Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Community fundraising: 7 ways to tell better stories

Did you go to the Institute of Fundraising Scottish Conference this year?  NO? Well, worst luck, neither did your humble friends here at the Fundraising Collective. And we missed out because it sounds like this year's conference was a stonking success.

The IoF conference makes for a happy fundraiser 

However, thanks to the kindness of our Collectivist Chums (like Carebear Cousins but without flashy tummies) all is not lost. We might not have gotten to the Conference but the Conference has come to us, in the form of Super Guest Collectivist and Chair of the IoF Scotland's Professional Development Committee, Gary Kernahan - back by popular demand (and no Gary, that's not stretching things).

The theme of the IoF Scottish Conference 2013 was Storytelling - and who doesn't love a good yarn?  Well our friend Gary is going to tell us exactly what storytelling means to him.  Conference, Schmonference.  We have the best bits right here!
Over to you Gary....

I’m delighted to have been asked to pen a second blog for the fundraising collective (can I say that I’m back by popular demand or is that stretching things?).

In my capacity as a volunteer for the Institute of Fundraising I helped to organise the recent Scottish conference and like the national convention, which I wrote about in my last blog, the topic of ‘story telling’ was prominent.

Telling stories through community fundraising has featured highly on my work agenda for the last two years and I have very much valued the opportunity to learn from peers at these recent conferences.

So given that story telling in fundraising is a topical theme just now - what does this look like in practice?  At the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, a medium sized national charity, we have been working over the last two years to equip the Volunteer Fundraising team (UK wide community fundraising) to become natural story tellers.  It hasn’t been easy and has required us to think very carefully and for our fundraisers to step outside of their comfort zone to adopt a new approach to communications.

One of the great things about working in community fundraising is that we are front facing and are surrounded by fantastic stories.  We meet donors and beneficiaries regularly.  We have many opportunities to tell these stories to others either face-to-face, on the phone, written or even digitally.

I remember in February 2012 asking my team at our national meeting to tell each other stories on how the charity, through specific services, had helped people affected by muscle-wasting conditions and this was really difficult for them.  I was shocked at how difficult this was and I recall a colleague saying that if we can’t articulate to donors how we are using their money then we don’t deserve it and I made a commitment to myself to do whatever was required to make our fundraisers natural story tellers.  (To be honest I shouldn’t have been too surprised at how difficult this was for the team as I and the organisation had done very little to help them.)

I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from sector colleagues at conferences and training days.  I was particularly impressed and inspired by excellent work undertaken by Stephen George (@stevgeorg), Gavin McLellan (@Gav_McLellan) and Rob Woods (@woods_rob). 

Firstly, to make our fundraisers natural story tellers we started with building their knowledge base.  We increased the team’s understanding of the different types of muscular dystrophy, we produced new regional cases for support, we sent the staff on lab tours, we collated questions on scientific research that they are often asked and our Director of Research coached the team on how to answer them and we arranged a series of talks from service providers at our team meetings.

Secondly, telling stories to colleagues become a regular feature at every team meeting.  Next on the recommendation of my colleague Katie Mitchell (@katiebillingham) we worked with external consultant Rob Woods to develop a bespoke training day for our staff to give them the skills to use stories to influence. 

Finally, we created some resources to help the fundraisers tell the charities story in an engaging way.  Taking inspiration from Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres we created a ‘prop box’ with items that represent the services provided by the charity.  The idea behind this is that the team can use these props to talk about our work in a different and engaging way (and avoid the death by powerpoint approach).

So in summary how do you tell your story effectively through community fundraising? 
Here are the steps that I’d suggest you take to develop yourself as a natural story teller but remember it will take time and a willingness to try new things:

  1. Gather stories and build your knowledge base;

  1. Practice telling your stories in an inspiring way;

  1. Developing questioning and listening skills to identify exactly what the donor/supporter is interested in and then use your knowledge to tell them an inspiring story about what they are interested in.

To close I thought I’d finish up with some ‘top tips’:

    • When you meet donors - don’t talk too much, listen and ask questions

    • Know your cause
    • Make your work real – if you can’t take people to visit the work think how you can take it them (ie. Our prop box)
    • Think creatively

    • Remember your story should provoke an emotional reaction
    • Get your toolkit to capture stories – get yourself a notebook, a pen and a smart phone there are some really cool apps that help (such as Hug Mail, Ever Note and Flipagram)
    • Chill out and try it
I’d love to hear your thoughts so please do post your comments or tweet me @garyker.  If you’re really interested in the work we’re doing in this area come along to our session at the Institute of Fundraising Londonconference on Monday 2 December to hear more about it.


Top Guest Collectivist, Gary Kernahan

Gary Kernahan, @garyker

Gary is Head of Volunteer Fundraising at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.  He is also a member of the Institute of Fundraising’s Scottish Executive Committee and Chair of the Professional Development Committee.


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