10 Steps to Your Best Fundraising Story

Nonprofits have gotten really good with numbers.  I don’t know about you but when I hear a lot of facts and figures my mind starts to wander.  My eyes glaze over and, despite my best efforts, I can’t retain much.

And forget about being able to tell someone else the great numbers I heard.

fairy-303762_640But tell me a good story and I’m all ears!  I’ll repeat your story and it will become my story.

Stories stick.

It’s human nature for us to remember and repeat a good story.  Think of fairy tales, they’ve been told for hundreds of years, yet there’s a new version of Cinderella out in the theaters right now!

As a nonprofit leader you need to find more and more people who care about your organization.  They will be your volunteers, advocates and donors.  Those relationships begin with a story (share those great numbers after you’ve won their hearts).

Becoming a good storyteller is your key to engaging more people.

Stories inspire caring and caring leads to giving. Follow these steps to create stories that move others to care about you and your vision.  With a little practice great storytelling will come naturally.

        1. Explore your passion. The more you understand why you care about your work the easier it becomes to share it.  Consider people, events and circumstances throughout your life that shaped your values and brought you to do the work you do.
        2. Get personal. Emotions are a natural part of a personal story – but you don’t need to fake tears!  When it’s real and personal everybody gets the emotion – the humor, the joy and the sadness or fear you’ve experienced.   It’s those emotions that make us remember.
        3. Connect your story to the story of your organization. Explore both the present and the history. Know the founder’s story; most organizations started in response to a great need at that point in time.  How has that changed and grown?  Try to deconstruct your Vision statement to get right to the heart of WHY your organization exists – that’s what stays consistent and it’s what engages people!  (Save the “What you do” and “How you do it” for later when they already love you.)
        4. Tell your own fairy tales. Fairy tales – and most other stories in books, movies and TV – follow a simple formula.  It goes like this:

          Once upon a time…Unfortunately…Thankfully…Happily ever after

          We naturally follow the emotional ups and downs of a story.  Invariably, something goes wrong and along comes a hero (your organization?) to solve the problem.

        5. Know what you want. What does “Happily ever after…” look like for your organization?  Knowing this helps you choose the best story and the right message.  When you reach the end it should be clear WHY your organization exists.  The emotional brains will kick in and they’ll be ready to follow you (and maybe even listen to the numbers).
        6. Paint a picture. Your story should include enough details to make it easy to visualize.  Names, ages, places and other easy-to-grasp details like weather help to make your story engaging.
        7. Keep it simple. A great story is easy to follow.  Side stories add confusion instead of painting the picture.  Think of it as pulling a single thread that is running through a rich tapestry of stories.  Often repeated stories of heroism, redemption or innovation become streamlined, that makes them more compelling and easier to repeat.  You can see this in a movie that focuses on one aspect of a person’s life.
        8. Repeat. Great storytellers repeat their story.  You’ll get better at telling it as you go.  And, believe it or not, people want to hear your story!
        9. Gather stories. Now you are ready to spot other great stories in your organization.  Ask others to tell their story, then listen carefully, you’ll hear stories that you can use and share.
        10. Create sharing opportunities. Adapt your story to social media, video and your website.  Create Story Hours; invite people to come and get to know you and learn about your organization and why it exists.

Merle Benny-NPCMerle Benny wants to hear your story!  Her blog, Nonprofit Champion, is a resource for fast track nonprofit leaders.  She’s smart, creative and driven to help organizations reach their vision.  As a partner at Thinc. she has provided marketing and branding services to nonprofit organizations and managed events that raised millions of dollars to support their work.

Your Story: Discover What Inspires You


I love a good story! 

I’m looking out at the ice and snow, sipping on a hot cup of cocoa sending you this important post.  I hope it will inspire you to tell me your story…

Your most powerful message is your own story.  But for most people that’s the hardest story to tell.

When I do Story Workshops I ask people to think about the events in their life that inspired their work. At first I get some boring stories!  They usually go something like this: “I’ve been really fortunate all my life so I want to help others who aren’t so lucky.” 

Are you inspired?  Neither am I, it’s a sleeper and it doesn’t begin to tell who you are or why I should care about you, let alone your cause or organization.

A True Story

Rosie came to a recent Workshop – this one was for women who had made significant donations to the organization.  She told us she is a successful business woman, happily married and an elected politician.  Her life does look “fortunate.”

But…later in the Workshop, she was inspired to share more.

As a young, single mom, I accepted food stamps in order to feed my family…I was denied welfare because I had $2000 in savings. I struggled for years. I know how it feels and how hard it can be.

Now were we interested in her story?  You betcha. Rosie – and everyone in the room – now understood her passion for her community and her eagerness to be a mentor to young women.

Every day you have opportunities to tell our own story.

You, or Rosie, don’t need to air your dirty laundry, but you do need to fully understand the events of your own life and how they impact your work, passion and drive.  She hadn’t connected the dots before.

When you speak from personal experience your sincerity will be clear to anyone you hears you. They will believe what you believe (that’s the first step to getting them to care, and then to take action). 

Once you learn to tell your own story, you’ll do a better job of recognizing and telling other’s stories. 

Why stories?

Stories are engaging.  They are memorable.  People naturally listen to stories.  Whether you are gathered around the campfire or at a networking event, a good storyteller gets attention.

Start to explore your own story. Write down 3 life events that have impacted you significantly.




You may be like my friend Mary, she can easily point to THE event that drives her work.  Mary’s father died when she was 14.  She is the founder of two children’s grief organizations.   If your’s isn’t that clear, spend some time thinking about the stories from your family. I grew up hearing about my mother’s family being evicted during the Great Depression and later I spent many years volunteering with homeless families.

What events in childhood, your vulnerable teen years, or early adulthood, or recent past had a great – positive or negative – impact on everything that came since?

Spend the next few days thinking about these.  Choose one that clearly illustrates your values and the choices you have made since that time.  Think about how you might use this life- event to tell a story of your work that would inspire others to care – and give.

Wishing you warm hugs, a cup of cocoa and a good story!



What I’m Reading: Made To Stick

I have always thought of my birthday as time to wear a winter coat.  When I was a girl, wearing my new coat for the first time was exciting.  I remember a blue one with a “fur” color.  Oh how I loved the feel of it!
Well today’s my birthday but rather than put on a coat I am content to curl up with a good book.  I can’t quite call Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die a page turner but it is a great read.  I highly recommend it. 

I’m reading it because of my interest in storytelling and how it can help you grow and prosper.  When you find a way to make your story sticky you have the key to successful fundraising. 

I can’t wait to share some of the great lessons from this book with you in the weeks ahead.  If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear how it influenced your work – and your story.

Stay warm and enjoy your day.

PS  You might want to take a look at Made To Stick: eSpresso Summary.  You can download it for $4.99.

Is Your Vision a Donor Magnet?

Your Vision is bigger, even loftier, than a mission statement. It’s your DREAM. It’s the ideal that you work towards bit by bit every day. You started out with a very clear vision – you could imagine a better world (or your community) because of your work.  But the everyday challenges of running an organization may have caused you to lose sight of your dream.

The very same Vision that once had you ready to conquer the world may have faded.

Time to bring that Vision back into focus. Imagine having 100s or even 1000s sharing a passion for your Vision, working together to make it happen.

  • Your organization  would be growing  
  • You be serving more clients or greeting more guests
  • You’d have a larger budget and a highly qualified staff
  • The world be safer, happier or better educated  
  • You might solve the unsolvable problem

The Vision is the Magnet
It’s the magic of your Vision that will inspire passion and dedication. The mission and goals are seldom the attraction.  A clear, bold Vision is very appealing – it attracts interest, friends and donations.

Five Quick Vision Boosters

  1. Keep your Vision front and center.
  2. Review it to see if it needs to be bolder or more specific.
  3. Turn it into a short, bold statement that turns heads.
  4. Spread it every way you can, put it in writing, state it publicly – give it life.
  5. Share it with everyone you know and encourage others to share it.
  6. Come back to it every time you make a decision or choice that will impact your organization.  Ask yourself, “will this bring us closer to our vision?”
  7. Turn your vision into action by developing a mission statement that states what you are doing to reach your Vision and then align your goals so you, and everyone else, is reaching for the dream.

Your organization can be growing everyday through your own efforts just by sharpening your focus and sharing your Vision.

10 Steps to…Powerful Emails

at signEmail is essential to your communication plan!  Every nonprofit organization uses email to give information, keep in touch, send announcements and invitations and ask for money.  Email is an effective tool, here you’ll learn how to maximize your results.

Make your email work harder (and become a Champion at the same time!):

        1. Build a Great List.  Every nonprofit needs friends – and their addresses.  Be sure you have good email addresses for everyone you want to reach.  Continue to add addresses for people already in your database and for everyone new that you meet.
        2. Call to Action!  Decide before you write a word what you want to get from this email!  Every communication needs a clear Call to Action.  If you know what you want the reader to do, your email will be much more effective – whether it’s an invitation, newsletter, friendly greeting, request or appeal.  Make it easy for them to do just what you want them to do.
        3. Craft the subject line.  Choose your subject line carefully.  The subject of your email may make the difference between it being opened or ignored, in a typical mailing as many as 80% may never be opened.  Write something compelling and interesting that will make them want to know more.
        4. Here’s one I didn’t immediately open, the subject is:
          Celebrating 100 Years: Girl Scouting Works!
          When I did look (to write this) I found a story about some interesting research that shows women who were Girl Scouts are more successful. I shared this link with all my favorite past and present Girl Scouts. The email would have gotten my attention immediately if it had a subject like this:
          Study shows Girl Scouts earn more, give more
        5. Personalize it. Address each email individually whenever possible. If you have the technology and the knowledge of how to customize an email, use it.  If not use a friendly greeting like “Dear friend of Organization.”  If there is anyone receiving the email who may not be sure why they are getting it, state the reason up front: “You are receiving this invitation because you volunteered at our…” If you do not have a database program, like eTapestry or Convio, that provides mailing services you could use free or low cost mailing services like Mailchimp and Constant Contact.
        6. Write a strong opening.  Make sure your opening or headline makes them want to know more.  Compelling works better than persuasive.  You’ve got 5 seconds to capture their attention.  Go for it!
        7. Here are two examples from one organization asking recipients to sign up for a tour.
          Persuasive: Help us celebrate National NeighborWorks® Week
          “A Wonderful Surprise around every corner.” If you thought you knew all that Orange had to offer, think again!
        8. Choose the best format.  Just because you can make it look like a print newsletter doesn’t mean you should.  Like most people, I read personal emails but I don’t always get to the newsletters and other mass mailings.  Pay attention to what you open and read, it may help you make choices.  Try alternating a standard newsletter format with personalized emails and occasional news flashes.  Balance the “asks” with the “gives” – if you send two appeals a year be sure to send two (or more) invitations.  Introduce each newsletter story with a snappy headline, a short intro and a link to the full article on your site.  Use your established brand so it is instantly recognizable. 
        9. Use the right words.  Take the time to craft a well written email.  If writings not your thing have someone else do the writing (hire a copywriter if you can swing it).  Always have someone proofread!  Enough said.
        10. End with a great signature.  You, and everybody in your organization, should have an email signature; it is easy to create one in Outlook or Gmail.  It usually includes your name, contact information and a link to your website.  Include every option for someone to communicate with you or link to you.  It can even include a handwritten signature, your logo and a Facebook Like button.  
        11. Do it again. You are probably not communicating enough with your friends, volunteers, prospects and donors.  Frequency and consistency are important.  Try an extra mailing (or two) and measure the results.
        12. Book it. Create a full calendar of email communications.  Plan the why, who, what and where so there are no surprises or last minute rushes (I hope!).  

    That’s it! 10 steps to creating powerful emails that get you just what you need.

    Here are some links that may be helpful to you:
    Nonprofit databases



    Newsletter services


    Constant Contact

    Research on what works in email and other online marketing

    Marketing Experiments

Three-a-day Habit

Time for a new habit!  I’m into habits right now because I read The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.  The good news is it is possible to develop new habits and to replace bad habits with good ones.

Here’s my suggestion: send 3 emails a day.

Sound like a bad idea?  Look at it this way; you are in the business of spreading your Mission.  That’s the path to growth, to improved services and to more donors.  So develop a new habit of communicating with old friends and new acquaintences every day. 

I know you’re busy but I promise this is easy and worthwhile.  Feel free to change the number to 2 or 5, or whatever is manageble.  You can also mix up the delivery method, email is easy because you can cut and paste but a handwritten note is great, as are phone calls. 

The point is you need to stay in touch.  Here’s how I do it.  I open my email and in the TO: box I type the letter A.  A list drops down. 


I choose the first name on the list and send them a brief email.  I generally include a little update to my story; this might be what I am working on now, a new success story or something I learned and want to share.  I wrap it up with a suggestion for follow-up.  You might suggest meeting for coffee, attending an event, checking out your website or a link to something that might interest them.  You will want to personalize each one but the gist of the message can be the same for everyone.

Work your way through the A’s and then on to the B’s.  It will take weeks or months to get through the alphabet.  This is a habit worth forming because it guarantees regular communication.  You’ll be surprised how easy and rewarding it is once you get in the habit!


Looking for your big idea?  Nonprofit Champion will work directly with your organization to develop, prepare and package Your Million Dollar Story.  We’ll guide you through the process, and work with you to deliver your successful fundraising. 

This fully customized consulting includes on-site training, brand and theme develop, a professional video and more.  We’ll plan and run your event and deliver just what you need for fast growth.  Let’s get started! 

This is your last chance for 2013.  Call or email now for a free consultation.  973-763-7174, merle@nonprofitchampion.com

Champion Word of the Week

SUSTAIN: nourish; maintain.

If your fundraising resembles a spinning wheel and you are hoping to land on the winning number, it’s time to rethink your approach.  The nourishment and growth of your organization should not be a game of chance.  Look for long-term partners to ensure long-term funding.  Turn one-time donations into multiyear pledges.  Explore opportunities for true partnerships with corporations.  Strengthen commitments and turn your gamble into a sure thing.

P.S.  Here’s a great post about the secret to fast growth.  Hint: It’s not diversified funding. 

More, more, more in my new ebook: Your Million Dollar Story
Sign up now and I’ll send you one!

Your Last Quarter

quarterThree quarters of the year are gone.  One left.  Invest your last quarter so you have a great year-end.  Instead of creating anything new or going off to find new ways to ask for money or say thanks, use what you already have.

How does it work?  Take a look back at your successes for the year.  Make a list of the assets you’ve gained, the events you’ve held, the video you created and the stories you’ve generated.  Go ahead, make a list.  Brag! 

Now that you reminded yourself about all the good stuff, think about how to reuse it to make new friends, deepen relationships and raise more money.

Let’s say you invested in a great video for your event.  Where else can you use that video?  Have all your donors seen it?  Can you repackage it to include your sponsors so they can share it?

And that great speech you gave…who hasn’t heard it?  Or would love to hear it again? 

Hopefully you’ve been stockpiling your success stories all year.  Now’s the time to share them.  Could you create a book (online or in print) that would be worth reading and sharing?

Make your 2013 asset list and then spend time figuring out how to make it work for you in the final quarter of a very good year!

Nonprofit Champion is homebase for fast growth organizations.  We help nonprofits tell their stories, enlarge their networks and raise more money.  Our daily blogs are loaded with free information to help you reach your goals.  Our latest ebook, Your Million Dollar Story, Fast Growth Nonprofits:  5 Steps to Supersize, will get you started.  If you want more, Nonprofit Champion offers private consulting and group workshops.


Want to jump start your organization?  Nonprofit Champion will work directly with your organization to develop, prepare and package Your Million Dollar Story.  We’ll guide you through the process, and work with you to deliver your successful fundraising. 

This fully customized consulting includes on-site training, brand and theme develop, a professional video and more.  We’ll plan and run your event and deliver just what you need for fast growth.  Let’s get started! 

This is your last chance for 2013.  Call or email now for a free consultation.  973-763-7174, merle@nonprofitchampion.com

What I’m Reading: Give and Take

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success

In addition to the fiction I read each night in bed I usually have another book going, something that inspires and informs me.   Give and Take is a perfect example.  It’s the kind of fun, provacative stuff that makes you want to tell everybody what you just read. 

giveandtakebookAdam Grant divides us into three categories: Givers, Matchers and Takers.  After reading this you begin to look at everybody to determine which one they are.  Many of us who are drawn to nonprofits fit easily into the Giver category.  But the interesting thing here is the revelation that the most successful people are Givers!  And the least successful are also Givers!

Takers are the people who take more than they give. Matchers try to keep a balance, they do something for you but they expect something in return (I became very aware of my husband’s tendency to want a tit-for-a-tat). Givers give more than they take.

Givers Build Better Nonprofits

Adam Grant does not profile a nonprofit leader but you’ll find lots of ideas here that shed light on organizations successes and failures.  The concept of “dormant ties” is instantly valuable for building the circle of friends that will contribute to the growth of your organization.  Adam wrote a short article on LinkedIn, Finding the Hidden Value in Your Network, which will be instantly usable and may inspire you to read the book.  

 The book profiles Adam Rifkin, the person Fortune magazine named Most Connected.  In his words “If more business leaders succeed through principled giving of time, energy, connections, and knowledge, the world will be a better place. I want to live in a world where more people have this kind of success.”  He’s talking about you!  As nonprofit executives and board members you have every opportunity to be those leaders.  The book provides lots of inspiration, justification and tips for being a successful Giver.

Adam Grant makes it even easier by offering lots of great tools in the last chapter.  I was particularily interested in Reciporicity Rings, it was new to me and a great concept (read more about them at Humax).

The Author

According to the jacket blurb, Adam Grant is the youngest tenured professor and single highest-rated teacher at The Wharton School.  According to Wikipedia he is (only) 31 years old.  Somehow, in addition to earning his Ph.D. he was a record-setting advertising director, junior Olympic springboard diver, and professional magician. Honors include BusinessWeek’s favorite professors and one of the world’s top 40 business professors under 40.

PS  I seem to be writing about young men setting the world on fire with their big ideas.  You can bet I’m going in search of some women after this!

PPS  Go ahead and connect to Adam Rifkin, the world’s most connnected person, on LinkedIn, he’ll accept.





Shout About It!

Do Good.  Be Great.  That’s a Nonprofit Champion.  I bet you’re really good at the first part.  You are doing good work!  Your Mission is important and you are delivering excellent service. 

But that’s not enough.red ribbon

No matter how great your work is, it doesn’t matter unless the right peope know about it. This includes people who will use your services, those that will contribute to make your organization sustainable and those who will care enough to volunteer and involve others.  That’s why some shouting is in order!

The organizations that prosper are the ones that get the attention (and devotion) of the most people. No matter how worthy the mission, your success is dependent on your ability to motivate more and more people to respond to it.

Think of large nonprofits that are well known – they have a lot of friends and gain new ones every day. With recognition comes prestige.  People like to be associated with prestigious organizations. Prestige is something you can create.

Look for opportunities to stand out.  Spend time exploring how to be obvious.  You’ll be suprised at how different that makes your thinking.

Thinc. HANDS SignI love this red-ribboned building.  It’s not garish or in bad taste, it’s lovely and memorable.  Imagine your headquarters shouting out what you care about.  And here’s a more subtle approach, we created these HANDS signs to mark the buildings that had been renovated by this Neighborhood Development organization.

The ideas you will come up with will go beyond the outside of your building.  Be sure to include your office space, your website, your events and programs in your exploration of how to Shout!


Merle Benny is known as the Mentor of smart, bold Nonprofit Leaders, ready to change the world. She is a founder of Nonprofit Champion, a company committed to the growth and empowerment of nonprofit leaders around the globe by sharing high-level thoughtful branding and growth strategies – while supporting their work and values to create sustainable success.

After 20 years in a successful corporate career developing technology companies, Merle followed her passion and turned her talents to the nonprofits she loved.  Joining years of nonprofit board leadership with marketing expertise, business savvy with a philanthropic heart, Merle empowers highly successful nonprofit leaders.