What’s your story?
Every fundraiser should have a story to tell and share. Stories are memorable and they need to be your stock and trade.
I remember occasions when I have had to standup in front of an audience and talk about the charity I work for. Until I had my own stories to tell I suspect those talks were not memorable or inspiring. There are two ways you can change that. The first is go and get your own story. I can recall the first time I had this opportunity as a fundraiser at Oxfam, when I went to see the work in Kenya.
As I left Oxford I grabbed a handful of laminated photos of students from Rags collecting for Oxfam. Some days later I was visiting the work in northern Kenya in a place called Wajir. It’s very much in my mind right now, as it is an area suffering from the current drought. We had reached an area where nomadic pastoralists had gathered to water their camels. As we rested, Mohammed from the local Oxfam team asked me to show the photos in my bag. As I explained what they were, Mohammed translated. At this point one man, who I learned later was the the head of the local water committee, took the photos in his hand, stood on a ‘soapbox’ and called on those around to hear what he had to say. He was pointing at the photos, holding them up to the gathering crowd around us. “What is he shouting?” I asked Mohammed. “He is telling them that the money raised by Oxfam is very special. Look! Parents in Britain are sending their children out on to the street to raise money for us. We must use this money wisely!”. To them Oxfam was an organisation that did this remarkable work, but it wasn’t until that moment that they realised some of the money was raised by young people.
I took a picture of that special moment and when I returned to the UK I shared this story with schools and university Rags I was visiting. The response I got was always the same – people were really taken that their fundraising was so valued. They asked what more could they do to raise money for Oxfam! It was my first story. Ever since then I have always valued the opportunity to see work for myself and have my own stories to tell. And of course whenever you go to visit work, remember you have your own story to share. Take photos of your family as well as examples of what you do and how you fundraise.
Tell someone else’s story!
Even faced with a situation where you don’t have your own personal experience to share you can still tell a story.
On one occasion I had to address a group of major donors about our work in Cambodia as part of a talk. Now I have never been to Cambodia, so I was a bit unsure how to approach this. I had some material about the work ActionAid was doing there from some reports. But saying this to an audience would be just like regurgitating a case study from the annual review. It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t my story. So I had an idea. I found someone who had been to Cambodia. One of the fundraisers, Rhian, had recently returned. I asked her to tell me any stories from her visit. I really listened for all those key elements that all good stories should have (see previous post) – especially the ‘moment of awareness’ and side anecdotes. When people tell a story the most important bit is usually something they add as an aside – but it’s the bit that really makes it personal.
Rhian told me a story of young boy aged 13 called Chang who was faced with a dilemma. Although he was doing really well at school, he wanted to end his studies to help his mum. His father had died tragically some years ago, and so he wanted to help his family earn an income. Mum of course wanted him to stay at school. This is a picture of them both taken by Rhian. Rhian then told me of something out the picture that she saw. Chang was sponsored by ActionAid and on the wall of their home was a copy of the picture that was sent to Chang’s sponsor back in the UK. It was the only picture of Chang that his mum had. That little aside really brought it home. I don’t know how the story ends – but it illustrates the issues that many families face. ActionAid was working with the women in the community helping them identify ways of earning an income, such as making baskets, so children like Chang could continue their studies.
At the event I stood up and said I wanted to tell them about Cambodia, and although I hadn’t been there I had spoken recently with someone who had – and I told them Rhian’s story – including all the anecdotes such as the photo on the wall.
Now you might think well, what’s so special about that? Well this is the interesting bit. It was several years ago Rhian told me her story. I have never forgotten it – I don’t even need to refer to a note book. And yet how many case studies have I lost to the depths of my memory? So her story, because she told it well, is now a story I can tell. I can add it to my stock of stories.
So now you have no excuse.
Every fundraiser should have their story.
Go and find your story, and if you don’t have one yet, ask someone else for theirs.