You are not the Hero, the Donor is

Telling the story of your organisation is essential to all types of fundraising activities, but charities often get it so wrong by just talking about themselves. Here, IFC’s UK Director, Bill King explains why charities should be making the donor the hero of the story…

When it comes to talking about their cause, most charities find it hard not to put themselves at the centre. It seems obvious that people would want to know about who they are, what they do and the difference they are making, and that’s true, but it’s not the most important thing, and it certainly shouldn’t be the first thing.

I remember talking to the administrator of a local trust a while ago, and he was telling me about the frustrations of going through all the applications he receives. Most of what he complained about was fairly obvious; the letters with his name misspelled – or just wrong – the people who clearly hadn’t read up on the trust’s areas of interest, and those who simply couldn’t put together comprehensible sentences, but what he said he really got fed up with was when the letter focused on how wonderful the charity was, and barely mentioned the problem they were trying to solve.

“Cut to the chase.” He said. “Tell me what the problem is and how you are going to solve it.Then tell me who you are and why you are the right people to do the work. I don’t care how great an organisation you are, we are not going to support you if you can’t convince us there is a real problem out there that we can help solve.”

It was an important insight into the mind of the donor and it’s the same whether you are talking about a grant funder, like my friend, or an individual. Some charities put all their effort into assuring donors that they are a sound organisation, and relegate the compelling need they are trying to meet to second place. We do need that reassurance, because we justify our giving intellectually, but we decide to give because of an emotional response to the need, and that has to come first.

So how do you do that? Well, I suggest you think about Little Red Riding Hood.

Sounds strange? It shouldn’t. Little Red Riding Hood is the archetypal story; it has the three things any good story needs: It has someone in danger – Little Red Riding Hood; it has something that threatens that person – the Wolf; and it has the Hero who saves the day – the Woodsman. So when talking about what you do, show people who or what is in danger, tell them about the wolf, and demonstrate to them how the hero can save the day. But remember, you are not the Hero. The donor is the Hero.

It is the donor who can make the difference. The donor is not helping you save the little girl, you are helping him. You are just providing the means by which he can slay the wolf. You are the tool he uses. I say again; you are not the Hero. You are the axe.

The Woodsman needs the axe. He can’t save Little Red Riding Hood without it, just as the donor can’t combat the problems he cares about without your charity, but there is no point persuading him about the fantastic, unbeatable wolf-slaying properties of the axe if he doesn’t first know there is a wolf out there and a little girl who needs protecting from it.

The fundraiser’s job, then, is to engage the donor emotionally by telling him about the Wolf and the little girl he is going to eat, then satisfy him intellectually, that not only does he need an axe, but that you are the best axe he could possibly have.

So, take your organisation out from the heart of your story, and put your beneficiaries there instead. You will find it becomes much, much more compelling.