next step is figuring out the types of tales your board members (and you!) can tell and/or elicit from the prospects they approach for gifts.
Stories You Can Tell
There are three amazing ways board members can use storytelling to carry out their fundraising duties:
- Tell the organization’s story
- Tell their personal stories
- Ask the donor to tell his/her own story
Tell the Organization’s Story
This is the easy part. You’ve got dozens of stories. You exist because of stories. When board members tell me fundraising is scary, I say, “Is fundraising scarier than doing what needs to be done to give a happy ending to your organization’s stories?”
The people who come to you who need help. The diseases that are killing people. The natural disasters that are wreaking havoc. The wrongs and injustices that need to be righted ... cancer ... global warming ... floods ... homelessness ... domestic violence ... human trafficking ... malaria ... undrinkable water ... torture and injustice ... poverty ... hunger ... there are a lot of scary problems in the world!
If your board members, or executive director—or you!—are scared to ask for philanthropic gifts, consider the alternative. Not asking. Whenever you’re called on to ask for gifts, remember to think as if you were the one in dire need.
- If it were you facing a night sleeping on the streets, would you rather ask for money to get a bed or ... stay homeless?
- If it were you diagnosed with a terminal disease, would you rather ask for money to find a cure or ... succumb?
- If it were you unable to buy food to feed your kids, would your rather ask for help or ... see your children become ill?
- If you were a polluted river, would you rather continue down this path until you could be set on fire, or ... seek funds so you could flow free and pure?
Fundraisers ask when needs are apparent. Fundraisers ask on behalf of those who cannot. Tell the stories of the rivers, forests, children, seniors, immigrants, sick, lonely, and impoverished. Then ask your donor to help resolve the problems you’ve outlined so the world becomes a less scary place.
Here are some ways to find stories your board members can tell:
- Bring clients to present at meetings.
- Arrange for board members to get out in the field and visit your programs.
- Send board members a “story of the week” or “month.”
- Ask board members to share their field stories at board meetings.
- Write these stories down; then share with everyone after the meeting (so they remember and so folks who weren’t present can hear them).
Remember: Not everyone resonates with the same stories. So collect a bunch of different ones. For example, if your board member is not interested in your senior services program, they won’t remember those stories. But they’ll remember the stories you share about your children’s services, because that’s what floats their boat.
Tell Their Personal Stories
This is easy too. Simply ask board members why they became involved with you and/or why they stay involved. This connects folks to their passion. How is it personal? Have they been touched by your issue? Passion is what will help folks overcome their fears.
You must teach your board members how to tell the story. Take them out for coffee. Talk with them about what inspires them. Ask them to tell you about a story that moved them related to your organization’s work. Suggest little ways they could share that story with others. Tell them that talk with them has inspired you! Help them to understand that fundraising is about doing exactly what the two of you are doing—having coffee ... making small talk ... learning about what each other cares about ... trading stories ... and helping one another act on shared values. Have your fundraisers practice telling the story back to you and others. Let them own the story and become passionate about the telling.
Ask the Donor to Tell His/Her Own Story
People love to talk about themselves—so ask them to tell you their story! Once you’ve asked a board member to tell you their story, suggest they use this exact same strategy to learn about the donor to whom they’re assigned. This is a great way to begin a donor visit—one that may ultimately culminate in an ask. Listen carefully to what your donor most values, and consider how his/her values match those your organization enacts. Then ... tell them a story likely to match their own in some way.
Set Folks Up for “Happily Ever After”
Board members will be happy when a donor says “yes” to their request for a gift. Donors will be happy when they’ve been given an opportunity to give a story a happy ending. Voila! Happily ever after for all concerned!
It’s all a matter of framing. When we frame fundraising as merely asking for money we fail to offer our board an appropriate context for their task. Fundraising must be viewed as a servant to philanthropy. No one is asking for money merely for the sake of money. They’re asking to serve a greater purpose and are engaging others in a compelling story; then matching folks who are interested in this story with a cause they value and a solution they can endorse.
Again, it’s not about money. It’s about building friendships, sustaining friendships ... in order to change the world. The actual moment of asking is one small step in a process.
Show your board how they are “philanthropy facilitators”—helping donors to join in your stories and provide the happy ending.
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Check out her online course, Winning Major Gift Fundraising Strategies.