The stories you tell yourselves about fundraising are more important than the stories you tell your donors

Bend the arc.

The stories that matter most in your fundraising are not the stories you tell your donors.

The stories that matter most are the stories your organization tells itself about fundraising.

Every organization has a set of beliefs – a set of stories that it tells itself – about fundraising, and donors, and money.

Most of those stories are based on personal experience. On our own upbringings and relationships with money.

And – you know this – some beliefs about fundraising result in organizations that raise a ton of money and accomplish a ton. Some beliefs about fundraising results in organizations that raise less than they could and accomplish less than they could.

I’m thinking about this because I’m getting ready for the Storytelling conference next week.

People who attend or watch the videos are going to learn so many proven tips, tricks and tactics… and be excited about trying them at their organization… and then won’t be able to because the organization won’t like them. Because the proven tips and tactics are in conflict with the stories that the organization tells itself about how fundraising works.

See how the stories your organization believes about fundraising have a direct effect on the tactics and strategies your organization will use in fundraising?

It’s that very thought that caused me to draw the doodle at the top of this post. It’s the “stories the organization tells itself” about fundraising that make the difference between an organization that grows a little… and an organization that can grow a lot.

For example, here are a handful of the “stories” that I’ve seen result in greater-than-normal fundraising growth:

  • A majority of our donors would love to give multiple times per year
  • Helping donors see and feel the Need is part of why our organization exists
  • Our messaging needs to resonate with who we’re sending the message to, not with us
  • Different groups of donors require different messaging; a grant application is different than an e-appeal
  • Each piece of communication will be more successful if it only has one job
  • We’re open to messaging that doesn’t “sound like us”
  • Let’s get great at proven tactics before we try to innovate
  • If we aren’t getting enough “no’s” then we’re not asking enough
  • If we aren’t regularly having major donors give less than what we ask for, then we’re not asking for high enough amounts
  • It’s a generous act to show up regularly in donors’ lives

Think about your organization for a second. If your organization told those stories to itself, would it result in you doing fundraising differently?

Because from those stories would come different plans and tactics. For instance, if you believe most of your donors would love to give multiple gifts per year, you create an annual plan that gives donors the opportunity to give multiple gifts per year.

Bend the Arc

As I look back at the graphic at the top, it makes me think of the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Every organization’s fundraising has an “arc.” It’s bending up or down. A lot or a little.

And believe it or not, the “stories your organization tells itself” have a lot to do with the trajectory of your fundraising arc.

So I hope you’ll examine the stories your organization is telling itself.

  • If you want to try something new but your organization doesn’t want to, I hope you’ll ask, “What beliefs do we have that result in liking or not liking a tactic?”
  • Then ask whether that belief is helping or hurting the organization in this instance.
  • And ask whether there’s an alternate belief you could try.

If you’ve been on one fundraising trajectory – one “arc” – for a long time, to bend the arc your organization is going to need to change the story it tells itself.

In my experience, if you create your fundraising following the beliefs listed above, you will raise more money.

Improve your organization’s stories about fundraising, and you’ll improve your organization’s fundraising results.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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