How to Communicate When Fundraising

Fundraising is increasingly critical for nonprofit organizations and initiatives, particularly with public funding sources continuing to shrink. Digital giving is one of the new tools driving millions of dollars into organizations both established and new.

The Kony 2012 Invisible Children campaign, where close to 100 million people viewed a compelling YouTube video, pumped millions into a relatively unknown nonprofit, Invisible Children, aimed at ending the reign of terror of a Ugandan despot.

Crisis and natural disasters often result in a flow of donations. The outpouring of support for the victims of the cruel Boston Marathon bombing led to the establishment of the One Fund Boston, which since the spring of 2013 has raised over $64 million. The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan ($247 million) and Hurricane Katrina ($5.3 billion) tapped the collective sense of humanity in funding recovery.

The compelling and human nature of all of these tragedies spoke to people at an emotional level, evoking donations.

What we can learn from these tragedies is that putting a human face on an initiative or organization is the most direct way to connect generosity with a cause.

We are increasingly living in a “storytelling” world where even television ads emote more than they inform about a product or service.

I had the opportunity over the past many months to observe and participate in three fundraising events that all utilized the unique power of storytelling.

A couple of years ago for their first ever fundraising event we produced a video for Friends of the Homeless in Springfield, “Rescue Me,” that allowed us to put that human face to homelessness. This year’s third annual event was keynoted by a heartfelt presentation by Charlie Knight, formerly homeless and now an advocate for ending homelessness. Over the three years that FOH has begun telling its story at these events their donations, above and beyond their regular solicitations, have noticeably begun to rise.

HAPHousing held its first-ever annual fundraising event this past spring. Using the instrument of video to tell three compelling stories—“Wally” Quinones surviving the June 2011 tornado, Derek Washington overcoming homelessness, gaining employment and raising his two sons, and Gladys Morales’ journey from life in a women’s shelter to homeownership— attendees reached into their pockets, netting the organization about $50,000.

This summer, the National Conference for Community and Justice held its annual dinner fundraiser at the Basketball Hall of Fame. This event, and one held in Hartford, serves as the primary fundraiser for the organization and this year raised nearly $90,000 through dinner tickets and sponsorships. But what was most impressive was the response by those in attendance to a poem read by four alumni of NCCJ’s signature youth program, Camp Anytown. The inspiring words about overcoming the bias and bigotry aimed at these young people raised an additional $25,000 for Camp Anytown scholarships that night, $10,000 more than the organization’s previous high.

In this increasingly digital age, it is comforting to know that the telling of a story continues to touch the human heart.

Photograph of Paul Robbins
Paul Robbins

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