What to do When the Stories Aren’t Pretty

What to do When the Stories Aren’t Pretty

Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we planned. When that happens, use the opportunity to invite donors to have a closer look at the important work you do.

We love a good transformation story: someone was hurting. Things were all wrong. Then your donors stepped up and your organization did life-changing work. Those stories are powerful and effective, and we love to tell them.

But what if things didn’t turn out so well?

How do we tell a story when it’s just the beginning of a long process of change?

How do we tell stories when we don’t know the ending?

I believe some of our internal conflict over these stories is our fear of giving donors a not-so-perfect picture of our mission. On the one hand, we’re seen as the experts. But really, there are so many factors beyond our control. We cannot fix it all.

I’m not talking about taking responsibility when we mess up (more on that another time). I’m thinking about those interventions where we did our best, and it seemed like things were okay. We saw change. We may have shared a story from a beneficiary who made a radical turnaround because of our work. But a few months later, they were right back in that unhealthy situation. Do you tell that story?

You probably don’t want to (or need to) highlight that person’s personal setbacks. But there are stories you can tell around the experience:

  • Explain the process of change your beneficiaries go through.
  • Focus on one aspect of the change process and help supporters understand why it’s such a hurdle.
  • Share a story about the setting that causes difficulties in the change process.
  • Feature something in your work that deals specifically with one of those hurdles.

This works for unfinished stories, too. For complicated stories, and for slow change. Use setbacks and the unknown to invite your donors to draw close. You’ll be glad you did.

Quote image: When things don't turn out as planned, a well-told setback story can give donors another reason to support you." Kay Helm LIFEANDMISSION.COM'
Using Stories to Connect: Mary Valloni interviews Kay Helm

Using Stories to Connect: Mary Valloni interviews Kay Helm

The tables are turned as fundraising expert Mary Valloni interviews Kay about using stories to connect with donors.

We talked about:
Using stories to connect
Where we go wrong with storytelling
Stories for people in admin roles
Telling your own origin story
The key story we forget

And don’t miss the story I’ve been telling for our ministry for SIX years…

Missionary fundraising training with Mary Valloni
fullyfundedacademy.com

Level up your storytelling skills with Kay
missionwriters.org
kayhelm.com

Fundraising in Uncertain Times

Fundraising in Uncertain Times

I got a message recently from a supporter who needs to stop her monthly donations. I’m thinking of my friends in ministry who raise support–missionary support or raising funds for the ministry as a whole–and you’re on the field, you’re doing the work, and you get a message like this.

The temptation is to shrink back. The temptation is to say, “Well, people are hurting (they are) and so I feel bad asking for money to support the ministry.” But I want to encourage you that this is not the time to pull back. 

The money belongs to God. 
It’s not yours. 
It’s not your donor’s money. 
It’s God’s. 

The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord,
Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.
Proverbs 21:1

Things are being moved around, yes. Some donors will leave you. But some will also come to you. Coming or going, we’re still called to relationship. We’re in this together. The resources belong to God, and He will move them around from time to time. 

You still have to do your part. 
You still have to be ready to receive.
You have to make it easy for people to give.
You need to ask.
Not only ask–more than ever, you need to tell stories. 

Fundraising is Ministry

Fundraising is part of discipling and leading and ministering to the people God has given you for this season. You pray together, weep together, celebrate together.

If you feel bad about asking for money, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Do I only talk to my people when I need something? 
  2. Am I sharing the ministry with them without asking for money? (stories)
  3. Do they ever get to see the smiles I get to see? 
  4. Do they ever experience the joy and fulfillment I feel on a day when I absolutely know that God is with me, and that God loves without reserve the people He’s called me to serve? 

If you haven’t been telling stories, sharing the work, sharing the joy, then start now.  We grow closer by sharing stories. 

Fundraising is part of discipling and leading and ministering to the people God has given you for this season. Click To Tweet

We are fundraisers, but it’s not the only thing we are. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We bear one another’s burdens. We share one another’s joys. We celebrate all that God is doing and look to Him with eager expectation.

We find solid ground to stand on when we remind each other of God’s faithfulness. Don’t just say He’s faithful, share the story of how you know he’s faithful. This is the word of your testimony. We are always called to glorify the name of the Lord.  Stories help us to see how He is moving and working in the world today.

We need that. 

There is a time to ask – and yes, you can ask in tough economic times. But at any time, you must tell stories. And you must tell stories before earning the right to ask. 

Share the stories. Share them with boldness and confidence in the Lord, as you trust Him to turn hearts and resources where He wishes. 

You may also like:  Fundraising Freedom, Interview with Mary Valloni

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Help Donors Read Your Fundraising Materials

Help Donors Read Your Fundraising Materials

Make your fundraising materials more inviting and easier to read, so more people can join you in your life-changing mission. 

Your work is important! But that doesn’t mean people will read your emails, blog posts and newsletters. Sorry. It’s the truth.

Why don’t people read all that wonderful content your organization puts out? 

  • We’re tired
  • We don’t think there’s something of value for us
  • It’s boring (think story instead of reports)
  • It’s too long or too difficult

In this episode, I tackle the “too difficult” problem, with simple tips to make your content easy for donors to read.

According to the Literacy Project, about half of Americans read at an 8th-grade level or lower. If your writing is above an 8th grade reading level (some would say grade 6-7 max), you are not communicating with your audience as well as you could.

Even people who read at a higher level will appreciate a story that’s easy to read. Great writers embrace simplicity. Novels are generally written at a grade 5-7 level, while non-fiction titles come in at grade 8-9.

Your donors are giving you their time and attention. Don’t make them spend that time wading through complex prose. Your writing can be beautiful and easy to read.

Reading level is affected by:

  • length of sentences
  • word choice
  • grammar
  • content structure
  • active voice vs passive voice
  • wordiness
  • use of adverbs

Tools to help simplify your writing

Word will give you a reading level score and Flesch Reading Ease score. Find out how to locate these tools on the Microsoft support site. I like to use the Hemingway App. Hemingway highlights hard-to-read sentences and words that make your writing more difficult to read. This highlighting action lets you go straight to the problem areas, and shows you in real time how your changes affect readability.

After Hemingway, I like to read what I’ve written out loud. You can also get Word to read to you. When you’re listening, you can hear mistakes. You can hear when the writing gets monotonous or repetitive. Once you have that done, go through once more for spelling and punctuation. Now you’re on your way to communicating clearly with your audience!


Why you need stories to raise funds

Why you need stories to raise funds

You need to tell stories to raise more funds for your mission, ministry or nonprofit. But why is that? What exactly is it that stories do?

When I joined David Oaks’ end-of-year fundraising accelerator in August 2021, David and I were experimenting. We worked with eight small organizations and walked them through their end-of-year fundraising. None of these organizations had done year-end campaigns before, and every one did better than they’d ever done. Some saw wild success, but others still struggled. The difference, at least as far as David and I could see, was the ability to tell powerful stories in writing. 

Writing & storytelling make a difference in your fundraising

We talked and we said we have to do something. There has to be some way to help them with their written storytelling projects. That’s when Mission Writers was born. I started Mission Writers in February this year, 2022. The idea was to get writers together and help them help missionaries and small ministries and nonprofits write these stories. We’re still learning and experimenting, but I’ve become even more convinced that this is going to make a tremendous difference for these small organizations’ ability to raise funds. 

Let’s look at some reasons we need to tell stories, and why we need to become skilled storytellers. 

Why Tell Stories?

  • Stories help us connect – When you listen to a story, your brainwaves  actually start to synchronize with those of the storyteller. 
  • Research shows compelling stories cause our brains to release oxytocin, increase empathy, and have the power to affect our behaviors.
  • Stories help us remember who we are and what we’re about. Donors give to their values. Telling stories that reflect those values help donors make good decisions about whether you’re a good match for them. 
  • Stories reveal truths – your storytelling can help people see the world in a new way. Shift perspectives, overcome prejudices.
  • Stories offer dignity and context for beneficiaries, and give them a voice.
  • Stories put our critical minds aside for a moment, and we willingly enter into the narrative. We try to find ourselves in the story. 
  • Stories give us context to make sense of all those things.

Stories give donors context to see where they fit in accomplishing the mission.

Every known culture tells stories. This is the way we make sense of the world and our place in it. All through the donor journey, especially with people who are not yet aware of you and your mission. Stories help draw them in, and help them get to know, like, and trust you. 

You don’t just “need a story” to fill a space in your newsletter. You need a story to show donors what they can accomplish by giving to your mission. Where do they fit in this story? Not just through giving, but in the big picture of a world where this thing is a problem. They can reflect their values, glorify God, ease suffering, and experience deep personal satisfaction by stepping into this story and playing an active role.

In our ministries, stories are an invitation into a world most people haven’t experienced. If I live in America and I’m immersed in church culture, and all my friends are Christians, I don’t give much thought to what it’s like to not know who Jesus is. To not have ever seen a bible. So, when you say you need funds to go and preach the gospel, or to live in another culture for several years so they can have a bible in their language, you can’t just start there. You have to bring donors into that world and give context to what you do and why you do it. You do that with stories.

You don’t just “need a story” to fill a space in your newsletter. You need a story to show donors what they can accomplish by giving to your mission. Click To Tweet

Use these questions to think about stories you might tell:

  • What are some of the questions people ask about what you do and why you do it?
  • What are some misconceptions people have?
  • What do you wish people knew?
  • What stories can you tell to donors to help them connect to the hands-on work (specially if your mission is far away, and they are not likely to ever experience it personally)?

I’m convinced one of the most powerful helps for us to tell better stories is to think about why we tell stories in the first place! 

Four Words Every Nonprofit Leader Needs to Master

Four Words Every Nonprofit Leader Needs to Master

Mission and vision are words we hear often, but we can struggle to differentiate between them.  As leaders, communicators, and fundraisers, the confusion can cost us.

We have a great cause! Why won’t people join us? Why don’t they give?

Maybe it’s because we’re not being clear. They can’t see the big picture, and they don’t understand what we’re doing or how what we do fits in with the big picture. In this episode, I’m talking about vision, mission, goals, something I call handles, and how all of these work together.

  1. Vision (1:24)
  2. Mission (4:14)
  3. Goals (7:34)
  4. Handles (8:33)

Understanding these four words, and training our team to use them in the same way, will help us to more easily see our collaborators, and connect with the hearts of the people that God sends across our paths. It will help us to express more freely and more clearly what we’ve set out to do, and how people can be a part of it.