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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Telling your story
Marion Lee, CFRE

October, 2015

There is a breeze wafting through the Texas nonprofit world and it is fresh, bright and filled with promise. Strategic planning in its purest form is on the rise, and capital campaigns are flourishing. The success stories of campaigns finishing in record time are no longer urban or rural myth and legend.

It’s a truly is good day in the nonprofit neighborhood. We have clients in Brownsville, Houston, Midland, Austin, Kerrville, Fredericksburg, Stephenville, and San Antonio and across most of East Texas. All of our friends have great successes to report and it all stems from having a positive attitude and a creative, honest story to tell that speaks to the heart.

Yes, we have all heard your organization’s mission, but have we heard your story?

  • Do you have one that you can share that touches the heart or tickles the funny bone?
  • Does your board have a story to tell about someone you have educated, made healthier, fed, protected, introduced to an art or just made their day a little bit easier?
  • These stories are what capture the donor’s attention, and more than that, inspire their empathy and philanthropy, and make them a part of your mission.

Recently I was teaching in a small community and asked the board what was their mission. Not a sound. So, I asked someone – anyone to tell me a story about a client whom the nonprofit had helped. Crickets. The board members are sweet, decent people who could not begin to tell me what they do or how they help people. They were unprepared and without the needed tools to fulfill their own mission.

Many of you have board members who do not have hands-on experience in delivering service to your community. Sometimes it is not practical, but even if they can’t roll up their sleeves, you can give them the most powerful tool to help move your nonprofit forward. A board member with an honest story about a client is a powerful advocate. So, you have several choices:

  • Have a client or participant speak to the board in a “mission moment.” It only takes 3 minutes to bring reality into the boardroom.
  • Write a series of short stories that describe your clients’ challenges and their successes. Give these to the board and ask them at a board meeting to talk about the one that is most meaningful to them.
  • Treat your board like you would a prospect or donor. Invite them to tour your facility to see your program in action. Nothing stirs up the Generals like being out on the field.

Most of all, ask for their reactions to the your clients’ stories. Don’t just hand it out and hope for the best. Ask one of your volunteers to tell you which story means the most to them and why. Oh, and let’s not leave out being creative. If we can put the FUN back into fund raising, we can inspire our volunteers and enjoy life along the way.

Here’s an example:

First Baptist Church San Antonio raised the needed funds to replace its HVAC system. Few things out there are as sexy as a new HVAC, but when you are a church the size of FBC, it’s a major endeavor. So, a positive thinking volunteer asked the congregation to hold up their programs and wave them, and then he reminded them that if they didn’t raise the needed funds – this would be how they would be getting air conditioning this summer. You gotta smile. Although it cost seven figures, they did it in four months.

To celebrate the church’s success in raising the funds, this same smart volunteer invited everyone to gather in the parking lot around the large compressor that would be raised five stories high. Using Sharpies to write their favorite scripture on the side of this huge piece of equipment, the congregation celebrated their success.

Learn more about Bacon Lee at


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