Let Me Tell You A Story – Using Stories Strategically in Communications

Norma’s YouTube: Let Me Tell You A Story

Thanks to Dave Traynor from the Canadian Public Relations Society of Vancouver Island for sharing this YouTube video of my opening plenary presentation at Royal Roads University during the recent CPRS Beyond the Hype conference.  It’s not edited and runs slightly over an hour in length (so I’d recommend brewing up a pot of tea or coffee before diving in).  I’d love to hear your comments.


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The Changing Face of Wealth – Women & Philanthropy – Are You Ready?



Change is afoot

Change is afoot in not only the ‘face of wealth,’ but relationally, ‘the face of philanthropy.’ In light of recent research findings (check the link below), it’s clear that the charitable sector will benefit from a thorough review of how it communicates and interacts with their communities, specifically, to ensure they are providing the type of service that will attract and retain women. Consider the following:

  • The first wave of baby boomers reached retirement age in 2011 and over the next few decades, the ‘intergenerational transfer of wealth,’ will most likely rest in the hands of women before being passed along to the next generation
  • the average number of years that a widowed baby boomer will outlive her spouse is 16
  • 70% of women change their financial advisors within a year of their partner’s death (citing disconnection with advisor or unsatisfactory service)
  • The financial sector is ramping up advisor training to shift the focus on ‘big-picture’ planning and jargon-free explanations (research shows women prefer a more holistic approach), in an attempt to retain/attract female customers.

What do you think charities could and should do to respond to this? What is happening at your organization?

Check out the following resources to spark discussions.

The TD Bank Group has released this first-ever Canadian research paper on the topic of women and philanthropy Your Story, Your Future: Time, Treasure, Talent: Canadian Women and Philanthropy as part of an initiative to better understand the overall financial needs, habits and aspirations of Canadian women (please be patient when downloading the report, it may take a minute or two…but worth the wait).

Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Indiana University wonderful website, full of resources and articles.

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Once upon a Time…Adopting a Narrative Approach to your Case for Support

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” ~ Robert McAfee Brown

If there was one message that came across loud and clear throughout the plenary presentations at the 2014 CAGP national conference it was the importance of knowing how to shape and share stories to celebrate and promote philanthropy.   As a professional storyteller and former journalist – and someone who has been promoting a ‘narrative approach to fundraising’ for years – it made my little heart sing.

It also dovetailed nicelypaint by numbers 2 into the topic I’d chosen for my conference session: Paint By Numbers: The Ultimate Story Script for your Case for Support.  

In my experience, most organizations follow a traditional approach in developing their Case for Support (Case) and create a four-colour, ‘one size fits all’ document. While this approach can work, I believe it often falls short on delivering a compelling and convincing narrative that invites prospects to play a key role in helping the organization’s beneficiaries. Continue reading

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Report Confirms: It Takes A Whole Charity To Successfully Raise Funds

Working together gets results.

Working together gets results.

Thank you to those who contacted me in response to A Fundraiser Bill of Rights.  I had no idea it would create such a response – and uncover a wonderful report.  Read on…

I received a note from Simone Joyaux in praise of the bill of rights, and she kindly directed me to this 2013 report, UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising.  It highlights the need for organizations to fundamentally change the way they lead and resource fund development to create a workplace that supports fundraising success.  The report contains the results of a joint project between CompassPoint and The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund.

“Fundraising can’t be a priority for just one individual. It has to be a priority, and a shared responsibility, for the board, the executive director and the staff alike.”  Linda Wood Senior Director, Leadership and Grantmaking The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

Is it really such a novel idea that in order for charities to be successful in raising funds, everyone – staff and volunteers – need to play their part?  With such a high turnover rate of fundraising staff, and the resulting costs in donor relations, staff time and budgets, surely this is an area that needs our attention.

The goal of this report is to serve as a ‘conversation starter,’ so what are you waiting for?  Dive in

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A Fundraiser Bill of Rights…why not?

For years, I’ve taken copies of A Donor Bill of Rights with me when I meet donors face to face. Along with a copy of my professional ethical code, I’ve found it useful in explaining what donors can, and should, expect when working with fundraisers.

Well, something happened a couple of weeks ago to make me think about the need for a companion piece, A Fundraiser Bill of Rights.  Let me explain…

Did You Say A Fundraiser Bill of Rights?

Did You Say A Fundraiser Bill of Rights?

I was asked to speak at a fundraising workshop – to share some ‘tips and techniques’ about being successful. When preparing for this, I started writing a description of the ideal working environment – one that supported fundraisers and instilled in them a high level of comfort and confidence in approaching donors, regardless of whether that meant writing proposals, direct marketing, or meeting them face to face).  I had a donor bill of rights sitting on my desk as I was jotting down ideas and voila, a fundraiser bill of rights was born.

While it was crafted in the spirit of fun, after presenting it, I realised that perhaps it’s not such a bad idea after all. And now, it’s over to you. What do you think?

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Everything You Need to Know About that Fundraising Project…but were afraid to ask.

Over 20+ years of fundraising, I have been asked to write grant applications and funding proposals for operating grants, projects, corporate sponsorships, naming rights for buildings– sometimes as a ‘one off’ or as part of a capital campaign or a major gifts approach.

Are You a Tortoise Hare?

Are You A Tortoise or a Hare?

Unfortunately, I was often put in the position of having to prepare for donor meetings or write proposals in the absence of crucial information.  So, over the years,  as my confidence grew, I developed a questionnaire for those requesting the funding (here it is:Fundraising Project Checklist).

I admit that asking for this level of detail didn’t always make me popular, but, it shortened time spent completing grant applications and proposals or preparing for donor meetings – and more importantly, made me more successful in raising funds.

It also provided wonderful fundraising project summaries for board members, other fundraising volunteers and staff in a consistent and timely fashion.

Yes, it does require an injection of time and energy ‘up front’ and could be seen as a ‘tortoise vs. hare’ approach, but I have found it to be a very worthwhile investment.  And, having access to this information means a quick turnaround in delivering information to prospects who show interest during initial, exploratory discussions (so valuable from a donor relations perspective).

And, to help all fundraisers be successful by creating a supportive workplace environment, I’ve also created a companion piece: A Fundraiser Bill of Rights.

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Confessions of an Unethical 9 Year Old Fundraiser

A Story of Cemeteries, Snowdrops and a Philanthropic Epiphany

One of the golden rules of major gift fundraising is that before you ask others for donations, you should donate yourself.   Now that this has proven to be a successful step in fundraising, perhaps we should delve deeper and discover our true philanthropic selves – both roots and wings.  If the memory and experience of a single gift can provide a greater level of comfort and confidence in asking others to donate, then just imagine what might happen after discovering the whole story!

Alice Through the Looking GlassAs part of my approach in teaching fundraising, I always recommend such an exploration. So I thought I’d share my own ‘first step into philanthropy’ story.  If you want to skip the story and head straight to the handout I developed to help you on this journey, then here’s the link: Discovering Your Philanthropic Self Template

But, if you’re interested, have a bit of time (yes, I’ve probably blown all known blog rules and written a complete story versus providing a list of bullet points), then here’s my first recollection of anything linked to both asking for donations…and, well, eventually, making one.

And, now if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin…

Cemeteries, Snowdrops and a Philanthropic Epiphany

What do you want to be when you grow up?  Like many children, I was asked this question by adults and becoming a fundraiser was nowhere on the radar. Continue reading

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