“If you were to travel to China right now and visit an orphanage you might find something unexpected when you walk in the door. Where you should anticipate a room filled with crying babies, you would instead be met with silence. In time you’d see babies in cribs rocking back and forth, others rolling their heads in a rhythmic motion; some you would see banging their head against the side of their crib over and over. Often these babies will create bald spots from the consistent habit of hitting their heads. With all of this, you would not hear a single cry.
“This is common in orphanages. These babies have learned that when they cry out no one comes. They have learned to self-soothe in whatever way they can: ‘No one is looking out for me. I have to take care of myself.’ “
When Dave Obwald and I first sat down to talk about his fundraiser, “Our Beards of Hope” and his goals, the first thing he told me was this story.
Dave spoke of orphans, his family, and their passion for making a difference. He didn’t tell me about the eight steps to his $15,000 goal, the entertaining concept, or the stellar incentives he had planned for his donors. He even admitted that if he achieved his goal of ten beard growers each raising $250 over the five months, he would only raise $2,500 of the needed $15,000.
This might sound like an odd approach and, some may say, a failure of an elevator pitch.
Let me tell you why it wasn’t and why, as a result of this conversation, I was inspired not simply to give money, but to grow a beard to raise money along with him.
Motivating your growth
Dave didn’t start by sharing what he was going to do to raise the money. He didn’t tell how he would go about it. He put 99% of his time and energy into telling me why.
He led with his passion.
He told me about a struggle he saw and what he believed needed to be done.
It was this approach that made the difference. Because I, like every potential donor you will ever speak to, have been asked to donate to every cause from here to the moon.
I have donated for a wide range of reasons:
- I thought the person asking was generally responsible and would use the donation wisely
- Social pressure
- I gave up resisting (I couldn’t come up with any more excuses not to.)
- Because I simply liked the person asking
- Because I didn’t like the person asking and I wanted to go home and escape into a plate of delicious enchiladas
- Once because I hadn’t even realized I had agreed
- Once because someone stole my wallet (to feel less victimized I choose to look at this as a donation made under absent duress.)
You may see any money donated as a success but I say that a donation made for any of these above reasons is like a dog you train to explode on command.
That trick only works once.
These tactics may result in a donation, but they never result in anything deeper, like trust or loyalty, because the pitch was entirely focused on what they do with no regard for why they began in the first place. Often this is because program details or past accomplishments are the clearest and easiest things to explain. The reason we do something is the fuzziest and the hardest to pin down.
When we have tried crying out and no one comes, we lose heart. So we do whatever we can to keep going, many of us banging our heads against the wall trying to figure out how to be heard. We learn to make our message safer; to wrap our belief and our noble cause in tangible action steps so we can ski safely across the top on the facts, because what lies below is murky.
The problem with this approach is that people can’t advocate what you do until they can advocate why you do it.
Every variation of your nonprofit pitch should start with a tangible reason for why you do what you do.
Why do you get out of bed in the morning and why should anyone care?
What would happen if your organization didn’t exist?
The answer to either of these questions gives you something better than a pitch. It is your story.
Manipulation vs. Inspiration
When you talk about your purpose, your passion, or your belief, you don’t attract people who want to do what you’re doing. You attract people who believe what you believe. People who believe what you believe will take on your cause as their own and will work for you with blood, sweat and tears. Your potential donors, just like you and me, want their actions to serve as the proof of who they are.
Right now, you may be reading this thinking, “It isn’t that simple. You need to tailor your fundraising pitch specifically to each group you want to reach.”
“But you don’t understand, 25% of our potential donors are faith based groups, 20% are corporations, 15% are first-time donors, another 15% are annual givers.” And on and on.
I’m not saying you should ignore the unique motivations and goals of these groups. What I’m saying is that we forget that 100% of donors are people. We blow by this fact on our way to create better plans and incentives to manipulate their participation.
But what if we stopped manipulating participation and started inspiring it?
As a human being, what does your donor really want? Who do they hope to become by supporting your organization?
We already discussed how Dave had a creative fundraising idea that made it easy to join. But that isn’t really why I joined.
When I heard Dave’s story I wasn’t manipulated into giving money or just jumping on a fun bandwagon.
I was inspired to help in any way I could. I wanted to get on board with what he was doing because I believed in why it was being done. I didn’t leave our discussion thinking about how to get this monkey off my back; I was thinking about what on earth I could do to help. At the present moment, I can’t go adopt a child in order to live out what I believe, but I can give up some real estate on my face to grow a beard, even if I don’t like it, to raise funds to bring this little girl home. And I certainly can share this story with others, hoping that those out there listening, who believe in this cause, would be inspired to take it on as their own.
As selfish as I know this will sound – and there’s no point in me writing this if I’m not going to be honest – when I left my discussion with Dave, I worked hard to talk myself out of growing a beard for several days.
I’d never grown a beard before.
It’s over 100 degrees every day right now.
I’m gonna look like a hobo.
My wife won’t want to kiss me.
The list went on and on. Any one of those would have been excuse enough to keep a pound of alpaca hair off my skin for the next several months if he hadn’t already gotten under my skin. His story was something I just had to do something about.
If you are listening to what I am saying, then it is important to point out what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that you need to focus only on your passion instead of a nonprofit plan.
Going nowhere passionately isn’t a success story. It’s how people get into head-on collisions with trains. What I want to emphasize is that we need to stop leading with our plans – communicating with our measurable outcomes, facts, and incentives – and instead begin to truly lead with a story that demonstrates our cause.
Once you have done that, then work out the details. In future posts, we will get our hands dirty with how Dave ran this creative fundraiser from graphics to donor retention, but we would be missing the forest for the dirt if we didn’t start with the underlying motivation for the very cause that inspired us in the first place.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a following. He continues to inspire years after his death. And you’ll notice he didn’t just have a plan.
He had a dream.