Relationships and Stories: Find the Right Mix for Your Nonprofit

right-mixRelationships with the community are as important for sustaining and growing an appropriately diversified funding base as they are for creating them. And one of the most effective ways to appeal to people who are passionate about your mission is to share your story. Terry Axelrod, founder and CEO of the fundraising training and education firm Benevon (www.benevon.com), advocates this approach to her clients as a matter of survival. “If nonprofits don’t engage donors,” says Axelrod, “they’re going to become extinct.” Instead, she suggests, nonprofits should “throw open their doors” and give what she calls “a tour of the mission.”

She advises holding twice-monthly tours that highlight different aspects of the organization’s work in order to appeal to as broad a range of prospective donors as possible. Then, follow up with those people who expressed an interest in what they saw on the tour. “Think of it as a customized cultivation process,” she says. Storytelling is also a valuable exercise for leaders, staff, and volunteers, Axelrod adds. By talking with guests about the value of the mission, they reinforce their own commitment to it as well.

High-touch activities like tours may be time consuming, but they help you stand out in an increasingly crowded field. When employed as part of a sound fundraising diversification strategy, they can also help an organization jump off the budget treadmill. “Many small nonprofits have difficulty getting past the annual budget pressure for cash,” says fundraising management consultant James M. Greenfield, ACFRE, FAHP. “When you don’t have any sense of a plan beyond survival, it’s hard for fundraisers to come up with something that suits the mission.”

That’s where the storytelling comes in, says Greenfield. Any story — and, by extension, any plan — that serves the strategic goal of cultivating new sources of revenue must be able to answer five questions:

  • Why do you exist?
  • What do you do?
  • What have you done?
  • Where are you going?
  • What’s the money for?

Greenfield, who has been in the fundraising field for 40 years, says that the traditional “giving pyramid” model that served the field for many years is a useful tool for developing a soundly diversified funding base. “It takes time to develop contributor relationships to the extent an overall fundraising program is engaged at all levels of the pyramid,” he says.

This post was adapted from “The Right Mix: How to Strengthen Your Organization’s Sustainability through a Well-Thought-Out Plan That Sees Money as a Strategic Asset,” by Paul Lagasse, Advancing Philanthropy, Summer 2013 (reprinted with permission). You can read the whole article here.

Author: Paul Lagasse

Paul Lagasse provides expert-to-expert communications services to nonprofit, business, and government clients in the metro Baltimore-DC area. Specialties include science and medical writing, technical report editing, and content marketing.