Stories that Create a Giving Culture

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Who among us is not drawn in by a good story?

Stories are the best way we share our experiences and the lessons we learn in life.  Families and communities pass along their traditions, beliefs, and moral values through storytelling.  For centuries, stories and wisdom tales have been shared around campfires and dining room tables, out under the stars, and in temples, mosques, and cathedrals all over the world.  We tell stories to explain the origins of the universe and to explain the mysteries of life and death.

Storytelling, at its best, conveys the rich diversity and texture of humanity, creating a safe and sometimes therapeutic space for challenging assumptions and fostering  tolerance of differences among people.   Well told stories touch our spirits, warm our hearts, and leave lasting images in our minds.   Sharing our soul-filled stories is another way of expressing gratitude and demonstrating generosity.

It should be no surprise to us that storytelling is a very effective tool in nurturing generosity and teaching stewardship in our faith communities.  Sacred texts around the world are a testimony to the power of the story in teaching and learning religious values.  One way to promote generous behavior is to tell the stories of how giving made a difference in your life or others’ lives.  For example, as part of a year-round stewardship program, you can invite people to share their stories in the context of worship, small group ministry, religious education, in digital or print form.

Here are a few ideas for you to consider as you plan your stewardship activities for the coming year:

  • Share stories in worship–this may be a testimony about how the congregation or faith has touched their life in positive ways, a wisdom tale for all ages to enjoy, or a guest whose organization has been the recipient of your congregation’s generosity.
  • Host a storytelling event–hold a potluck dinner or picnic at your facility, open to the community, and invite participants to come ready to share a story that conveys at least one value of the faith tradition.
  • Design a story display board–invite people to write their generosity stories down, along with their photo and perhaps some art work.
  • Create a video or visual story–convey your faith community’s stewardship values and generosity through the use of technology, posting video stories on YouTube, on your congregation’s website, blog or Facebook page.
  • Offer a story prompt–Give your constituents a theme or first line of a story, and let them create a community story.  This could be a part of a small group activity, religious education class, or just a big graffiti board people can write on as they enter the building or enjoy fellowship hour.

The summertime is a great time of year for stewardship leaders to polish their storytelling skills–around the campfire while toasting marshmallows, on the riverbank while fishing, or at an informal gathering of friends.  Share your story and invite others to share theirs; this is how the bonds of family and society are strengthened.  This is a wonderful way to include children, youth, and elders in multi-generational community!

Here are some tips for enhancing your storytelling:

  • Reflect on a memorable experience from which you learned and grew as a person–
    if it holds meaning for you, it can be meaningful to others.
  • Stick to the heart of the message you want to convey and avoid too much detail.
  • Lift up a unique angle or unusual perspective that will pique the listeners’ interest.
  • Engage as many of your listeners’ five senses as possible1507 Hands Sm 123rf to bring the story alive
  • Be sensitive to your audience’s diversity using inclusive language so that all feel a part of it.
  • Use the opportunity of telling your story to connect your experience with your faith teachings and values in ways that others can relate to personally.
  • Tell the story without reading it whenever possible–practice, practice, practice to feel more confident, but realize storytelling does not demand perfection.
  • Engage your audience with movement, song, sounds, or repeated phrases that makes them part of the story.
  • Have fun!  Your enthusiasm and enjoyment are contagious.

 If you have a story or link to share, please leave a comment for the blog host with your contact info.

Resources for Storytelling:

Cogdogroo–StoryIdeas:  http://cogdogroo.wikispaces.com/StoryIdeas

Learn to Give:  http://learningtogive.org/materials/folktales/

National Storytelling Network:    http://www.storynet.org/resources/howtobecomeastoryteller.html

Recommended Stories for All Ages:

Resources for Multigenerational Stewardship & Generosity

Unitarian Universalist Stories of Generosity & Multigenerational Worship Resources:

http://www.uua.org/finance/fundraising/stories/index.shtml

http://www.uua.org/giving/apf/51886.shtml

http://www.uua.org/worship/multigenerational/index.shtml

http://www.uua.org/worship/by_topic.php?topic=Stories

http://www.uusc.org/worship_resources

Pearmain, Elisa Davy, editor.  Doorways to the Soul  1998.  The Pilgrim Press.

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Before Asking for Money–Listen!

Happy businessman in glasses holding money over gray background

Everyday conversation in the United States begins with a customary greeting that goes something like this…

“Hi! How are you doing?”

“Fine.  How are you doing?”

“Fine.  Life is very busy.  Have a great day!”

“Yeah, you too!”

This is often where the communication ends, if it goes this far at all.   The greeting is automatic; listening–really listening–is rarely involved.  Research, however, indicates adults spend about 80% of their daily time communicating, with 93% being non-verbal communication.  It is estimated that adults engage in listening about 45% of the time.  This is the same proportion of listening time estimated in the 1929 research by Dr. Paul Rankin.

Interestingly enough, with the rise of mass media communication between 1950 and 1980, the amount of listening time increased to over 50%.  Since then, the advent of email and social networking has caused a slight increase in reading and writing over listening.

Seasoned fundraising consultant and author, Mal Warwick underscores the importance of listening in fundraising:

Is she a good listener? I’ve never met a fundraiser who was truly successful without being a dedicated and effective listener.  In face-to-face solicitations, listening is essential to understand the way that a donor’s personal values and interests might be linked to a particular project. But listening is just as effective in direct mail, telefundraising, or other forms of direct response: how else could she really come to understand what a project or issue is about, or what motivates donors?

In congregational fundraising, face-to-face conversations are an effective way to build relationships and financial support.  Strong relationships are central to a healthy and flourishing community.  Money and energy flow in community.

Those who are gift stonesinitiating the conversations on the part of the organization must practice active listening, which is an essential practice in fundraising and annual stewardship.  One place to start is to find out more about what matters most to the prospective giver, listening for ways they connect with the mission and priorities of your congregation.  When we ask questions that elicit the positive emotions an individual has about the congregation and its faith values, the more likely he or she will commit to financial support.  Only after you listen and learn can you connect the person’s values, commitment, and monetary resources into a compelling reason to give.  This practice of intentional and positive communication is called Appreciative Inquiry.   Appreciative Inquiry should be a central aspect and practice in congregational stewardship and fundraising.

Listening Tips for Congregational Stewards and Fundraisers:

  • Focus on the people and relationships–learn what is important to them about their involvement, their interests, priorities, and values.
  • Listen attentively–let them know they are worthy of your attention and a valued part of the community.
  • Ask questions that elicit positive feelings about the congregation and the faith values–listen carefully for ways to explicitly connect their positive energy, time, and resources to advancing the mission and potential of the organization.
  • Be mindful that there are generational differences, theological perspectives, and tenure of membership factors that may affect your ability to listen and identify with those you talk with–be open to new perspectives and ask for clarification.
  • Take notes on key points for follow up–let them know their input is valued and will be taken into consideration.
  • Ask for their contributions and commitment, then allow time for them to respond.
  • Express appreciation–Thank!
  • Follow up on any key points and report back–this builds trust and accountability.
  • Thank again.

If your stewardship volunteers would benefit from training and practice in the art of donor conversations, contact Giving Speaks consulting today to schedule a web-based or onsite training:  givingspeaks@gmail.com

Wishing you success and prosperity~

Laurel Amabile portrait 2

Laurel signature

Resources to Develop Listening Skills for Fundraising:

Holden Leadership Center.   Active Listening.  http://leadership.uoregon.edu/resources/exercises_tips/skills/active_listening http://leadership.uoregon.edu/upload/files/tip_sheets/active_listening.pdf

Warwick, Mal.  Are You Getting Your Money’s Worth from Your Fundraising Staff? 2005.  Mal Warwick Associates.   http://www.malwarwick.com/

Wilson, Thomas D.  Winning Gifts: Make Your Donors Feel Like Winners. 2008.  John Wiley & Son.  An excerpt from the book devoted to the importance of listening in fundraising is found on the Association of Fundraising Professionals:  http://www.afpnet.org/ResourceCenter/

Appreciative Inquiry Resources:

Central East Regional Group (CERG).  Stewardship for the 21st Century.                                                                                                    http://www.sld.uua.org/pdfs/2011/SLDStewardshipFor21stCentury.pdf

Fundraising is NOT a Spectator Sport

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The 2015 Superbowl game was one of the most exciting EVER!

Even for someone like me, who knows very little about the rules of football and rarely watches, I got swept up in the spectacle of the amazing plays that culminated in the Patriots’ magnificent win.

Football is one of those bigger-than-life spectator sports that has the power to capture the attention of a nation and much of the world. Like football and apple pie, philanthropy is a part of the fabric of the United States. Charitable giving in the United States totaled $335.17 billion in 2013, with seventy-two percent (72%) given by individuals. Over 95% of American households give to charity. The average household contribution is $2,974. Just over thirty percent (31%) of charitable contributions are to religious organizations.

It’s common for congregations and smaller charitable organizations to focus their fundraising efforts on big fundraising events and seeking grant funding. While fundraising events bring in chunks of funding, they are time- and energy-consuming and subject to the variables in today’s world—weather, timing, competing events, volunteer involvement, and the economy. Applying for grants can be large investment of time for the return and the field is filled with aggressive competitors.a-group-of-people-having-a-good-time-on-music_My4L080d

As members of your congregation, you might imagine yourselves as a part of the Team of 72%–the individuals engaged in funding their organization, together. Rather than being spectators or attendees, you actively engage in the sport.

You and your peers are valued players, making the difference in the outcome for the betterment of the whole. You train and practice and challenge yourselves to new levels of success.

Go, team!

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Resources for further exploration of this topic:

  • Atlas of Giving (USA) 2014 and 2015 forecast:  http://www.atlasofgiving.com/atlas/9564728G/9564728G_12_14.pdf
  • Giving USA 2013: http://givingusa.org/product/giving-usa-2014-report-highlights/     Giving-USA-2014-Highlights-final-secured
  • Ahern, Tom. Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes. Emerson & Church. 2009.
  • Burnett, Ken. Relationship Fundraising. Jossey-Bass. 2002.
  • Christopher, J. Clif. Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship. Abingdon Press. 2008.
  • Durall, Michael. Beyond the Collection Plate. Abingdon Press. 2003.
  • Warwick, Mal. Fundraising When Money Is Tight. Jossey-Bass. 2009.