When I interviewed the executive director of an environmental organization recently, he was extremely eager to give me statistics about Congressional budgeting as it relates to the environment and to talk about specific legislation winding its way through Congress – down to the subcommittees and staffers involved. I think we can all agree that only the most wonky among us have that level of interest in environmental legislation.
So I asked him why he cared so much. There must be a reason he was willing to delve so deeply into the minutiae of the legislative process on this one issue, right? It took him a few minutes to shift gears, but once he did, he talked about what prompted him to become an environmentalist, his outrage at what he sees as the immoral way government is spending taxpayer money, and his fears for the future of humanity if we ignore Global Warming.
In just a few minutes, we went from a dry fact piece about Congressional spending on the environment, to a Control-tying acquisition letter based on an impassioned plea for moral and humane fiscal decisions.
It’s easy to get caught up in the facts about what you’re doing – and for a lot of people working in nonprofits, people who face desperate circumstances every day as a part of their job, it’s an important method of self-preservation. But when you’re trying to get people to support your mission, you have to be able to recreate that initial surge of passion. Because all the facts in the world won’t get you as much support as one good, emotion-driven story.
This is where that old writing rule “Show, Don’t Tell” comes in.
Need an Example?
It’s easy to tell your story like this: “Every week we see more than 50 homeless, often ill, dogs come into our shelter. And tragically, fewer than 20% of those are adopted. As our canine population grows, our needs grow, too, and today, we’re facing a crisis situation. We urgently need an infusion of $XX to house, feed and care for the dogs we currently have and those we expect in the next few weeks.”
You’ve got the numbers, it’s pretty emotional, and your core group of donors will probably respond.
But consider this approach: “Zoe cowered in the back of her dog carrier, shaking. I looked at her check-in sheet: She’d been abused in her previous home, and she suffered from malnutrition and a bad case of fleas. I got down on the floor, my eyes fixed on her big brown beauties, and coaxed her forward. It took a while, but eventually, she scooted out of her carrier, calmed her shaking, and placed her head trustingly in my lap. One small triumph…that will be replayed more than 50 times this week. You can help Zoe – and all the dogs of XX shelter – make this challenging transition…”
Who can resist a pitch like that? By painting the picture of one dog the shelter has helped, you give your donor the chance to feel like they are there with you. What’s more, this approach breaks down an overwhelming problem – 50 dogs a week that need homes – into a small, do-able task. They may not be able to help every dog that needs them, but they can help this ONE dog.
Very few people dive into the nonprofit world without having some passion. So don't forget why you chose nonprofit work in the first place. Communicate that in your fundraising, and you'll find others flocking to your organization as well.