Tell Me a Story That Makes Me Want to Give

Yawning, Jane took off her glasses, sat back in her chair and stretched toward the ceiling. It had been a long day; one in which she reviewed proposal after proposal full of statistics, plans, budgets, logic models, and self-boasting. She was bored, and sadly, felt uninspired. With one hour left in the day, she wondered if she could continue. Maybe a cup of coffee would help? 

She flipped through a few of the remaining proposals and sat up straight when she came across a narrative with an intriguing catch sentence. She put her glasses back on and got up to walk around her office as she continued reading. She could feel her excitement begin to grow.

One page later and a quick glance at the budget, Jane was certain she had found the one. She was looking for the needle in the haystack that she felt confident in recommending to the Board for possible grant funding. After further review, she realized the program itself was not that different from some of the others. It was well thought out, the organization had done their homework, and the likelihood of success was high, but this one just felt different.

The request asked Jane to consider how it felt to be homeless, like Gary, the man featured in the narrative's story. It painted a graphic picture of the desperation that Gary experienced every day on the streets of Los Angeles. Not only were there challenges that Jane had never considered, but Gary regularly faced exposure to violent crimes making his situation even more urgent. But Gary was one of tens of thousands who go unsheltered in LA every night of their lives. What could be done to change this dreadful crisis? Could Jane's foundation be the answer?

Gary's story continued from his own perspective. He described how a chance meeting led him to representatives of the homeless organization, and that as a mentee of their program; he was able to turn his life around in three short months. Two years later, he was still doing great and had even become a volunteer with the homeless organization helping others. The program was helping a dozen people get off LA's streets monthly, and with more funding, the number could triple! Jane's foundation might be the reason 24 more people (each month!) overcome homelessness and avoid falling victim to the tragedies of the streets. How could the Board say no, especially when she lets them know how great Gary is doing and that they may possibly meet him on a site visit?
Have you ever wondered what Jane and her colleagues consider while reviewing your proposal? Are you finding a way to emotionally connect, not only to their mission but to their hearts, in a way that their partnership turns them into the star of the story? If not, maybe it's time to consider it.

I understand - many of us are fearful of being too candid. The federal model and those component writing workshops can scare us into thinking that prospective foundation partners are only looking for evidence-based models, supportive data, and an organization with a long, successful history. But speaking of success, maybe we should be looking at our grant award ratio and declines. Could some of those seemingly perfect program plans that were passed on be elevated by adding an engaging impact story? 

I imagine the only thing we have to lose is an opportunity – the opportunity to expand our organization's impact and to grow as grant professionals by continuing to improve our skill sets.
Are you inspiring your foundation officers to want to give?
Jamie Healy, MS is Senior Grant Writer of Foundation Partnerships for Best Friends Animal Society; she serves as President of the SC Chapter of the GPA; participates in a local grant professional networking group; and, serves on the fundraising committee for the Character Restoration Initiative at Allendale Correctional Facility.


On: 01/09/2018 15:28:44
Thanks for this great reminder. any advice on what part of an application to fit this into best? I'm frustrated when space is limited and typically try to put this catch into the abstract or intro when possible. thanks
By: Anne
On: 01/09/2018 17:27:49
This is really lovely - but how often do funders give organizations the chance to do that type of "free-form" writing about the organization and problem? This does not seem to be realistic given the word count limits, online forms, and rubrics that many foundations utilize.
By: Jamie Healy
On: 01/29/2018 13:31:14
Thank you for the comments :-) Diane - I work these into the narrative, specifically in the need statement. It helps tell the story of all the data that we include, and makes it more compelling because it translates to a human experience. Anne - Very few times have I not found the ability to weave a story in to my proposal - word count or not. You have to look at what works best for your and your organization's story, and how you can get that across, but the statement of need is often filled with tons of stats and data, which is important, but may not be as compelling to some reviewers. We have to realize that our proposal is likely to be looked at by several people and that the way they connect to or like to receive information may be very different. You may have one board member who loves numbers, while another needs the emotional connection. Finding a way to connect emotionally (scientifically proven) will often result in support. We know this as fact in the individual donor world, but why don't we translate that to our foundation partners as well? Aren't they people, too? I'm not saying that we should ditch the data- no way! But find a way to tell a real impact story, too, so that it makes the data even more compelling.

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