Why Storytelling Is Fundamental For Fundraising

One of my 2008 highlights was attending the training in the Benevon fundraising method. This is a donor-centered fundraising approach that emphasizes development of personal relationships. It also focuses on engaging potential donors by sharing your organization’s stories.

This is a modern and common-sense approach to fundraising. When I first became a professional in the Boy Scouts of America more than 17 years ago, our fundraising approach was based on the message, “We’re the Boy Scouts, give to us.” Many other organizations took the same approach two decades ago. Much has changed in philanthropy and fundraising and fewer prospective donors–especially those who don’t have any relationship or past experience with your organization–will write a check based on your brand or their perception of your brand.

Earlier this week, a document was circulated at the Greater St. Louis Area Council that compared the results of our solicitation of Scout families for donations with other Midwest councils. Many councils are struggling financially. (Rick Cronk, the former President of the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, once told an audience at an east-coast marketing conference I attended that the number one challenge in the BSA helping the significant number of councils that were in some type of financial distress.) The staff was encouraged to share the data of our council’s success, or lack thereof, to other Midwestern councils.

I was a sportswriter for daily newspapers for almost seven years. I knew when my stories would become bulletin board material to motivate teams and athletes before big games. Instead of the fundraising data being a motivator on the bulletin board, it put the focus on an unfair and unequal comparison of fundraising performance. Research and data analysis has a critical role in fundraising. But staff and volunteers who are out on the front line making solicitations for your organization need to be talking about your mission and outcomes.

Put yourself in the shoes of prospective donor or a loyal supporter. How would you like to hear, “We would like you to give (or give more) because the amount we’ve raised from you in the past doesn’t compare with our neighbors to the north.”

Our council’s video for this year’s fundraising campaign is carried by the story of two families involved in Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting and Venturing. (View: 2009 Friends of Scouting Video.) The audience for the video is families of Scouts who will watch it during a banquet, meeting or other gathering. We hope it tells our story and engages potential donors.

I’d like to hear or read your comments about this year’s video. Please feel free to comment below. I look forward to the feedback.

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