Lori L. Jacobwith, master storyteller and fundraising culture change expert, recently joined us for a webinar in which she explained why talking about money is one of the best ways to raise even more.

In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: Well, Lori, is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?

Lori: Yes, let’s do and I do want to shout out, though, to the few people that have been posting in the chat box where they’re from and their weather. Our thoughts are with you if you’re cleaning out from Matthew and the hurricane that just happened.

Steven: Yes. Absolutely. Glad those folks are with us. Why don’t we say good afternoon? Hello, everyone. Good afternoon if you’re on the East Coast, I should say. Good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between.

Thanks so much for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Advanced Storytelling: Why Talking About Money Helps You Raise More Money.” And my name is Steven Shattuck and I am the VP–actually, I’m the Chief Engagement Officer–I almost forgot my title–I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang and I will be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin. I want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and we’ll be sending that recording as well as the slides to you if you didn’t already get those. So, have no fear. If you have to leave early or perhaps you want to review the content afterwards, you’ll be able to do that. Just look for an email from me later on this afternoon with the recording and the slides. We’ll get that to you. I promise.

As you’re listening today, I know a lot of you have already done this, but please be using your chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’ll be moderating that for questions. We’re going to save some time for Q&A at the end. So, don’t be shy. Send in any questions or comments our way and we’ll try to answer just as many as we can before the 2:00 Eastern hour. And I would also love for you to follow along on Twitter. You can use our hashtag #bloomerang or send us a message directly @bloomerangtech. I’ll be looking at those as well.

And if you our listening today via your computer speakers, if you have any trouble with the audio or the video, usually it works a little bit better by phone. If you can dial in by phone for audio, the quality we have found is just a little bit better. Usually these webinars are only as good as your own Internet connection, unfortunately. But if you can dial in by phone and you don’t mind doing that, just look for that phone number in the email from ReadyTalk and you’ll be able to hear us loud and clear.

Just in case this is your first webinar with us, I want to say an extra special to you folks for joining us. We do do these webinars just about every Thursday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. But in addition to that, Bloomerang offers donor management software to nonprofits. That’s kind of our core business.

That’s our core product and if you are interested in that or perhaps want to learn more about our software, check out our website. You can even look at a quick video demo and get a sneak peek at the software, don’t even have to talk to a sales person if you don’t want to. So, if you want to learn more, I would love for you to check us out there.

But for now I’m super excited to introduce today’s guests, one of my favorites, one of the most popular Bloomerang webinar presenters. I think this is webinar number four for you, Lori. Is that right?

Lori: I think it is.

Steven: I think it’s three or four.

Lori: I’m pretty excited that you’ve allowed me back that many times.

Steven: Oh yes. I actually beg Lori to come back every year because everyone always loves the presentation. You all are in for a real treat today. I just want to brag on Lori real quick here. In case you don’t already know her, you’ve got to know her. She is a nationally recognized master storyteller and a fundraising culture change expert. She’s got over 30 years of experience helping nonprofits raise money. The folks that she has helped has raised over $300 million in Lori’s career and that number is going to grow more and more, for sure.

She’s got a really awesome blog over at her website. It’s the Fire Starters Weekly Blog. She is also the author of “9 Steps to a Successful Fundraising Campaign” and she was the coauthor of “The Essential Fundraising Handbook for Small Nonprofits.” So, check out those two books, definitely. She’s also a longtime member of AFP, the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She’s joining us from beautiful Minneapolis and I’m just really excited for her to talk all about storytelling.

So, Lori, I’m going to pipe down and let you take it away, my friend.

Lori: Thank you so much, Steven. It’s good to hear your voice. Hello to the team at Bloomerang. You know that your software, your work that you do is one of my favorite pieces of tools that organizations can have. So, if you are a first time webinar visitor, do check out what Bloomerang is all about.

And I want to just take you in. We’re going to talk about what I call advanced storytelling. It takes you through maybe some counterintuitive measures for doing your fundraising. We’ll talk about why when you talk about money more often, you actually raise more money.

I will thank you again as Steven did. I know you’re busy, lives are full so that you carved out some time to be here live is huge. I really appreciate it. Those of you who will be listening to the recording, I know that you’ll maybe just do that over a nice cup of tea or an adult beverage and enjoy away.

As Steven welcomed you to post on Twitter, I do as well. I’m on Twitter @ljacobwith and I use the hashtag #ignitedfrstories. Ignited Fundraising is my company name. And this is the crazy thing to ask when there are hundreds of you on, but I love to do it because I love to see the chat go zooming past my screen here. Many of you already said the city you’re in. So, if you already told me your city you don’t have to tell me that again, but I do want to know your title.

So, if you haven’t told us what city already, please let me know your title. I’d like to see what’s the audience here. We’ve got executive directors, development directors, communication managers. We’ve got some board members, grant writers, development associates. Look at that. We’ve got, oh my gosh, I think every title on the planet. We’ve got artists. We’ve got fresh out of college. We’ve got directors of almost every area. I’m going to let Steven work with Kimberly on sound issues there. Thank you everyone. Assistant director of the annual fund. There we go. Lots of great titles.

I have, as Steven said, the self-given titles of Master Storyteller and Fundraising Culture Change Expert. I’m a speaker and author and trainer. What I do is I help organizations build a strong foundation in the work that you do through your communication. What that means to me is taking messages and having people hear them in exactly the way that you wanted.

This is the main floor of the Community Health Center in Lowell, Massachusetts, the graphic on the screen. I helped them with a capital campaign a number of years ago now. And they had zero donors when we started. When we ended the campaign two years and two months later, they had raised $5 million from more than 3,000 people across the country. They realized their backyard was much larger than they thought.

But I’ve worked with pretty much any mission you can imagine. In my days as working in the trenches, I was Executive Director of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation here in the Twin Cities. I was Development Director at a couple different organizations. And I was the President and CEO of an organization called Prevent Blindness America.

And at that organization, I, just like everyone else, was tasked with doing a lot right away. And on my desk in my tiny little office that was actually a closet at the hospital, downtown Phoenix that was donated space, there was a note from a mom and her name was Paula. She had included a picture of her little girl, Madison.

And she said, “I just want you to know and to tell your volunteers we thank you so much for the vision screening that you did at her pre-school because I didn’t know that Madison was blind in her left eye. And that knowledge and awareness . . . she’s now patched. She has eyeglasses. Her vision is getting better. But we’ll tell our story to anyone that you want us to tell it to.”

So, I learned that story as best I could, but I invited Paula and Madison to go with me different places. We watched Madison grow over the two and a half years I was there. We shared her story over and over and over again. Paula and Madison actually became our best fundraisers and they never asked anyone for money.

What I started with is, you know, me. I had the title of President and CEO, but I was supposed to quadruple the dollars that we were raising and we had started with a single grant given from a community foundation, 12 volunteers, and we were screening eyes at a couple of schools, so very, very tiny footprint. When I left after those two and a half years, we had grown to 5 staff, nearly 900 volunteers and the budget grew largely with contributions from individual donors.

I’m most proud though of the footprint. We really did our mission. We were screening tens of thousands of children and identifying what vision problems they had, getting them glasses, getting them help. That’s when I was hired by the Department of Ophthalmology down in Tucson and drove to work at that Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Arizona for about a year. Then I became a trainer and here I am.

So, what I have for you today is to talk about just quickly the difference between fundraising and development. I always like to define that for us. So, we’re speaking from the same playing field. Then I will fill you in. If you don’t already know, what is the secret to nonprofit success? I frankly say it’s the secret to pretty much everything. We’ll talk about why do you share stories already because I know you are.

I’ve got six quick steps when you’re crafting a story and two of them are key in making sure that story is emotionally engaging. But then how do you take it to what I call the advanced level and talk about money in a way that causes people to want to give more? I’ll give some examples of how others have done sharing stories and then we’ve got some final thoughts and wrap up for you.

Before I dive into my content, I do want to know what it is that you’re looking for today. So, if you would, please just type into the chat box one quick comment or two–why did you decide to join us? Why did you register? What is it you’re looking for? I want to make sure I cover as many of those ideas and requests as possible.

To make more of an impact on our donors, to learn some best practices, find out how I can use storytelling to help increase our annual fund, which is an excellent way to use stories. I want to be a poignant storyteller. Oh, I love that language. How to tell a powerful story, I want to best communicate our mission to our community, help our board with fundraising. We’ll absolutely do that.

What is the best content for a story? We’ve got a campaign coming up. Good. Insight into storytelling effectively, how to get frontline staff to help us get great stories. I got you covered there. Trying to figure out how to incorporate money language into our appeal to donors, good. How to present a better call to action, how to better tell stories just overall.

Okay. Good. I think we’ve got it. All of your requests, all of these ideas of what you’re looking for, I will talk about it. Confidentiality, absolutely. And if I miss something that you’ve got here that you’ve jotted down, don’t forget to use the chat box and Steven will keep an eye on questions for me so that I can make sure to get them answered.

So, I always like to define two words. This comes from the fundraising, the AFP dictionary, the Association of Fundraising Professionals dictionary they have. Fundraising is the part that gives you sweaty palms, right? It’s the asking for money. Board members don’t love it. We in fact might like it, but maybe we don’t like it so much. But this is when we ask for money for support of our organization overall or a specific project.

And I don’t believe everyone has to do that. If your title is executive director, development director, you know, something about the fundraising, then for sure you have to do that. But the other definition I have for you, development. This is the process that you go through as an organization to increase understand of what you do and why you do it. That, I believe, is everyone’s job.

So, raising awareness is what we’re tasked with no matter if we’re the receptionist, the cleaning service, whoever it is, our job really is to have people know what we do and why we do it. And especially know and understand why is it that it takes dollars from the outside, you know, of our doors to do our work?

So, how to stand out when you are making those communication remarks, when you’re writing the appeal, when you’re on social media, what is it that will have you be a part of messaging, cut through the clutter of the tens of thousands of messages that barrage us? About five or six years ago, the estimate was 10,000 messages a day. I would guess it’s now more like 100,000 messages a day. So, the thing that I want to make sure you are doing is you’re talking about the impact that is possible because of my gift. That often is how someone feels.

So, this picture, often used by Volunteers of America, has a little, tiny quote here, “You showed me not everyone in this world is against me. Thank you.” Now, that’s a story. What’s missing for me in that story though is it could be signed by Sergeant Nelson. I believe stories have to be about a real person and this may or may not be someone who’s been in the military. I hazard a guess that it is, but I believe that when you tell me how someone feels, what has happened to them that their life is different using their own words often, that’s when I start to notice who you are and what you do in a whole different level.

And the secret to success in life, not just in fundraising, it’s pretty simple, but that secret is about communication. Like in real estate it’s location, location, location. Well, in the work that we do to engage people to take action in our nonprofit organization it’s communication to our board members, to our donors, them to us. Through social media, through print materials, on our website, it is what we say and do everywhere.

The research that’s done by Penelope Burk and Cygnus Research every year reminds us that about 50% of your donors stop giving because of something they call a failure to communicate. “I get too many asking messages from you. I don’t know enough about what you’re doing. I don’t know enough about where my money goes. There’s been a change in leadership and I don’t really understand it.” All of those things are about communication. The good news is we can do something about that.

So, where to focus your time on communication that allows you to, that causes you to know your supporters, share clear messages, hold yourselves and others accountable and always, always, always be inviting more participation. This is the checklist I use when I’m writing any copy for my blog, for my website, for my social media or for some of the appeal letters that I’ve been helping organizations with in the last couple of weeks or even the language for the speakers at your fundraising events.

The best way to really have your supporters know you and you know them is to share some sort of real life example. The truth is we’re wired for stories. Our brain is wired for stories. We think in story. The decisions that we make, the decision you made to be here on the call today, it was because you told yourself a story about what you might learn.

Now donors feel the same. If they don’t feel something about what you’re asking them to do, and emphasis on the feel, they can’t or won’t or don’t decide to make a contribution to your organization. So, because we’re different, our brains are wired differently, the communication that you make has to have me feel something.

The good news is pleasure is a really big motivator. That’s the dopamine spurt of energy that you have, that rush in your brain when you get done with a run or you eat that food you love or you read that book or see that movie or just spend time with someone. And research tells us that our brain’s pleasure circuits are actually also motivated when we give to an organization that allows us to feel great.

Now, you don’t have to be an awesome storyteller. You can be a passionate storyteller. All I ask is that you convey the person and the information about them . . . you paint me a picture so I understand who they are, what they’re feeling, why I might want to help them do more of what it is they’ve learned from your organization.

And I want to pause for a second here and just say whether you are a human rights organization, you are an advocacy organization, you are an environmental, educational, human service, research-focused, I have probably worked with your kind of mission in the 4,000 to 5,000 different organizations I’ve worked with over 30 years.

There is always a story of one person or maybe hundreds and thousands of stories, but there’s always a story you can share. It is about a person even if you’re cleaning the water in that community, even if you’re helping people support you as you train service dogs. The story about the dog may be part of the story, but really it’s the story of how the person feels who got the service dog, got that partner.

What you’re looking to do is create a connection that has empathy wrapped around it. Empathy simply means I can see myself or someone in my life in that example that you’re sharing. Sympathy, we often think of telling a story that has us feel sad or bad. Sympathy is a very distancing way to cause me to be reacting. So, I’m not a big fan of using sympathetic-type stories.

I am a fan of telling stories. I absolutely love this picture and the face on these kids. This is from a client down in Dubuque, Iowa. You want to share an example that has me want to know more or see someone I know and someone I love or care about or want to support in that example.

“Can a story about the one person be about the founder?” It sure can, Terry. Your perspective or the founder’s perspective is key. What I will tell you is you’re going to take that story and make it a little bit . . . you’re going to put it into a framework. What I mean by that, I’ll actually share the framework in just a moment with you.

Peter asked, “I work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Often their picture tells the story. How do you like to balance–big picture, short story versus small picture, long story?” I need to see that still. So, you moved it back, Steven. You just leave it alone. Hang on. All right. I keep moving toward the picture as the story and using a Twitter line for a caption. You know, I’m totally okay with that.

And what that six-word or two-sentence, 140-character quote or phrase might be, Peter, and this is for all of you, it’s got to cause me to feel something. So, make sure that the picture can tell a lot. Absolutely. But you also want me to take some action. So, you might add some information by the end of this session, Peter, that will enhance the copy that you’re including.

So, finding a story is key. I tell people really truly you’re not looking for a story because not everyone knows how to tell a story. What you’re looking for is you’re looking for what I call a mission moment. It’s a short inspirational example of how your impact is unfolding in real time. It’s got to be about someone.

So, that picture, Steven, that you were talking about–I’m sorry, let me just make sure I’ve got the right name, Peter–that you were talking about, Peter, I don’t want people to feel sorry for that person. So, it might be that you’re for sure telling me with that big picture, “I’m proud that I got to see my first football game thanks to the contributions from whoever made those tickets possible,” something like that, or, “The first time I got to live on my own is with blank organization and I’m so proud to be able to take care of myself.” How that person feels in some of the exact results in key.

Now, here’s what I’ll say. About–the number is going to be pretty high–90%, maybe even 95% of the stories I bump into when I’m helping organizations edit their copy or visiting their website, they’re not stories. They’re actually reports. I’ll just read a tiny bit of this and you tell me in the chat box how inspired are you by this share.

“After a bitter divorce, Margaret moved back to Arkansas from Texas. She came with her two children, age seven and nine, to be close to her family. Her circumstances left her in a financial bind and her children needed physicals to get into school. Margaret turned to our clinic for her family’s medical needs.” Are you sleeping yet? Is anybody taking a nap?

I’m going to tell you the story and let me see if you have more connection to it. “I just got to see a woman named Margaret again last week. When she first moved back home here to Arkansas from Texas, she was feeling a bit overwhelmed. She had two children, single mom. Her kids were both under the age of 10. She was going to be close to family but she had support, but she, you know, was economically having some challenges and she had to do that all important get physicals for her kids before they went back to school.”

“She came to our clinic, fortunately, and because her son didn’t pass the vision screening, she actually had to have more visits and eyeglasses and a whole lot of expenses. But because of the caring clinic staff and some of the resources donors provide, Margaret was able to do all that she needed to for her child and she’s now, a couple years later, got a great job, kids are doing well.”

It’s more words, but I know more about her the second way that I described it. Hopefully you even connect a little bit because of the way I told the story. So, what you’re looking for is really go back with a fine-tooth comb and start to notice are you sharing facts or are you telling a story?

Our job, really, is to ask open-ended questions of our staff, of our board members, of our volunteers. I don’t care who you’re asking the questions of, but you’re looking to pull the nuggets together that will help you build the story. You’re not looking for other people to “tell you a story” because they’re not going to have been through this session. They won’t necessarily know how to do the storytelling part. You do. You’re learning that part.

So, here are some of the questions you can ask, especially some of your frontline staff. Who is it that you can’t get off your mind? Who do you remember from your first week or day or month on the job here? For some of your clients or some of the folks that are recipients of the work that you do, what was life like before we came into the community and helped clean up the river? What was life like before your son or daughter, father or mother, cousin or whoever it is came through our program?

For you donors, I love to know why they gave for the first time, why they continue giving, why do they give their time and their dollars? Why do they attend events like performances and give? So, you can utilize those examples in your online storytelling, in your fundraising appeal. Sharing the very words that you would love to say about yourself through the lens of someone else allows you to brag even more. I like to ask sponsors and vendors don’t forget those folks. Those are people that have stories about why they continue to do work with you as well.

Samantha says, “Going back to the concept of sympathy versus empathy, how do you know when you’re so connected to your organization what emotion you’re evoking from your readers?” Excellent question. You do want to know. So, I would always get an outside, some sort of outside input.

But also, Samantha, you’re going to train yourself to determine, “Am I showing this picture? Am I writing this phrase as something that’s empowering, that’s illuminating, that’s a feeling concept or am I sharing it as something for folks to have that feeling of, “Oh my gosh. I’m so sad that happened?”

So, did you say to someone, “The family, everything they had burned in the fire?” Well, I feel bad for them. But if you tell it as, “Julianne got asked by her son, Todd, who’s about six years old, ‘Mom, I have to bring a picture in, a baby picture for my project at school tomorrow,’ and Julianne has to tell her son, ‘Remember, everything burned in the fire. So, let’s draw a picture as they taught us to do at the Red Cross.'”

Now we feel a little bit differently. We feel maybe proud that the Red Cross helped them. We feel connected to them because, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know what I’d say to my child if they asked for a picture.” So, you want to train yourself for how do you convey whatever it is you’re wanting to convey.

I’d like you to get in mind a mission moment. This is a nice picture. You don’t know what it’s for. It might be Meals on Wheels. It might be something else. But your mission moment is a moment when someone’s life is different because of something that happened with your organization. It’s got to be about one person. So, jot down for yourself the name of that person because I’m going to take you through the steps, really easy steps to take a mission moment and blend it, expand it out into a story.

Let me see what Edwin says. He says, “I’m an AmeriCorps member working at a nonprofit that’s building our fundraising and individual donor support and corporate sponsorship,” got it. So, did you have a question about how to do that? Just let me know.

Let’s go here to the steps. They’re pretty simple and they’re really powerful. So, you don’t want to skip over any of them. The point is really whenever I’m going to tell a story, I actually do write it down first. And then I practice it a bunch of times and it gets shorter and shorter and shorter. So, you want to pick your person, that mission moment person and what happened, what did they say. What you’re going to do is you’re going to jot down everything you know about them–hair color, age, height if that matters, braces if that is something that would help me understand more about this child, years of service if it was a veteran. Details are important.

Then you write down what I call the exact results. Exact results are things that happened that we could measure–they now have a roof over their head, they’re sober, they are employed, they are getting better grades, they have something to eat every day, the water coming out their faucets is clean. We can measure it. Those are the things that your organization made possible that you talk about. That’s part of the return on investment for donors.

But here’s the next part. The next part is the part, the transformations due to your involvement that will cause you to write a story that’s more engaging because it’s got some feeling words in it. So, the transformations are things like, “Felt safe for the first time. It doesn’t feel so isolated, isn’t angry, isn’t walking into school looking like his body is going to explode from anger. Those descriptive words, I’d like you to circle how many you have in your story. My goal is for you to have a minimum of five. The placement of those words is really key.

You could talk about someone having arthritis or you could talk about the fact that their hands are really gnarled, when they have to get out of a chair, they move a lot slower. Words that have me see the person you’re describing are much more helpful, are much more easy for me to connect to. So, just type into the chat box what’s a couple of word phrase that you would use to describe your mission moment person.

Similar to the words that I’ve got on the page here, those words I want to see a couple of them because it may be that some of them aren’t as descriptive as you’re thinking, and I want to make sure that we’re diving into as deep of an emotionally connecting descriptive words as we possibly can. At this point people are often saying, “I don’t want to write the wrong one.”

Contagious smile is good. Smiling confidently ear to ear, even, would be great, Camilla. Raw and bleary-eyed single father. Oh, I get that. Became enlightened, feels the power of education. I’m not sure. Became enlightened, I don’t know exactly what that means, Rebecca. So, maybe you want to say feels like their future is wide open because of the education they’ve received. Infectious personality, yep great. Lonely, no friends or family. Lonely might be even described in a little more detail, even feels alone in a crowd because they aren’t comfortable talking to anyone. And in fact they don’t have anyone.

Your child has cancer–emotionally connecting, how would I expand that? Hearing the words, “Your child has cancer,” that’s emotionally connecting. That makes more sense. “I found my people!” Love that, Terry. Eyes dancing with joy, yeah, you guys got it. So, that’s what I’m looking for, something that paints the picture. Shy, cried and hands shook when they first touched the computer and proudly smiled when she reported her first job. Ooh, these are good. Very good.

All right. You’ve got this. So, then you fit the story as you’ve been writing it, you fit it into a framework I’m going to show you. Then you have to share it. You have to talk it out loud. I say it to the mirror in front of me, here in front of my desk or to my spouse or to the plants or to the windshield when I’m driving. You want to then experiment with using it in various formats–shorter, longer.

I’m working with an organization right now and we’re writing the website version, which is the very long 800-word story, then we’re writing the e-blast version, which is about 150 words or less. Then we’re writing the Twitter version and then we’re writing the six-word version. So, we’re making sure we have all formats covered. But you want to share it often. The same story can be shared over and over and over again.

This is the format I use. This is from an eBook that you can download if you’d like to. It’s two of the ten pages that are in the eBook is a template to write the story. I use this template even when I’m coaching someone to give a speech and be a testimonial person or when I’m coaching staff to tell me some of the details about a story, especially front line staff.

So, let me tell you about their life, you know, here’s what they had a life of, or this is what life was like in their community, in their neighborhood, in their house. Here’s why they found their way to us. Here’s how they felt before they got here and now how they feel. What happened because they were part of our program is–and this is where you fill in those exact results and the transformation and use those descriptive words.

Because of whatever those examples are of your work or that program, always be using their name often. Here’s where they are now. We’re going to add to this in a moment to create what I call the advanced story. But before we do that, I just want to make sure that you understand the report is short, very factual. Mrs. Lee is one of our subscribers to our theater series. She’s been a part of our theater family for many years. She loves our performing arts.

Or you can talk about the first day she ever saw live performance and how that lit her up to bring her children to the People’s Theater, her grandchildren. She tells you today, “Going to the theater is better than any rehab or medication that they can prescribe for her now at 72 years of age.” But she loves the fact that attending performances is where her memories have been made with her family and dreams were talked about and where they felt passion.

So, the important thing to remember is the descriptive words, the kind of messages you’re wanting me to understand is how someone feels because of what your work is doing. All right. Now we’re going to get into what I call advanced storytelling and the secret sauce that I have for you.

What I think has me stand out differently from other people’s storytelling training is the fact that I really focus on the head and the heart. So, people do want to know some information. They want to know some things about cost. They want to know some things about what it takes to do your work. I’m not a big fan of using the word “need.” So, you’ll watch that I don’t use that very much. But I know and have observed and have coached and trained that talking about money will help you raise more.

So, before we dive into that, let me get back to a couple of the questions here. It looks like I’m going to change this over to a question. “We’re a counseling organization for abused women. We provide validation, hope and healing. The work is long-term and success is measured by individual growth.”

“We don’t think a story is powerful enough that shows that we helped a woman learn coping skills, sift through options, gain hope. What impact would be compelling without just telling too much of the backstory? Also donors could recognize a real story in our community.”

So, there are a couple things you can do, Alison, especially in a small community. In a picture, you can always use a silhouette. You can also tell folks that we tell compilations of stories to keep the folks that we’re telling stories about confidential. However, on Tuesday of this week, one of the organizations that my spouse and I have supported for about maybe 15 years is the domestic abuse project.

I get a chance to work with them on what stories they do share. We had 500 or 600 people in the room and one of the men in their men’s program and one of the women in their therapy program for people who are helping others experience abuse were the two speakers.

So, an interesting twist on the stories that were shared–there were no victims telling their story. The stories were being told by people observing others. The mom who adopted three foster children who had been victims of horrible abuse, she told about secondary trauma. She told about what she experienced and then what she helped her children go through through the services of the organization. And we got a chance to hear that whole spectrum of not just a one-day fix but a whole lifelong way of learning how to make choices differently.

And the same from the gentleman, Brian–really powerful story about what he learned from having to go to an anger management program that was sponsored by this organization. So, you can tell different perspectives of your story and have it be as clear about the longevity and the depth of what it is you are talking about versus just telling a story of the victim. I hope that helps a little bit.

The other thing that you want to do is add in what the costs are. So, talk about money to raise more. That’s the point of why we’re here. Sometimes we forget to tell what does it cost to do that work for one person. It’s not that we keep the secret on purpose, but sometimes we’ve been told or the habit is we don’t talk about cost. We don’t want people to think we’re asking. Well, frankly, folks, you do want people to think you’re asking when you’re asking. When you’re not asking, you want people to understand what it costs so they can take action when you do ask.

So, I wrote a blog post about this a couple weeks ago if you want to dive in a little bit more on the Fire Starters blog post page of my website. But here’s the pyramid to teach your board, to teach yourselves, to teach folks how to talk about the money. There’s a reason your organization exists. Something is missing in the community. This is the one time that I’ll let you use the word “need.” Who is it that needs your organization? We want to know who those people are and why do they need your organization?

Your money story is what does it cost to do your work per person, per day, per week, per month. What’s the vision of where you’re headed? Do you have any waiting lists, any program information I should know about? Are you understaffed and you could follow someone longer through case management or you could follow up with your donors to inspire them to give more when you have more resources?

You share all of this information from the one person example, through the eyes of one person. The board and the staff and your team have to understand the answers from the top down, but you share the information from the bottom up.

So, your money story, that is what I call your funding gap. Now, you don’t ever have to call it a funding gap if you don’t want to. But I want you to share the number of what it truly takes to do your work this year, subtract away what you’ve already received–ticket sales, government funding, fee for service–I don’t know what it is, but all that you’ve received, not what you expect to raise from your fall appeal, not what you expect to raise in two weeks from the gala or the golf tournament or whatever event. I want to know what’s left.

And if you have a fiscal year, you can have me know what the milestone is that you have to raise by the end of the calendar year or you can share the larger number of what it us you have to raise before next June 30 or whenever your fiscal year ends. If you know what your gap is to raise by the end December, please type in that amount now. I want to see how many of you actually know. There are a lot of you on the call–$2.3 million by the end of June, $200,375, $45,000, $30,000, $28,300, $500,000, $1.4 million by the end of June, $350,000.

Great. All right. Great. You guys are doing . . . you know. If you don’t know, and some of you aren’t typing in, pledge to find out as soon as possible. I love that so many of you know. Some of the folks often tell me when they’re on this . . . you’re pledging, all right. Thank you. Appreciate it, Terry. You’re scared to tell the number. You’re scared you’ll cause people to shy away because they think you’re not a well-run organization. You’ve got so much to raise. We never talk about money. How do we tell people about a gap without scaring them away?

Well, the truth is you’ve always had a gap every year, even the year you were founded and you want to know what that is so I know where to put myself. I know how to insert myself to help you. So, what happens when you speak the truth, even if your voice shakes is people want to give you things.

This is Chuck and he is from an organization in Shreveport, Louisiana. This is Melvin. He was the testimonial speaker. I got to coach him by phone. You could hear a pin drop when he told his story about how a pan of water had spilled onto his sister. It was a boiling pot of water and his mom had run out the door for a moment. She was scalded. He was six years old and he was supposed to watch and make sure nothing happened. Then he was taken away from his family. Life changed.

Chuck talks about how much it costs to serve Melvin. He talks about the program, the after school program. It costs about $14 a week to serve someone like Melvin. But every year the gaps close between what the reimbursements are and what it really costs is about $42,000. I’ve been there on a day when Chuck had shared that number out in the community and he opened an envelope and received a check for $42,000. That happens over and over and over again.

The story that check tells when he continues to tell Melvin’s story, you know, he starts it off with, “I wish you could meet Melvin. When he came to us, he would talk about the organized chaos of his life.” He goes on to tell a little bit of his story not so we feel sorry but so we’re proud that he actually graduated at the top of his class thanks to the after school program.

So, you want to add some costs in. What is it that costs . . . it can be $25 that you’re talking about, it could be $2,500. It could be $250,000. Gifts of any size, then, I start to hear how my gift can make a different if you’re talking about that money by day or week or per person.

There’s an organization up in Fargo, Moorhead area, Northern Minnesota at the edge of North Dakota. When they started talking about their people and money stories, no kidding, they raised more. Media attention started focusing on them. The community jumped in to support them in different ways. And board members got excited. When I introduced the concept of the funding gap conversation, we also set some goals that day at a board retreat session of raising five $1,000 gifts within two months of that meeting. They’d never had a $1,000 gift before.

This is one of their board members, he went back to the office, talked about the goal that had been set and said to his team what the gap message is. What is the gap we have to raise this year at CCRI? And they collectively decided to contribute so that the corporation he worked for could give the first $1,000 gift. They didn’t reach five $1,000 gifts by June 30th. They got seven. They went on to talk about a board meeting a few months later, they were reminded that there were things to do.

The development person, Jody, had normally gone to that one meeting a year to say, “Here’s how volunteers, here’s how the board can help with fund development, fundraising.” They wouldn’t look up, they wouldn’t talk to her. That night, people volunteered to make phone calls. They volunteered to make good on their pledge they hadn’t paid for yet. One woman said, “I’d like to be our first commodities donor and donate a whole truckload of grain. She almost fell off her chair. Jody was so proud of what had happened in just a few months’ time.

A year after I had been there, they got their largest contribution to date. Jody keeps me updated on what’s going on. That was in 2014. They now have raised multiple $100,000 gifts because they keep talking about that gap. What is it that we have to raise?

So, when you’re sharing your stories, it’s a really simple format. You build that people story using the template. You include some of those costs per day, per week, per month. You insert those right into the template. You’re not asking for money. You’re just sharing some facts and inferring that there’s more to do with more resources.

And then what you’re making sure is when you share that combined people and money story, it feels like it’s an update. You don’t necessarily have to know the ending of the story, but I do want you to be sure to share that story often because the repetition is what has me know, “No kidding. That’s where I see myself.”

When I hear multiple times throughout the year, “Your gift of $150 made possible for Sarah and her son Todd this,” that’s when you ask me in the fall for a gift of $150 and it was about 20% higher of the average gift that you got in last year’s appeal, I’ll make a gift of $150 because I’ve understood now what it will do.

When you’re telling a story verbally, you of course want to practice. When you’re writing a story, you want to write it, read it out loud and then whittle it away and whittle it away so it becomes a story that has the feeling and the essence attached to it and the picture painting versus the factual reporting. That’s those stories that I often find on websites and in social media.

Clear, bold communication is what causes people to take action. So, you want to choose someone who really encapsulates who you are, what you do and share that with some positive passion and even some humility.

“We should share the gap we have from now to fiscal year end?” Yes. Absolutely, Nadine. So, Chuck at the organization that I was talking about, if you meet him at the grocery store tomorrow and you just see him on the way home from work and you say, “Hey, Chuck. How are things going at his organization?”

He would say to you, “Nadine, we’re working hard to close our $1.9 million funding gap before the end of the year,” their fiscal year next June, actually. “So far we’ve raised about $450,000. We’re not halfway there. So, we’ve got some work to do, but let me tell you about Melvin. Let me tell you about the Lighthouse Program where Melvin had his life change completely because people supported him one day, one week at a time.”

“We should share the gap we have to raise from now to the fiscal . . . ” I think you got that. Let’s see, Samantha says, “Have you ever worked with an organization where talking about the funding gap didn’t work?” Yeah. It’s when it felt asky. When it felt like every time you said it you were expecting someone to make a gift. So, what we did is we practiced a lot.

I specifically gave homework to the organization. Every board member and every staff person has to practice sharing your funding gap and a mission moment story blended together to five people a day, five different people. It can’t be your spouse every day or the cat every day. They got so good at it. They went from raising less than they had been raising the year before in the month of September to by the end of that year just a few months later they had exceeded their entire gap for the fiscal year that would close six months later.

“Do you often encounter questions from donors about why so much?” Yes, which I love that. They don’t often talk about expenses because if you’re focused on a person, you know, Jason and Christina’s life is different because we have the quality staff, the caring community, the resources, the technology to support them and that’s what your dollars do is they make it possible for us to walk with Jason and Christina throughout their whole relationship with us. But I love it when folks say, “Why does it cost so much?” Remind them. I often remind folks that you’re running a business. Nonprofit is a tax status. The business you have is of saving and changing lives. That often takes a few more dollars than people really think.

Just a couple things before I take even more questions, just some ways to stay in touch with me. I’ve written a book that is a workbook and some videos that take you through the steps we went through today and a whole bunch more than you can do with your board and staff. It’s called the complete storytelling system and then the other books that Steven mentioned that you can find them on my website.

I want to make sure you decide what it is you want to do next. One thing that you learned and one thing you’ll do next and then I’ll answer some more questions. Just type into the chat box–what did you learn? What are you going to do next?

And while you’re typing in, I’ll answer Lisa’s question here. “Can a compelling story ever come from people who are still waiting to be helped?” Absolutely. It does not always need to be your beneficiaries. Here’s the thing. You can talk about if you weren’t there what would life look like. You can tell about what this person has been on our waiting list for two years.

I work with an organization that provides housing for folks with HIV and AIDS and they always have between 200 and 300 people on their waiting list even as they’re building new housing. So, every year they share one of the stories or two of the stories of people that are on their list and what their life is like.

Oh, I love all the things we learned. Look at this, Steven. Aren’t we proud? Empathy versus sympathy, tell more stories, talk about the funding gap, repeat the same story. It’s powerful. I want to know what that person’s life is like later, you know?

“When is the right time and frequency to ask for money, especially in emails, Facebook with short attention spans?” Great question. Here’s what I’ll tell you, Kelly, and everybody. You could send me an email every single day and ask me for money if there was a story that was so compelling that it didn’t feel like you were intruding and begging. You could ask me too little, but you can’t ask me too much if you’re teaching me something about your work and the message is compelling.

Now, I don’t advocate for sending an ask email every day. I do advocate for teaching me something. I just sent out my e-news. It was very short today. It had five resources on how to do your job better. One of them was a template you could download to write emails, subject line and the body of the email that I found in my digging around on social media.

If you’re teaching someone about your work through the stories you’re sharing, always include the donate button at the bottom, but make sure that in this time of year, you are telling compelling stories, what does it cost, why you do your work is because of those people in the community. Then let me know how I can make a difference. We can do a whole nother hour and we won’t but the language really needs to be about them, the donor, the listener, the person that you’re talking to through social media, in person.

The more you’re talking to me as if . . . just like I am talking to you. I actually don’t see all of the hundreds of you here in my room, but I’m looking at your names, I’m looking at the words you’re typing in and I’m hope you feel like I’m talking just to you because I am. I love so many things. I learned that this was not just about asking questions. It’s about helping others identify their mission moments.

Yes. Consider who was in our backyard, look who’s in our geographic boundaries. I learned it was important to tell the story of those you’re serving when it comes to getting funding support, but also the family members, the others in their life. I’m going to meet with coworkers afterwards to talk about ideas to implement.

Great. Well, that’s what I have for you. I will take a few more questions if we have time, but I want to turn this back over to you, Steven. Thank you, everybody, for staying so engaged. I love it.

Steven: Yeah. This was awesome. I really appreciate Lori, you coming on board. So, we should say thanks to you for hanging out with us for an hour and sharing all this good knowledge. It was a lot of fun.

Lori: Oh, nice. Thank you. That was a really . . . FA, whoever you are, thanks for saying that. Wow right back you.

Steven: I know we took a lot of questions during the presentation but Lori, I’m going to sort of flash your contact info here. I want everyone to reach out to Lori if we didn’t get to your question. Follow her on Twitter, for sure, subscribe to her blog because obviously a wealth of information here. So, thanks to all of you for also . . . Oh yeah, go ahead.

Lori: As for my website, it’s right there in the middle and there’s a contact Lori on the website too. You can find that.

Steven: Lori, we’ll have to have you back for a record fifth Bloomerang webinar next year.

Lori: Do I get like a ribbon or something that says “Five-timer.”

Steven: Yeah. We do. We will send you something. I promise.

Lori: Thanks for having me and thanks for everyone being so engaged.

Steven: Yeah. It was a lot of fun. We’ll be sending the slides and the recording later on this afternoon. So, I’ll get those to you today. Don’t worry about it at all. Lots of great resources on our website as well. You can find a lot of really cool downloadables and more webinars.

We’ve got a really great webinar coming up in a couple weeks. Susan Howlett is going to be our guest and she’s going to talk about how to get your board engaged in fundraising. I bet your board can help out with a lot of the things that Lori talks about today. So, that looks interesting to you, we’d love for you to register for that so we can see you again. We’ve got a few other webinars on our webinar page as well that you can look at and maybe register for. So, do that. They’re free. They’re educational. They’ll be just as awesome as today’s presentation was.

So, thanks to everyone for joining us. We’ll say a final goodbye now. Lori, thanks to you as well and hopefully we will talk to all of you again soon on another webinar. So, have a great rest of your afternoon and a great weekend.

Lori: Take care, everyone. Thanks, Steven.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.