“Embrace what makes you Different” and other Fundraising Techniques

“Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.” – Henry Russo

I don’t know how it happened, but because of a Bluegrass festival, a Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru and decades’ worth of pronounced Girl Scout guilt, every attendee left the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s Fundraising Messaging Workshop with something different.

And it’s all thanks to 2nd Vice President of Enterprise Leadership and Organization Development at Traveler’s, Ann Kelley.

On Thursday afternoon, on the second floor of 100 Pearl Street, I sat in a conference room, pen poised and ready. Kelley’s presentation at our 2016 Arts Innovation Day “Refining Your Elevator Speech” left attendees mesmerized. To provide staff support to our presenters and guests and actively live tweet from various locations at once, our Community Program Manager (and Arts Innovation Day coordinator), Amanda Roy assigned us to different presentations throughout the day. As I absorbed information on Managing Talent and HR Best Practices, I also spent a good portion of my day reading tweets from our guests who LOVED the storytelling session.

The amount of positive feedback we received regarding the storytelling session was amazing. And I, in what some might call millennial entitlement, was really jealous. When was I going to get to listen to a presentation by Ann Kelley?

Answer: approximately 342 days later.

(Yes I counted.)

Kelley’s presentation, “Storytelling, Asking, Begging…OH MY!” was designed to educate us on the proper technique of fundraising: how to stand apart and pull at donor’s heart strings. Her goal was to teach us how to build a connection with our donors and tell our story effectively.

Her presentation began with an introduction and a story. Earlier that morning during her daily stop through the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru, inspired by her fundraising presentation, she wanted to give back by paying for the person in line behind her. She didn’t want to be acknowledged for her good deed-she just wanted to go on her way. The person behind her caught up to her later, trying to get a look at the kind stranger, but Kelley did everything in her power to prevent that from happening.

Her story had a few benefits:

  • It gave her the opportunity to tell a story and build a connection with her targeted audience.
  • It highlighted the fact that there are different kinds of people: those who want to be acknowledged, those who don’t, those who want to acknowledge (and I’m sure there are those who don’t). When fundraising, you need to find a way to appeal to ALL of those audiences. You can use different ways and methods, but ultimately, you still need to build that connection. No matter what kind of a person they are.
  • We were hooked for the rest of the seminar.

“Donors don’t give to institutions. They invest in ideas and people in whom they believe.” – GT Smith

Ann Kelley further elaborated on the idea that donors do not invest in our establishment, they invest in US, in our ideas, our products. And to achieve that investment, we need to find ways to tap into how they make their decisions: through their heart and through their head.

One on hand, an organization can tug at your heart strings- I’m looking at you, ASPCA and your tear-jerking Sarah McLachlan commercials. It resonates with you emotionally and you’re drawn to it. On the other hand, you may have a mental tie to an organization. Using a personal example of her relationship with the Girl Scouts, Kelley explained that she was a less than stellar scout. Because of this, she’d built up an insurmountable amount of guilt that caused her to donate to the Girl Scouts of America every single year without fail. Our goal as fundraisers was to find ways to communicate by connecting to a prospective donor through their heart or through their head. The practice of storytelling is about the head and heart connection.

Hint: if you start with their heart, you have a better chance of getting to their head!

However, this is where it gets tricky. As with many things, one size does not fit all. One message will not persuade the masses. It’s up to us to communicate and be influential in different ways and appeal to different audiences, tune in to different heads and different hearts. Our best bet to influence these audiences is through stories. Storytelling gets people engaged and connected emotionally; the more we tell stories for fundraising, the more we connect with people and build credibility. From a neurological standpoint, storytelling enhances memory: people are more likely to remember a story than photos or facts.

In an effort to refine our storytelling capabilities, Kelley presented us with a framework to analyze our organizations via a “Cast of Characters”. There were four characters in her cast:

  • Sponsors: Individuals who authorize, legitimize and demonstrate ownership for the initiative by supplying resources (including, but not limited to money, people, structures)
  • Champions: Individuals who believe in the initiative and attempt to obtain commitment and resources for it, but lack sponsorship to drive it.
  • Agents: Individuals who do the work and reap performance success.
  • Targets: Individuals who need to change behavior, processes, knowledge, perceptions, etc.

In groups of three or four we analyzed our own organizations and assigned people to our Cast of Characters, discussing what is important to each character and how we can use that to communicate with them and be collaborative. After working together, we found that as organizations we had a lot of similar struggles, and a lot of similar questions for Ann.

Our sponsors already provide us with affordable rent and sustenance, how do we get them to be Champions of our organization as well?

We have a great team and a lot to offer. How do we appeal to others to get the sponsorship and attention we need?

How do I tell my story? What’s my hook?

Her advice was valuable; she dissected a handful of nonprofit organizations and events to help them tell their story. She dug into the heart of the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society, she created line after line of hooks for the Podunk Bluegrass Festival, and marketed for the West Hartford Women’s Chorale without skipping a beat. And she found their hooks in their own words. She honed in on certain aspects of their elevator speeches to highlight what makes them different and what would draw in others. She gave us a template on how to tell the perfect story. She gave us tips on being collaborative and adding value to attract sponsors and obtain the resources needed to survive. She left an entire room of forty people inspired.

And if you’re wondering if the presentation was worth the 342 day wait, I’d say it was.

For more information on upcoming Innovation Workshops, you can visit: letsgoarts.org/workshop or sign up for our second Arts Innovation Day on June 2, 2017 at Manchester Community College by clicking here!

Join the United Arts Campaign to keep innovative workshops and seminars like our “Fundraising Messaging Workshop” alive in our communities!