What’s your organization’s story?

I thought the word has been out for quite some time now.  People like to hear stories.  Yes, they want to know that you’re stewarding their donations, and yes, they want measurements and accountabilities.  They want to know that you’re working for the long-term good of your clients and that you’re not just the “band-aid solution.”  But they don’t want to know this until after  you tell the story.

Some people try, bless their hearts.  But they embed their stories deep into the description of their organization. 

People are interested in people. 

People aren’t interested in the homeless population.  They’re interested in Bob, who’s been clean for nearly six months, even though he’s still living on the street, and really wants a stable place to live.

People aren’t interested in hunger.  They’re interested in Hannah, who used to have behaviour problems at school until someone figured out she came to school hungry, and then got her involved in a school breakfast program.

People aren’t interested in your new building plans with state-of-the-art technology, open spaces, ergonomic design, and view of the river.  They want to know how Jose’s university experience is going to be enhanced and made more valuable by your donor’s contribution.

Okay, SOME people are interested in your new building plans with state-of-the-art technology, open spaces, ergonomic design, and view of the river.  But that probably won’t motivate them to donate unless there’s a clear line of sight between their donations and the value to your students.

After you tell the story, then  you can move into the details of your organization, because now they’re interested.  Wow them with your various programs.  Impress them with your outcomes measurements.  Win their trust with your organization’s transparency and commitment to good donations stewardship.

I continue to hear people pitching their causes with something like this:

“The Happiness Agency has four programs.  We have the X Program for thus and so problems.  We have the Y Program for people who need thus and so.  We have . . . . ” and so on.

Your organization is doing such phenomenal work on so many levels that it’s no wonder you want to tell everyone everything about it.  After all, how can they appreciate the full scope and the interconnectivity of your programs unless you provide them with the whole picture?

Additionally, how can you ensure your message resonates with the most people unless you offer something for everyone?  Maybe some people will be interested in this program, while others will be impressed with that one.

What does any of this matter if you lose the bulk of your listeners before you’re 10 seconds in to your presentation?  (If it’s printed material, they’re not even going to start reading.  They’ll just see blah blah blah, oh yeah, it’s that organization I donated to once, well, I already know about them, so into recycling it goes!)

Get to your story within the first 10 seconds.

“Thank you so much for letting me tell you about the X Agency.  I’d like to start by telling you about Mary.  Mary is a single mother of three.  She lives in a small apartment and works full time, at minimum wage.  One day, she came home from work, and found an eviction notice under her door.”

Hopefully, X Agency offers a happy ending for Mary’s story, one that demonstrates how X Agency not only prevented Mary’s eviction, but also set her on a course for a better life for her family.

Okay, you say, but what about organizations like the Humane Society, or Ducks Unlimited, or Greenpeace?  I think all three of these organizations have found their “people stories.” 

The folks at the Humane Society know that animals are people, too.  Okay, they’re not really people, but by focusing on the individuality and the sencience of animals, they accomplish much more than they would by focusing on animals as simply huge populations of beings.  The lesson here is that if you don’t actually serve people, you must humanize whatever it is you do serve.

Ducks Unlimited exists to preserve wetlands.  What a clever idea it was to go with the duck concept!  Imagine what would have become of them had they decided to name themselves “Wetlands Unlimited?”  How much attention and support would they have garnered if their brochures and website featured photos of wetlands? 

Greenpeace humanizes the whole of the Planet Earth into a single entity:  “Greenpeace exists because this fragile Earth deserves a voice.”

Now go out and tell your stories.

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