We all enjoy a good story. Sometimes, a story will make us sad or happy. It might even make us laugh or inspire us. But, how much is a story worth to a fundraising professional?
A few days ago, I read a news article out of Lincoln, Nebraska. No, the piece was not about the bone-chilling temperatures resulting from the Polar Vortex. Instead, it was a heart-warming tale about an 18-year-old server.
When two men recently visited the Cracker Barrel restaurant, they asked the hostess to seat them at a table staffed by the grumpiest server. They explained they wanted to cheer-up the person.
The hostess explained that Cracker Barrel did not have any unhappy servers; so, instead, she would seat them at a table staffed by the happiest server.
After placing their order, the men asked Abigail Sailors why she was so happy. Over the course of the meal, she answered their questions.
Years ago, Abigail’s parents were involved in a tragic car crash. Her mother had suffered a severe brain injury. Her father could not care for the children by himself.
Following the crash, Abigail and her four siblings were placed into foster care, in separate homes. Abigail was abused and bounced from home to home.
When Abigail, a sister and brother were returned home to their father, the story did not reach its happily-ever-after moment. Instead, the father was ultimately arrested for abuse.
Then, nine years ago, John and Susi Sailors rescued the five children and cared for them alongside their own five offspring. Abigail and her siblings were finally together in a secure, loving home.
After talking about her past, Abigail spoke about her present and future. She had attended one semester at Trinity Bible College in North Dakota. She paid her own way. Unfortunately, she did not have enough money to return. So, she is working at Cracker Barrel and saving her earnings so she can go back to Trinity or study on-line.
Given where she has come from, where she is, and where she is going is why she is so happy, Abigail told her customers.
As the two gentlemen finished their meals, wrapped up the conversation, and prepared to leave, they did something remarkable. Actually, four things that are remarkable:
1. One of the men told Abigail that he just happened to be an alumnus of Trinity.
2. The men gave her a $100 tip, which she split with a fellow server.
3. The Trinity alumnus then pulled out his checkbook and wrote a $5,000 check made out to Trinity Bible College. He gave it to Abigail to use for her tuition.
4. The Trinity alumnus then wrote out a check for $1,000 made out to Abigail to cover some of her expenses.
Abigail Sailors’ powerful story, joyful spirit, and willingness to engage resulted in gifts totaling $6,100!
I hope the development professionals at Trinity Bible College are paying attention. Unfortunately, the early evidence is that they are not.
After reading an article about Abigail, I visited the Trinity website and clicked on the “Giving” tab. I was taken to a page (screen shot below) that simply gave visitors the opportunity to donate via PayPal. There was no case for support. There were no student stories. There were just some tabs to other, largely irrelevant, pages such as “Meet the President.”
I’m sure that Trinity’s President is a great guy. Since he is still relatively new, it’s good that the website includes his biography. However, wouldn’t it also be nice if Trinity posted some heart-warming stories about some of its inspiring students?
In Abigail’s case, she was visited by two customers who, from the start, were motivated to do something good that day. However, that “something good” went undefined until the Trinity alumnus was inspired by Abigail’s story.
Other Trinity alumni no doubt have the same motivation to do something good. However, is the school doing everything it can to inspire them to do so?
Abigail Sailors has already proven that a good story can raise a lot of money for the College. Now, will the development professionals at Trinity step up their game?
Good stories are only powerful fundraising tools if you take the time to uncover them and share them.
If you’re interested in a more detailed account of Abigail’s story, I encourage you to read Peter Salter’s touching article in the Lincoln Journal Star, which I relied upon for this post.
For another of my posts about storytelling, checkout: “Impressive Statistics v. One Good Story.”
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?
UPDATE (Jan. 14, 2014): The Trinity Bible College website now includes a link to a news story about Abigail Sailors. The link is on the College’s Home Page. Trinity has also somewhat upgraded its Giving Page. Donors can now easily designate their gift to a variety of areas including “Scholarship Assistance.” I applaud the College’s website enhancements.