Posts tagged ‘storytelling’

November 30, 2017

Do the Numbers Tell the Full Story?

I’m back! I haven’t written a new blog post in nearly eight months due to serious health issues. Now, as my recovery progresses, I feel compelled to return to my blog as I have much to share with you. Thank you for your support and patience.

I want to take this opportunity to update you about what the past several months have been like for me while making a useful fundraising point that I believe will be of benefit to you.

Like you, as the end of the year approaches, I’ve been inundated with direct mail, e-mail, and telephone fundraising appeals. Many of these appeals focus on numbers. For example, I’ve read about how one organization won several awards for its theater productions, how another has a $10,000 challenge grant, how another needs to raise an additional $50,000 to meet its goal, and how yet another has helped feed over 500 people during Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, I also received an appeal from the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, which brings justice and healing to the survivors of child sexual abuse. The appeal, which stood out from the pack, told the story of one child, 5-year-old Sarah. Reading about Sarah’s situation, I learned how PCA helped her. In addition to Sarah’s compelling story, the appeal mentioned that PCA also provided services to over 3,500 other children in need over the past year.

Which charity do you think I’m most likely to support? If you guessed PCA, you’re right.

While numbers can tell part of the story, they can’t convey the whole story the way that sharing the experience of one individual can. Sharing someone’s personal story can make a cause relatable, more real, and more compelling. Stories tap into emotions that statistics simply cannot.

Now, let me try to do a bit of both. I want to update you about my personal situation while using some numbers.

Regular readers of my blog know that I have suffered from the exceedingly rare Appendicial Carcinoma with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP). I’ve been open about my situation for three years so that readers would understand when I stepped away temporarily and so that others suffering with PMP would know that I am willing to be a resource for them. If you want to learn more about my journey, just search “Pseudomyxoma Peritonei” on this site.

I was diagnosed with late-stage PMP in 2014. My doctors suspect it had been growing in me undetected for nearly a decade. Two months after diagnosis, I underwent successful major surgery. Unfortunately, the cancer came back in 2015. While chemotherapy kept it in check for several months, surgery was again required in April 2017.

This time around, my primary surgery in April was 14 hours long. My follow-up surgery in June was two hours.

I was in the hospital for a combined total of 40 days from April to June. That includes my initial hospital stay, two readmissions for complications, and one follow-up surgery stay.

During my three-month treatment period from April through June, I read 10 books. Hey, I couldn’t always rely on television for good entertainment. I would have read even more books if it wasn’t for the painkillers.

Lisa, my wife, and I spent nearly one-quarter of the year in Pittsburgh, home to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Shadyside Hospital where I received expert treatment.

I went into the hospital weighing an already diminished 146 pounds. I exited at about 112 pounds. I’m now over 130 pounds and gaining toward my goal of 150 or more. (If anyone wants to help fatten me up, I’m available for lunches. 🙂 )

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January 10, 2014

How Much is a Story Worth?

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.

Abigail Sailors

Abigail Sailors (photo by Morgan Spiehs/Lincoln Journal Star)

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:

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June 28, 2013

It’s Not Just What You Say, But How You Say It

I learned a long time ago, as a development professional, that having a great case for support is nearly meaningless unless you also develop compelling messaging.

Later, when attending the Association of Fundraising Professionals Faculty Training Academy, the workshop leader made this same point in the context of making presentations. The AFP/FTA takes good speakers and turns them into the best.

Unfortunately, a great many nonprofit organizations continue to send the same dull, institutional-focused direct mail that prospects easily bypass in the paper shuffle. Charities continue to make uninspiring calls, publish informative articles few read, run ads that donors will only glance at and soon forget.

GCheeseiven the pressures we face in our daily lives and the enormous demands on our time, I understand first-hand how simple it can be to take the easy way. Knowing the content of our message is important, we’re sometimes lulled into the belief that that is enough to make the message compelling.

Well, it’s usually not. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it that counts.

Let’s step away from the nonprofit sector for an example that will make what I’m suggesting crystal clear.

My wife and I are foodies. We live in Philadelphia, a fantastic restaurant city. We’re choosey about where we eat. And we’re even pickier about which restaurant email lists we subscribe to. However, like I said, we’re foodies. So, we’ve ended up on a lot of restaurant email lists, though just the good ones.

Recently, my wife received an email from Tria, a wine, cheese, and beer café that we enjoy. It read, in part:

Cheese, Please

With due respect to our current cheese menu, variety is the spice of life. We’re introducing a brand new list of summer fromage that we’re excited to brag about share with you.

Announcing! The Tria Spring Cheese Menu

Out with the old list, in with the new. Starting today, we’ll be replacing every single cheese on our menu with a new alternate for the summer. No, we aren’t throwing out tons of delicious cheese (the horror!) from our current list – as one is finished, a new one will take over the former’s place on the menu. Pop by and scout out the arrival of a new ultra-creamy Crottin-style cheese from Georgia, a funky thistle-rennet cheese from Spain that redefines luscious, the best cheddar in the world, and much much more. We promise drool-worthy images on our Twitter and Instagram feeds as the curds switch up.

When: Today through the rest of the summer

Where: Tria Rittenhouse and Tria Wash West”

You can see the full message here. 

Tria used humor to capture our attention, and great descriptions that engaged our senses to hold on to our attention. The message also gave us important information about the new offering including when and where we can find it.

The café could have imparted the same core information far more simply. Tria could have said:

Tria has begun offering its summer cheese menu. Visit our Rittenhouse or Wash West location to try the new cheese selection.”

Both messages impart the same basic information and address the what, when, where questions. However, there is no doubt that the original message is far more engaging and, therefore, far more effective.

My wife, also a development professional, agrees on this point. She liked the email so much, she took the unusual step of sending this response:

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