What prop would help more of your supporters say YES?

During my Story Telling for Fundraisers masterclasses, one of the themes we sometimes explore is props. We ask, ‘what thing could I bring to a meeting with a (potential) supporter that would help them better understand the difference my charity makes?’

William Wilberforce, one of the leading campaigners for the ending of the slave trade in the 1780s and 1790s, used to take with him to meetings a real iron ball and chain. He wrote that getting to his meetings would have been easier without the gruesome communication aid. But apparently, he felt the extra effort was justified, because at the time very many people were disposed to believe the slave industries’ lies that this trade was not actually inhumane at all.

But by presenting people with the real evidence of an iron manacle or ball and chain, Wilberforce was able to crush these myths and win hearts and minds to the cause.

If Wilberforce worked for your charity, what would he take with him to meet supporters?

With a little thought, props can be a valuable tool in the toolbox of every smart relationship fundraiser. On my courses we explore ways to tell real examples that bring to life a) the problem that your charity exists to overcome and b) impact – the fact that your charity is able to solve it.

Even better than merely telling the story verbally, how could you bring either of these concepts to life by taking a prop to your meeting or pitch?

  • For example, some high value fundraisers at UNICEF sometimes take examples of life saving supplies such as a packet of rehydration salts;
  • During the masterclass I ran at one famous art gallery we realised that many of their supporters are not only art lovers, they are also highly visual in the way they tend to perceive ideas. From this insight, the fundraisers realised that in every conversation they needed to be able to bring their cause to life visually. They decided to take with them a tablet, loaded up with relevant paintings to help them tell the stories that would inspired donors. And of course, even more compelling can be the use of film, simply shot on a smart phone, to help a supporter connect.
  • One breast cancer charity I worked with promotes an amazingly moving book called Mummy’s Lump, which is written for young children and is designed to help them understand some of the things that can happen when their mum has breast cancer. Though it was written for children, the thoughtfully drawn pictures are incredibly moving. During one masterclass with the fundraisers we realised that taking this book with you to donor meetings is a neat way of helping a potential supporter connect and feel inspired to help.

And what if your prop could inspire story-sharing / income without you even there?

I recently had the chance to interview Richard Turner, the former Chief Fundraiser at SolarAid about the extraordinary progress that has been made by that charity. Over a five-year period SolarAid’s unrestricted income grew five-fold, and became more diverse, from a growing group of committed supporters. These stable funds helped them get through a rough patch when the charity closed down its operation in Tanzania because it succeeded in selling 1 million lights exponentially – creating such demand and trust in solar lights local traders competed them out! It’s job there was done in eradicating their stated enemy, the dangerous and expensive kerosene lamp. SolarAid was able to survive and focus its mission in countries like Malawi.

In the latest training bundle for the Bright Spot Members Club, Richard shares the five key ingredients of the recipe with which this was achieved.

The fourth ingredient is making it easier for people to share your story. One of the most powerful ways SolarAid did this was to give a free solar light to anyone who donates £50 or more (an idea which came from a supporter who offered to buy one for a donation).

Richard and his colleagues were transparent about why they were giving away the lights. This could help people to share the solar aid story of how the heroic little solar light makes life better in many of the poorest countries by defeating the kerosene light.

How has this strategy helped?

A couple of years later, SolarAid received a large legacy gift. The executor of the will, a best friend, told them how the donor, had loved talking about Solar Aid, and ‘was always showing off her solar light which she kept in her kitchen to anyone who visited’. I suggest that the decision to make a very generous gift in her will can only have been helped by these conversations.

Another example was when Richard’s colleague noticed that in the space of a couple of days they had received gifts from several people they’d never heard from before all from a similar postcode.

When speaking to one of these new donors on the phone, they asked what had prompted his decision to give. They were told that their neighbour ‘Dorothy from the top of the road’ had knocked on their door and told them what an amazing thing SolarAid is doing, so they had decided to give too (and could they ‘also have a solar light?’).

Richard refers to these times when SolarAid was contacted out of the blue by complete strangers (schools, companies, trusts, etc) as The Magic. And over the years, the more they’ve made it easier for their supporters to use their own social capital by sharing the story, examples of The Magic have gone from monthly, to weekly, to sometimes daily.

How could you use these ideas?

  1. What prop could you use to bring to life your cause or impact in meetings with supporters? A clue could come from asking your supporters how they currently talk about you.
  2. How could you possibly make it easier for your supporters themselves to share any aspect of your charity’s story? Even though you probably feel the solar light seems easier than what your charity could use, this question is still well worth exploring. And what if the answer to your question does not need to be an object? For example, charity:water have made their story much easier to share by linking their cause to people’s birthdays.