Thoughts from a conference

On this blog, I try to write only the things that I am okay with the world knowing about the real me. I also generally keep my professional online presence separate from my personal blog. That said, I just spent the last 12 hours at work conference, so in terms of daily blogging, that is the only subject matter, other than a random picture of a cat, that will work for blogging today.

Today was all about storytelling, specifically storytelling designed to inspire donors to give money. I have really only been in the nonprofit world for 3 years, 1 of that was serving as a stipend-ed volunteer, and the past two have been in the world of communications & marketing. I also love stories, primarily as a reader, but also now as a writer. Telling good stories, stories that connect, stories that inspire, that is important to me and to my organization. I also believe in my organization, not only do I give it my focus, attention and hard work for 40 hours a week, but I am a donor as well. I truly believe we are doing good work.

That all said, I don’t always connect to the idea of being a fundraiser. I don’t necessarily want to make you cry with one of my stories, I don’t want to only ever tell you about the individual success story of a kid who overcame great diversity. And I don’t want to ONLY focus on the emotional centers of donors.

As one of our speakers said today, currently nonprofits compete primarily in terms of sales & marketing. The nonprofits who tells their story better, has the best website and gives you a great donor experience is the one who wins the donors. And yes, nonprofits should work hard at all of those things. However, shouldn’t we instead be competing in terms of impact? Shouldn’t it be that the nonprofits who really make the world a better place are the ones who win donors? Not just the ones who can pull at your heartstrings the most?

Another speaker earlier in the day talked about how (and he was coming primarily from the world of direct mail) sad photos move people to donate more than happy photos. He scoffed at the idea that poverty porn should be avoided and said in essence what matters is telling the stories that will generate the biggest checks, not necessarily the stories that are the average outcome from your organization.

That really bugged me. Perhaps it is my millennial generation showing, but my only interest in the world of marketing is the chance to do at organization which is making the world a better place. Life as a salesperson, advertising executive, or marketing guru sounds abhorrent to me. What I want is authentic transparency in the organizations I give to and I work for. I never want to rely on sad black and white photos of kids with empty bowls to inspire donors. I want to show them stories that help them understand how they play an important role in truly solving hunger. I want to write stories that don’t just tell the formulaic (no matter how tested) stories of individual people whose lives were changed, but I want to tell the story of how my organization is connecting the dots between where food is wasted and where it is needed.

One of the big adages of fundraising is that people give from a place of emotion. Supposedly no one gives when they are presented with stats or rational explanations. I can understand that, giving is an amazing act of humanity and it makes sense that it would be more right brain than left. However I don’t think that means we leave the left brain out of it. If the nonprofit sector truly wants to change the world (which is the claim we make in front of our donors every time we ask them for money) than we need to start finding ways to connect rationally as well as emotionally. This world has a lot of problems and it shouldn’t just be the program staff that are using the left sides of their brain to solve them. I like to tell stories and I like excel spreadsheets. I love a good novel and I love to read articles about psychology. I want to tell stories that connect emotionally, but also carry a strong rational core that help our work be understood on a broader level. In other words, I want my stories, but I want my stats too.

One thought on “Thoughts from a conference

  1. Wow. What a well written, thoughtful response to the conference.
    “However, shouldn’t we instead be competing in terms of impact? Shouldn’t it be that the nonprofits who really make the world a better place are the ones who win donors? Not just the ones who can pull at your heartstrings the most?” YES! And pretty much YES to like everything you wrote. What bugged you, what you hope for, all of it. Also, I liked your closing remarks about stories needing to be coupled with stats. You are such a thoughtful person, in every sense of the word!

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