What the Food Network Show “Chopped” Can Teach Nonprofits About Storytelling

What the Food Network Show “Chopped” Can Teach Nonprofits About Storytelling

In the Food Network show Chopped, just before chefs present their first dish to the judges, they must answer the question, “What would it mean for you to win?” 

In the Food Network show Chopped, chefs compete to cook the best dish based on a basket of mystery ingredients. Just before contestants present their first dish to the judges, they must answer the question: What would it mean for you to win?

The winner gets $10,000, but winning Chopped means so much more than money. This is the story element of the show. Each chef is playing for something personal to them. Some play in hopes of winning seed money for a new venture. Some play to prove something to themselves, to family, or even to an entire culture. Some want to pay a sibling’s medical bills, take a long-delayed honeymoon, or travel to see a special family member. And so, the drama of the show is not only about whether these chefs can make something amazing from a basket of random ingredients. It’s about hopes and dreams, family quarrels, breaking barriers.

Define the “win” to motivate donors.

We could learn a lot from these Chopped contestants. We are more than what we do, more than the methods we use, or the ingredients we’re delt. The missing piece in some of our stories is this “what does it mean?” element. There is much to gain, and much to lose in your mission. When you share about your mission, show us what is at stake.

  • What does it mean to win? If you’re funded and the mission succeeds?
  • Conversely, what happens if your mission is not funded? 

In an early episode of Chopped, one contestant’s goal was to travel to see her grandmother in another country. It would be her last chance see this special woman. In the end, this contestant lost the cooking competition, but the winning chef was so moved by her story that he paid for her ticket.

When you make the stakes clear and define the “win” for donors, they are more likely to be feel motivated for your cause. Your wins are their wins. It feels good! A project with nothing at stake doesn’t move people to act. Obviously, we don’t want to exaggerate, but we do need to make stakes clear. Don’t assume people will automatically connect the dots between your project and the real impact it has. It’s up to us to help donors make those connections.

That childcare center you’re funding? I doesn’t just mean moms get a break. It means they can work without worrying about their children. That they can say, “Yes” to new opportunities. It means children are more prepared for school and more likely to break cycles of poverty. What happens if childcare isn’t available? What doors remain shut for these families then?

It’s up to us as storytellers to clearly show what happens when we win–and when we lose.

Asking for Advice (and why you should do it)

Asking for Advice (and why you should do it)

Your supporters want to help.  Asking them for advice helps you and engages them at a deeper level. You’ll both be glad you did!

As you craft your essential stories, case document, and other key elements of your fundraising story collection, invite some of your close supporters to review these materials. To get the most from this review, be specific about what you want them to check:

  • Is it clear/easy to understand? Even for someone who doesn’t already know about who we are or what we do?
  • Are we asking for the right donation amounts?     
  • Does anything in this raise questions about us that might inhibit giving?    
  • Ask any other specific question you have about the piece you’re working on.

By asking for answers to specific questions, you’ll avoid responses like, “It’s great!” that don’t tell you anything. 

Often, when you ask for advice, supporters will tell you exactly how they prefer to be asked for money. The transparency you show in  conversations around how you raise funds invites them to also be transparent about how they approach giving. 

This isn’t a trick to get them to give more. It is an invitation to understand each other and to come into a closer relationship. 

One last step – report back to them and let them know how their advice helped!

Reduce Friction for Fundraising Success – PT2

Reduce Friction for Fundraising Success – PT2

In the last episode, we looked at gaps in your storytelling that cause friction. This week, we’re looking at friction in the donation process.

Reduce Friction for Fundraising Success – PT1

Reduce Friction for Fundraising Success – PT1

Why aren’t people giving? Maybe there’s too much friction–little things in your messaging or in your presentation that cause hesitation or second-guessing. This week we look at friction in storytelling, and what to do about it.

Friction isn’t always bad – it’s what makes the brakes on your car work. But in fundraising, we don’t want people to put on the brakes! For us, friction is something that makes it harder than it should be to give, to volunteer, or to help in any way.

Most advice for cutting down friction focuses on the donation page. We’ll look at that in the next episode. But for now, I want to focus on friction caused by gaps in our storytelling and missed opportunities because we don’t have the right materials on hand.

Ignore the donor’s journey at your peril.

When we talk about the donor’s journey, we’re talking about the process a person goes through where they get to know you, like you, and trust you. Those three things need to happen before they will “try” you–before they will give or get involved.

Every potential donor you meet is asking these questions:

  • Do I know this person?
  • So I know someone who knows them?
  • Do I like them? (this takes just seconds).
  • Can I trust them?

If they don’t know, like, and trust you, most people will not give to you. They will not give you their platform, and they will not introduce you to their people.

When we feel pressured to raise funds, we can enter into situations with expectations that aren’t in line with the relationship. We skip steps in the donor journey and go straight for the ask–or we start dropping hints. That causes friction.

At times, you’ll be introduced to someone new by someone they already know, and like, and trust. The person who introduces you is lending you their credibility. It’s easier for the new person to trust you, because someone they know, like, and trust already trusts you and recommends you. That reduces the friction.

When you’re coming in cold, you have to give the relationship time and create a pathway that shows them who you are, what you’re about (values), introduces them to your mission and vision, and earns their trust.

Help them help you.

The unbreakable rule for reducing friction is to make it easy for people to support you.

When you meet with someone, don’t expect them to remember everything you said. Be prepared for the conversation with a case document or a one-sheet that covers the basic information they need.

People will often need to check with a spouse, missions committee, or others before making a decision about support for your cause. Your materials should give them exactly what they need to present your case.

These materials should be well-written, thought-out, and easy to follow. Your case document should cover the donor’s journey (yes, you can do it in just a few paragraphs), tell them exactly what the need is, and how they can give. Hand that to them with your contact information and an invitation to answer their questions.

Make everything easy to read.

In all your materials, online and in print, make everything easy to read. Anything over a 7th or 8th grade reading level will lose people. Even if your supporters are well educated with postgraduate degrees–no one likes to work at reading. Difficult sentences, long words, and big paragraphs all create friction. 

Avoid the “wall of text” approach, where you cram as much information as possible onto a page. Small fonts, tiny margins, and a lack of white space (empty space) around your text make your materials hard to read. Help donors by making your materials easy on their eyes.

You should know that most people are looking at your emails and your website on a phone or other mobile device. Keeping that in mind, make your paragraphs short (2-3 sentences each). Design everything so it looks good and displays correctly on a mobile device.

By reducing friction for donors, you’ll give yourself an advantage and make it more likely that they’ll follow through with a gift. In the next episode, I’ll talk about things you can do to reduce friction in the donation process.

3 Questions Your Writing Must Answer

3 Questions Your Writing Must Answer

There are many reasons to write, but when we are writing to move someone to action, we must be crystal clear. In this episode, you’ll learn three questions to help ensure you’re communicating clearly.

I recently attended the Hope Words conference for writers, where one of the speakers was Katherine Paterson. Mrs. Paterson is the author of over 40 books and the recipient of many awards for her writing, including two Newberry Medals. She told us about a time when she got a note from her long-time editor about a certain paragraph. She had taken great care with this paragraph and she held it dear.

The editor’s note said, “It’s beautiful, Katherine, but what does it mean?”

As a writer, I feel the pain of having something I’ve labored over being misunderstood or torn apart. As an editor, I know it’s a question that must be asked.

All our beautiful writing and storytelling is worthless if it isn’t clear.

To be clear in our nonprofit writing, we must answer three key questions:

  1. What is happening?
  2. What does it mean?
  3. What do you want me to do about it?

By answering these questions, you can provide context for your message and make it clear what action you want your readers to take.