Find the bodies
Sometimes fundraising is detective work.
We frequently hear one of two suspicious statements:
(1) “You can’t really raise much money for this kind of ministry.”
Team members have concluded that their ministry is too unusual, or too usual, or too low-key, or too complicated, or too simple, or too humble, or too lofty, or too something-or-other for people to embrace and support.
(2) “This is a great ministry; everybody ought to be supporting it! Why aren’t they responding?”
Both are honest expressions of the heart. But when you hear ministry personnel express either of these viewpoints, put on your Sherlock Holmes hat and start searching for bodies.
You’ll be looking for people whose lives have been directly impacted by the work of the ministry: someone who came to faith in Christ, a homeless woman who got a job, an abused child rescued and now thriving in school, a troubled marriage saved, a drug addict delivered, a suicide averted.
Look for the success stories.
Search through your ministry’s communications to your supporters, looking for stories of people whose lives are different because of your ministry.
- If the ministry is actually accomplishing something of value, it is somehow helping people.
- If a ministry is helping people but never lets me meet those people, the ministry has failed to capitalize on its single most effective tool for persuading me to be involved with the ministry.
- If the ministry doesn’t invest its energies in identifying those “helped people” and capturing their experiences, only the tiniest fraction of such true-life testimonies will ever surface.
- And if no such testimonies can be found, it means one of two things: either (a) the ministry has no adequate apparatus for collecting such stories, or (b) the ministry isn’t really accomplishing anything in people’s lives.
Please don’t let (b) be true; the answer must be (a)!
The vast majority of ministries have no apparatus at all for collecting success stories — perhaps call them “testimonies” — because they do not understand the crucial importance of sharing these stories with donors.
Some ministry marketers, in fact, actually resist the use of testimonies. Maybe they’ve been turned off by the melodramatic weepers on late-night charity infomercials. But rejecting the use of testimonies on this basis throws out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
The true story of an individual makes a powerful visceral connection between the ministry and the donor.
I can relate to another individual human being better than I can relate to statistics about thousands of people helped.
Even if the ministry masks the identity of the individual to protect his or her privacy, the sharing of that story gives the ministry a certain credibility that no volume of statistics or celebrity endorsements can duplicate.
In the shorthand of our agency, we refer frequently to SOTO — the Story Of The One.
If we have a choice between building an appeal on a true-life story or building the appeal on anything else, we choose SOTO every time.
The “story of the one” engages the donor in ways that no other strategy can.
The average donor is far more interested in what happened to someone than they are in how your program works, or why.
For years, one major Christian television ministry employed two full-time staffers who did nothing but follow up on testimonies. Testimonies were valued so highly that any call or letter containing the speck of a testimony was funneled to these workers. They would write or call the individual, conduct an interview, and in some cases follow up with a camera crew.
The most compelling stories wound up on the ministry’s television program, but dozens of less fantastic testimonies made their way into the ministry’s newsletters, appeals, and — perhaps most importantly — receipt letters. The personalized letter over the ministry leader’s signature which accompanied every donor receipt almost always included a brief testimony. Also in the receipt package was a “bounce-back” coupon — a generic response device designed to accompany another gift.
As a result of the ministry’s consistent sharing of success stories — evidence of the donor’s investment bearing actual dividends in people’s lives — the receipt package bounce-back coupon came to represent as much as a third of the ministry’s total gift income!
Another Christian television ministry produced conferences for followers, and a minicam was always stationed in a corner to capture people’s stories.
A ministry that sends volunteers on overseas missions, to give Scripture books to schoolchildren in their own language, instructs all the ministry’s volunteers to keep their eyes peeled for the story of a particular child whose life is touched by that ministry, and who touches a volunteer’s heart. They urge volunteers to record the details, snap a photo, and send them to the ministry when they get home.
But far more common are the helpless sighs of ministry personnel:
“We never hear about stories like that.”
“We can’t afford to put any of our staff on that.”
In fact, a ministry can’t afford not to pursue testimonies.
Without sharing consistent living evidence of the efficacy of your ministry, you aren’t inspiring your donors as deeply as you could.