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Fundraising - it's all in the art of storytelling

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

This is an updated post, that I originally shared on LinkedIn, when this article from the Guardian was doing the rounds. It's entitled "The Secret life of a chugger; most of us are motivated by money, not charity"

That title stood out to me, and made me really sad. As someone who started their career as a face to face fundraiser, I know it's not an easy job. But I also know for the majority of fundraisers, it is not all about the money and it is certainly not a sales job.

I found that any fundraisers who acted in that way, did so because of the unscrupulous agencies they were working for who encouraged underhand and immoral tactics to simply hit targets - regardless of the damage and cost to the charity or sector.

Many of those agencies have since gone bust because their methods were not just immoral, but unsustainable. It's important for charities to choose to work with the agencies who chose to fundraise in the right way - employing fundraisers who can inspire new donors by telling the stories of the people the charity is helping. Not guilt-tripping those who can't afford it. It's a false economy as those donors will not only cancel their support, but think negatively of the charity in the future.

I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't started as a face to face fundraiser and team leader. In those early days, I learnt some really important things;

  • Search out the human stories. Who is one person the charity helped and how? Hear them speak first-hand if you can. Understand their experience and connection to the charity.

  • Tell those stories with dignity. No pity fundraising. This is a real person, with real experiences. Tell their story the same way you'd want someone to talk about you. With respect and compassion.

  • Look for the moments that will "stick" in someone's mind. I still remember some of mine; such as a children's hospital that will provide a bed in a room so a parent can stay there all night. Or teaching you your name in the deafblind alphabet, so you can begin to get an idea of what it's like to communicate without being able to see or hear. Those moments in a story stuck with me, and I'd like to think there are supporters who still remember those moments I shared with them too.

When I've finished telling the story of someone my charity has helped - whether that's 14 years ago on your high-street or more recently to a large group of wealthy supporters, someone is either inspired to donate or they're not. Simple as that. You can't force someone to give. But paint a picture of how they personally can have an impact, and if that story means something to them, they will give.

Find the stories, tell them well and let people know how their gift will make a difference. That is fundraising my friends.

It's not all about the money. Unless it's the money we're raising to help try and make the world a slightly brighter place. 

PS. If you have ever used the phrase 'chugger' I implore you to rethink your choice of words - especially if you work in the sector. As a proud fundraiser, and someone who has been mugged, let me tell you, the two are in no way comparable.

Have respect for your fellow fundraisers, even if how they fundraise is not in the way you choose to give.

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