When it comes down to it, our job as fundraisers, marketers, and grant professionals is to share the stories of our organization, the people we assist, and the communities we serve. Donors and funders read our grant proposals, emails, newsletters, websites, annual reports, letters, and other marketing materials. Based on our words, they decide whether to fund us or not.
In episode 4 of this season’s Fundraising HayDay Podcast, we talked to Marc Pitman, Founder and Chief Guide at The Concord Leadership Group, about the power we wield through stories. It is easy to look around and compare our organization to others and find our own lacking. Early in my career I suffered from comparisonitis. (Yep, I just made that word up.)
Working in local government most of my grant proposals were funding requests for new roads, a local park, or public safety. I’d talk to my grant professional friends who were serving the homeless, battered women, school children, and medical professionals. I’d listen to them and think: wow, now they have some powerful stories to tell. I felt like they were serving people truly in need, but the reality is, we are ALL serving people in need. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a reason for the grant proposals we write.
It took me a few years into my career to grasp this fact. One day my son and I visited a local park that was funded by a grant proposal I wrote. I was sitting there watching him play. As I looked around, I noticed several moms sitting in groups chatting while their young ones were nearby on the playground. I thought how nice it was for them to enjoy a break and to be amongst their friends for a few stolen moments. Further back I saw several teenagers playing with a football in the open field and a handful of kids riding their bicycles around the small walking trail. It suddenly dawned on me that I helped make this possible. While the grant paid for the construction of a citywide park anyone can visit, that larger idea didn’t take away from the fact that individual families and friends enjoy this spot for a variety of different reasons.
Maybe you’re sitting here reading this thinking, well, of course, this big park helps individuals. Okay, so I was a little slow on the uptake that even city projects help people and shape stories of our residents and visitors. But it clicked that day, and I like to think it helped make me a better grant writer because of it. So whether you are serving animals, the environment, a university, a Tribal Nation, or any number of communities, know that you are helping people with a story to tell.
In light of this, I’d like to end with a small but mighty story that might be one of my favorites I have ever had a hand in shaping. When I worked for the City of Alpharetta, our Recreation and Parks Department created a program called Camp Happy Hearts, a summer camp for children with disabilities. Camp Happy Hearts looked for funding to help keep weekly camp fees affordable, and they asked me to assist with grant funding. After we received our first grant, I encouraged our camp counselors to ask parents who sang praises of our program to write down what camp means to them and their families. These are the stories I used in our grant reports and in future applications. Because the stories tell the reason behind our camp so much better than any statistic I could find or narrative I could ever come up with. Out of all the stories, this one still sticks with me today. I’m paraphrasing from the mom who emailed us, but you will get the gist.
Dear Camp Happy Hearts, For you to understand what your program means to me you need to first understand a little background about my family. My husband and I both work, and always have. Our three children went to daycare when they were younger, but they are now all at that age where they are too young to stay at home all summer but don’t want to go to daycare because that’s for babies. Our solution is summer camp. If there is a camp, my kids have probably attended it. They go to church camp, swim camp, baseball camp, overnight camp, and many more. And that works for my two older children, but not for my youngest, Tim. Tim is autistic, so the typical summer camp doesn’t meet his needs. Instead of camp he goes to grandma’s house. Grandma’s house just isn’t the same. Don’t get me wrong. Grandma does her best to give Tim a great summer, but she still has to run to the grocery store, clean house, do laundry, and go to the doctor’s office. The difference for my children is so readily apparent at the dinner table, because like most parents I ask my kids what they did for the day. My two oldest are constantly saying things like: You should have seen the cannon ball I did off the high-dive today. It was EPIC! Or Mom, I met a new friend at church camp today, and we’re going to be friends for life. Or Mom, I hit a home run at baseball camp today. It was out of the park! And then I’ll ask Tim what he did today, and he’ll say: I watched the Price is Right with Grandma. As a parent, it just broke my heart that I could not give the same experiences and opportunities to all my children. But that was last summer, because this summer we found Camp Happy Hearts. And while Tim is not the most vocal child, there are nights I will ask him what he did at camp, and he’ll say things like: A magician came to camp today and I learned a magic trick. Do you want to see it? Or Mom, I signed up for the talent show next week. Will you come watch me sing karaoke? As a parent, it does my heart good to know I can give all my children a wonderful summer.
Of course, I used that story in my grant proposals. I dare someone to read that and not be moved about the work we do. While we aren’t curing autism or guaranteeing Tim will have a break-through year in school the following year, we are giving parents a peace of mind about their parenting. And whether you are a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, or just a human being, can’t we all relate to that? Stories connect us through the lives we are living. Be sure to share them.
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