Archive for April, 2013

Everyone loves a good story

Why do we continue to write boring fundraising materials and grant proposals that ask for our readers’ stamina rather than their enjoyment? Storytelling isn’t a fad. It’s here to stay and will remain the preferred way we learn information.

Some of the most memorable fundraising materials I worked on in my past life as a development director were the pieces that involved telling a unique story about why a donor supported the university. One campaign in particular, we asked donors to vote for his/her favorite professor with a donation and a story about the instructor. The gifts came pouring in that year because people love to tell a good story as much as they like to hear one.

Captivate your donors

Our latest Page to PracticeTM book feature of Storytelling for Grantseekers by Chery Clarke not only addresses the often daunting task of grantwriting but the numerous ways you can captivate your audience with a good story in your fundraising communications.

Storytelling and development collateral can intersect in the following ways:

  • The elevator speech can use an effective hook. An elevator speech can be translated into a powerful, concise, revised version of your mission statement.
  • A grant proposal for general operating support can serve as an agency’s internal case statement. External case statements must tell compelling, emotional stories.
  • Appeal letters have the most obvious connection to storytelling because they need to be vivid and persuasive for people to donate.
  • In a brochure, the stories can be complemented by visuals.
  • Your web site should tell your organization’s story.
  • Annual reports, in addition to providing evidence for the agency’s financial health, present another opportunity to relate your story.
  • Even though government grant applications are longer and more structured, you can still infuse stories into the need or problem (antagonist) and the objectives sections.

If you keep the storytelling approach in mind, you can use it whenever possible, including in sections about your credibility or the sustainability of your program. However, storytelling is not always appropriate given the space limitations and formal tone of government applications. With more practice, you will know when it is appropriate and when it isn’t. Even though some parts of grant writing are technical, such as the goals and objectives section, persuasive writing can transfer to many careers, including marketing, technical writing, journalism, speechwriting and more.

Join us for our next live author interview in our monthly series at CausePlanet and ask Cheryl Clarke all of your burning questions or simply listen to gather all of her helpful insights. Clarke recently released the second edition of her popular book Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising.

It’s chock full of useful techniques for nonprofit communications of any kind-from newsletters and appeals to annual reports and, of course, grants. Our interview will touch on Clarke’s book and much more through our interview questions.

Where are you using storytelling in your work?

If you found this glimpse into our book feature helpful, consider subscribing to our summary library of recommended nonprofit and corporate titles or visit our summary store for a la carte choices. You can also sample a summary for free.

Visit to purchase her books and learn more about her list of client services.

See also:

Influential Fundraiser: Using the Psychology of Persuasion to Achieve Outstanding Results

Fundraising When Money Is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide to Surviving Tough Times and Thriving in the Future

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“Mild audacity” and leadership lessons (Audio)

We are interviewing authors of intriguing leadership and nonprofit texts to showcase more recommendations and best practices. Join us for our final installment of an interview with Deirdre Maloney, author of “The Mission Myth.” She talks about the importance of telling it like it is and her new book, “Tough Truths: The Ten Leadership Lessons We Don’t Talk About.”

In the interview, Maloney discusses her comprehensive book about “building nonprofit momentum through better business.” Maloney is now the founder and president of Momentum, a consulting firm, after serving a seven-year term as Executive

Director of the Colorado AIDS Project. This book compiles advice from her experience as an executive director. She covers the most important aspects of running a nonprofit organization through her four M’s (management, money, marketing and measurement) while supplying tips and pitfalls for the seasoned executive.

She stresses the importance of building systems to run organizations effectively because if these systems are neglected while passionately following the mission, then we cannot “do good well.” Maloney tries to support this

tough leadership position and is honest about how she learns from her mistakes. “Mild audacity” describes her style.

Listen to Deirdre Maloney’s own words in her final installment and see more on “The Mission Myth.”


Kris Rutledge: In your bio at the end of “The Mission Myth,” it says you are “known for saying things others won’t say,” which is a direct quotation. How has this affected the tone and content of your book?

Deirdre Maloney: It is the tone and content, I think. I say my personal brand, whether it’s my books or my blog or when I speak, is “mild audacity.” That means that people need to just say things sometimes. People need to say that if you’re a nonprofit executive director or a nonprofit supervisor or a nonprofit board member who’s appropriately fulfilling your fiduciary responsibility, you’re not going to be liked by everybody. In fact, you might be pretty unpopular. It’s not a popular thing to say, so we don’t say it because we’re nice people and we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings. But if people had leveled with me more or if I had heard more of these messages coming in, I wouldn’t have felt so alone. Frankly, sometimes I just felt like I was losing it. I would wonder, how is it that I’m the only person going through this, suffering through it alone because I was dealing with the passion and trying to make good decisions and nobody understood me. I put this together in a book because I can. I got through it to the other side. I’m no longer working for a nonprofit or reporting to someone. When I write my blogs or write my books, they’re really meant to level with people in a really relatable way and say, I’ve been through all this and frankly in some of my books and blogs, I’m still working on these lessons every day and I’m there with you. But, here’s the scoop: Not everybody is going to like you when you lead a nonprofit. That’s what you need to know. So, here’s how you handle that. I think once you put it up there it kind of pops the balloon of tension and it makes people feel like, O.K., that’s what I needed to hear, because I think we just tiptoe way too much around this stuff.

KR: Your new book is an honest one about leadership lessons, which you have touched on, that you’re not going to be popular, for example. Would you like to talk about your new book briefly?

DM: The new book is called “Tough Truths: The Ten Leadership Lessons We Don’t Talk About.” It’s the same kind of thing—it’s my mini-book and it’s based on my blog. My blog is also known for me coming out and saying what other people won’t say but in a nice and friendly tone and really just saying we’re all in this together. Here are some of the hard lessons I’ve learned.Really what I try to do is let everybody know I’ve messed this up first and here’s what I’ve figured out about it and maybe we can all move forward in a bit of a stronger way. “Tough Truths” is a mini-book, it’s about 100 little pages, and it’s based on some lessons we don’t talk about. They’re hard. As a matter of fact, when my husband read it, he said before I put it to print, “You need to add an intermission.” I said, “It’s 100 pages.” He said, “You need to add an intermission. People are going to get through this and it’s kind of heavy.” So, I did, which I’m glad because it’s two of my favorite pages in the book. I really think when people read it they just really appreciate how honest it is and how normal they feel after reading it and knowing they’re not in all this alone to become great leaders. What I say is we all know the obvious leadership lessons. We all know about time management and how to work with people and all that. But the greatest leaders out there know these lessons. This is what I’ve learned. So, when we all embrace these lessons, we can all strive for greatness and excellence in our lives, both inside and outside of work.

Both “Tough Truths” and “The Mission Myth” are available on Amazon, both electronically and in hard copy. I’m finding that people just really appreciate the tone and style. “Tough Truths” is meant to be read at a layover in an airport or on a flight and people appreciate how digestible it is.

KR: Thank you. I really enjoyed both your books. I do think their strength is the honesty. Again, they are available on Amazon and Kindle. Thank you for giving us this quick preview.

DM: One last thing—if you want to get more information or read an excerpt from “The Mission Myth,” you can also go to, which is my website and has my blogs on it. Just if people want to do a little more exploring.

See also:

Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability

The Nonprofit Business Plan: The Leader’s Guide to Creating a Successful Business Model

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

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Conference generates great “next gen” ideas

What do you get when you combine standing-room-only attendance, one enthusiastic author and the topic of generational fundraising? You have the makings of a terrific exchange of ideas. I had the pleasure of conducting a CausePlanet interview with Emily Davis at the United Way Worldwide Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana this week. Davis’ book, Fundraising and the Next Generation: Tools for Engaging the Next Generation of Philanthropists, was the basis of our discussion.

As some of you know, the CausePlanet author interview is an interactive format where attendees are encouraged to join in by submitting questions and comments for the author along with me. This particular group had some great input that enhanced our discussion about integrating Gen X and Y into your strategic resource planning. A variety of strategies were discussed during the interview and I wanted to pass along two in particular.

Consider these strategies:

Look at your Traditionalists (born 1900-1945) and Boomers (born 1946-1964) and research their family members: Who among these generations is supporting your organization? Do they have children you can involve on a volunteer basis so when they reach their giving years, they’re ready to give? You can’t afford to dismiss the younger philanthropists because their gifts may be smaller. In reality, Davis’ research demonstrates how the younger generation is giving amounts relatively equal to generations that have preceded them. Furthermore, around 63 percent of Davis’ respondents report their financial contributions are affected by where they volunteer.

Consider forming a parent/child program: Another interview attendee explained how he had formed a program that involves fathers and sons working together on behalf of the cause. More than 70 million people are under the age of 30, rivaling Boomers in purchasing and voting power. Generation X and Millennials were raised on community service so they’re going to be receptive to an opportunity to volunteer especially when it involves the added value of family time. While mothers and fathers are more accustomed to traditional forms of giving, their children may have the financial means to deliver a large check or raise larger numbers of smaller donations from their peers, friends, and family through the simple click of a button. Together, these family teams can be an incredible resource.

In light of the fact that Millennials outpace Boomers in size and anticipated wealth, what are you doing to prepare and engage Generation X and Millennials now?

Follow this discussion online, read Davis’ blog or purchase her book at

Or, you can purchase a Page to Practice summary of Davis’ book or numerous other titles in our CausePlanet store or subscribe for complete access to our summary library.

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Learn from the downfall and turnaround of a large nonprofit

There was a really interesting article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy recently about a Los Angeles nonprofit for aging Hollywood actors that was in danger of closing its doors but is now raising hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a rags-to-riches story that demonstrates how nonprofit leaders who embrace change when change is necessary can completely transform an organization.

Arguably, the Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) is not your average nonprofit organization. Set up in the 1920s by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and Mary Pickford, it asked actors to donate spare change to help fellow actors down on their luck. MPTF later expanded to become a $100 million organization that serves 150,000 needy actors with healthcare, housing and retirement services. And although MPTF enjoys a budget with a few more zeros than the average nonprofit, its approach to change can serve as a model for other nonprofits.

In the early 2000s MPTF lost its way. Financial hardship forced the organization to consider closing one of its retirement centers, which drew the ire of celebrities like George Clooney. But unlike other nonprofits that lose their way and have to eventually close, Hull House being the most recent and troubling example, MPTF turned things around.

Here’s what the MPTF story teaches nonprofits about embracing the challenge of change:

  • Remove what stands in your way

In order to survive, it’s critical that nonprofits do something not easy for the sector: recognize and address the obstacle. Whether it’s an unmovable executive director, a deficient board, a broken financial model, or a distracting funder, a nonprofit must face the challenge head-on. MPTF realized it needed new leadership and replaced the fund’s president in 2010. Hull House’s board, however, refused to address changing the organization’s financial model despite seeing glaring financial issues for several years.

  • Force honest conversations

When George Clooney voiced his dismay at MPTF’s decisions, new MPTF president Bob Beitcher approached Clooney and listened to his concerns. Beitcher explained they were facing closure of the center because of financial dire straits. Over time he turned Clooney’s concerns into a passion for the organization and eventually convinced him to co-chair MPTF’s capital campaign. Hull House board and staff, on the other hand, kept conversation light. The staff sugarcoated financial reports and the board failed to ask hard questions. It is essential that nonprofits tackle difficult conversations in order to emerge stronger.

  • Create a financial runway

MPTF had a practice of keeping several months of operating reserves on hand. Hull House, by contrast, lived on the edge — to the point of holding negative $2.3 million in net assets in June of 2007, long before the recession really hit. So when it did, it was in big trouble. Nonprofits (and funders!) must get over the taboo against operating reserves. You simply cannot survive, let alone create social change, if you don’t have the financial runway to do so.

  • Connect mission to money

MPTF now enjoys a large donor base, but that wasn’t always the case. In order to get there, it articulated to specific potential donors why its work was so critical and why the donors should get involved. It is currently raising millions of dollars because it has connected the dots for a specific target audience between its need for investment and the impact it is creating. Nonprofits need to articulate what they are trying to change and then find donors for whom that change is attractive.

The closure of such a stalwart and venerated nonprofit institution like Hull House should have been a wake-up call for the nonprofit sector. If it could happen to Hull House, it could happen to any organization. But it doesn’t have to. Instead of blaming the recession, the board, fundraising, or anything else, nonprofits need to embrace the challenge of change.

See also:
Page to Practice book summaries on change: Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

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Organize your board to support the revenue strategy

Instead of focusing only on how board members can raise individual donations (or not!), think more broadly and effectively about how board members can support the key aspects of your organization’s business/revenue strategy:

In the quest for funds, there is no shortage of advice given to nonprofits. Start a social enterprise! Get corporate donations! Raffle a house! Perhaps the most frequent and consistent advice: focus the board on getting major gifts; in fact, recruit a strong fundraising board that can get major gifts.

But pursuing a new funding stream for which you may not have the right people and competencies already is usually not the best place to start. Instead, we recommend you see how you can boost and leverage the funding streams and people you already have in place.

Let’s imagine a community center with five areas of activity:

  1. An after-school tutoring program
  2. Memberships from neighborhood residents
  3. Facility rentals (to basketball teams, Girl Scouts, etc.)
  4. Annual Neighborhood Congress Day
  5. Organizing neighbors on issues such as zoning, traffic, police presence, economic development, housing

We have to consider which are the most important programs for the community center. The board and management team can discuss:

  • Which programs add the greatest value to our neighborhood?
  • What do we need to do to maintain our largest revenue sources?
  • What do we need to do to grow the type of revenue that will support our most important programs?

In this community center, the answers are:

  • The Neighborhood Congress and community organizing are the heart of the organization—we are a neighborhood council first and foremost.
  • But in terms of financial support, we are a tutoring center.
  • We need to have connections to government funders and foundations, as these are our biggest funding sources.
  • As a neighborhood council, memberships and small business sponsorships are important ways to stay close to our constituents.

Organizing the board around the business strategy, then, means something like this:

  • We need two board members who can and will work proactively to stay in touch with government officials (both elected and administrative) and work to keep our county funding.
  • We need two board members to help with foundation fundraising — whether making introductions, writing proposals or joining staff in meetings with foundation representatives. We will try to get foundation funding for neighborhood issues but also realize sometimes it won’t happen.
  • We need two board members who can and will actively recruit members and local merchant sponsors.

Each pair can then develop a work plan for the year. For example, one board member might agree to set up a lunch for herself with the executive director, a city council member and someone from the mayor’s office to tour the neighborhood. Another might say he will stop into one local merchant each month to talk about the center.

This modest process can result in board members who are capable of supporting the key elements of revenue strategy and just as important, are organized to do so. In addition, it provides a platform where board members of all economic means can contribute meaningfully to the organization’s finances.

Rather than a vague and intimidating dictum like, “Every board member has to raise money,” this approach focuses on the organization’s real-life revenue streams and mobilizes board members in support of a strategy for sustainability.

Special thanks to Jan Masaoka and Blue Avocado for this article, which was originally posted on February 9. 2012.

See also:

The Ultimate Board Member’s Book

A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members

Should board members be required to give?

Just tell me: What’s the best way to raise money?



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No snoring allowed: Win grants with surprises and heroes

Did you know that 70 percent of what we learn is conveyed through stories? Why should it be any different when we’re trying to capture the hearts and minds of those who work in foundations?

For some reason, many of us who write grant proposals take on the project as if it promises all the anxiety of a tooth extraction.

Instead, we should be asking ourselves, “How can I build a story around my cause and draw in my reader so s/he feels involved?” If you’ve ever heard the saying, “Garbage in, garbage out,” then you know your approach to writing a grant will have everything to do with how it’s interpreted by a funder.

Storytelling for Grantseekers author, Cheryl Clarke, not only has been writing successful grants for more than 20 years, she relishes the job. We’re featuring her book at CausePlanet and hope you share our enthusiasm for this topic. Join me in learning what her readers are surprised about and the most important piece of the proposal.

CausePlanet: What advice in your book do you suspect your readers will find most surprising?

Clarke: Hmmm…another excellent question. I think many readers are surprised to even think a grant proposal can be thought of and constructed as a story. On a more micro level, I’ve heard from several readers that they are surprised by my use of section heads, which are analogous to chapter titles. I suggest grant writers consider using more descriptive and persuasive language when writing section headings. For example, while “History and Mission of the XZY Symphony” is certainly serviceable, it is much more compelling to say, “20 Years of Musical Excellence: XYZ Symphony’s History and Mission.” With this section heading, the writer is conveying both a key piece of information (the fact that the symphony has been around for 20 years) and also that the symphony delivers musical excellence (which helps establish the symphony’s credibility).

CausePlanet: What is the most important piece of the proposal in a grant and does it involve a story strategy?

Clarke: The most critical component in a proposal is the need or problem statement. A potential funder must understand what the need or problem is in order to entertain funding a nonprofit agency’s response to the need or problem. A grant writer cannot assume the funder knows the need. Therefore, it must be fully explained and documented through the use of data and statistics. The story strategy most certainly applies to this section of a proposal for it is here in the need or problem statement where the grant writer shows conflict and builds tension. Conflict is demonstrated and tension is built when the grant writer portrays how the world, environment or situation looks today with the need unmet and how a defined population is not being served. Hero agencies exist to address unmet needs.

Clarke’s storytelling techniques apply to all sorts of fundraising materials besides grant proposals. Consider Clarke’s first answer–How effective are you with section headers in your copy? Are they snoresville or do they capture the reader? In her second answer, she stresses building tension and conflict so you can demonstrate how your cause resolves it. What are some ways you can build tension and resolve it in your problem statement?

See also:

Storytelling for Grantseekers
Winning Foundation Grants
The Foundation
Mapping the World of American Philanthropy

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Four trends will impact your financial management

Many of us wish we had a crystal ball for strategic planning and financial forecasting. Marc Chardon, CEO of nonprofit software provider Blackbaud, came close to this wish in his article earlier this year, “Peering into the Nonprofit Crystal Ball.” He identified four key trends that will have the strongest impact on the nonprofit sector this year based on his observations and conversations with leaders in the nonprofit sector. These trends were also formed by conducting research at Blackbaud.

At Execute Now!, my staff is often in the position of helping nonprofits forecast their financial positions in order to improve their organizations’ strategic decision making about important funding matters. As a result, I thought I would share my interest in Chardon’s view of how nonprofits will be impacted by these 2013 trends.

1. Increase in charitable giving will not be dramatic: Considering the tough economic times we are currently experiencing as well as post-regulatory uncertainty, giving will be flat, says Chardon.

2. The nonprofit sector will go through a revaluing process: A nonprofit will be evaluated on the basis of its tax status as it relates to its business model. Millennials securing nonprofit degrees and Boomers leading organizations as a second career will change the sector climate.

3. Technology will play a major role for both nonprofits and their supporters: Chardon predicts a tipping point for nonprofits using technology in 2013. Mobile devices in the sector will more than double in 2013. Nonprofits will use technology in donor services, mission delivery and a more comprehensive approach to constituency relations.

4. The world is shrinking and philanthropic borders are broadening: Competition for donor support will broaden as we see wealth shift to developing countries. Technology has made it easy for donors to engage with causes no matter where they are around the globe.

So what does this mean for nonprofits as they head into 2013and beyond?

Enable responsiveness. It’s never been more important to make financial leadership apriority within your organization. You need strong administrative systems and a sophisticated financial infrastructure that will allow you to successfully respond to the changes ahead.

Give new models financial care. You need to reexamine your funding model and understand that once you undergo a potential change, it’s an evolving process. You need someone at the wheel, either through employment or outsourcing, who can help you monitor the new model’s outcomes and assist with adjustments and new directions as needed.

Worldwide causes’ increased competition for donors and a forecast for flat giving in 2013 require all nonprofits to ask the relevant question: Is your mission rooted in a “must-have” space that compels donors to give? If not, and your organization falls within the “softer services” silo, consider your options for alternative revenue sources or earned income. As you consider these options, do so with an eye on technology to determine how it can help you reach your goals.

See also:

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Storytellers wanted: Grant writers need not apply

“Nonprofit seeks captivating storyteller…” instead of “Nonprofit seeks grant writer…” is the kind of job posting our latest featured author, Cheryl Clarke, would highly approve of.

Clarke recently released the second edition of her popular book Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising. It’s chock full of useful techniques for nonprofit communications of any kind—from newsletters and appeals to annual reports and, of course, grants.

No one wants to read a horrible grant proposal. Why should anyone have to? More importantly, why would you want someone to? An amazing lack of energy and misdirected effort goes into unfunded grant proposals every year despite how worthy the cause may be. It’s quite simple: If you make the task of reading a grant proposal an enjoyable activity by incorporating storytelling, you’ll secure more grants.

Storytelling isn’t a fad. Storytelling’s been around since the dawn of time and will remain the preferred way we learn information. Why fight it? Instead, you can adopt Clarke’s recommendations and captivate your readers with a story about your cause.

Join me in reading Clarke’s answer to one of my interview questions about what’s missing in effective grant writing literature.

CausePlanet: Thank you for a terrific book, Cheryl. Can you tell us what prompted you to write Storytelling? What, in your view, was missing from the literature about effective grant writing?

Clarke: This is an excellent question. When I entered the fundraising field, which was 20-plus years ago, the area of grant writing seemed very technical to me. The grant-writing classes I took and the how-to books I read reinforced my opinion. In my opinion, grant writing didn’t seem at all creative. At the same time, I was writing short fiction for fun. I realized I was incorporating in my grant proposals several of the techniques I was using in my fiction writing, such as describing a location, introducing strong characters and building dramatic tension. And that realization triggered the idea that proposal writing is really about telling a compelling, persuasive story. It’s what grant funders advise applicants to do yet at the time, grant-writing workshops and books were not doing an effective job of showing how to tell a good story.

Have you successfully used storytelling techniques in any of your communication materials?

See also:

Storytelling for Grantseekers
Winning Foundation Grants
The Foundation
Mapping the World of American Philanthropy

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