Behind the Appeals

Fundraising. It’s a process, which anyone with a mailbox or email account is extremely familiar. Give To This. Support That. Start This. Stop That. Behind those appeals is an adopted formula that runs the gamut from detailed audience analysis to a bit of “guesstamation”. No matter the approach there is always one constant that drives revenue – the story.

As a veteran of in-house nonprofit operations, I have seen many approaches to fundraising, from standards such as the aforementioned direct mail and e-solicitations to the evolution of creative community run social media campaigns. For many organizations it is the frequently adopted process of getting to know your audience and adapting your outreach to those preferences. However, every campaign needs a narrative with a central figure, before outreach can occur.

What’s the Story?

Last night my wife and I were privileged to attend The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) 22 Annual Man & Woman of the Year Celebration. Woman of the Year candidate and Hotel Manager of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins, Nelum Gunewardane graciously invited us to this inspirational night to celebrate the pursuit of a cure for blood cancers and the financial support necessary to fund researchers’ progress towards the eradication of these diseases.

The fundraiser included many aspects that are standard for nonprofit events including a silent auction, celebrity hosts, dinner in a capacity filled ballroom, and society’s elite. If the event had only checked off these accomplishments I would have left informed but not involved.

Now I may be a bit biased here having run nonprofit public relations campaigns, however without a great story nonprofits would never connect with their supporters. This is why we all learn about Knut the short lived polar bear cub and environmental conservation, Lance Armstrong and his battle with cancer, and Denzel Washington’s appreciation for youth focused programs. We need to have a large issue broken down to a manageable size; related to by an individual willing to hold onto the problem and ask for support.

At the LLS event the moment of connection came when Graham Post took the stage. Judging by appearance, Graham is a handsome, young professional with an instant likeability. He’s unassuming, quick to joke and not one to shy away from moments that made his voice quiver with emotion. As he told his story we learned more about his battle with Leukemia, the everyday concerns from a newly married couple contemplating their future now blackened by a rolling storm of uncertainty. Graham’s struggles reminded us of our own mortality and the doubt we all share when life throws us a curve ball – albeit in Graham’s case it carried more gravity than many of us face in our lives.

Connection and Uncertainty

The moment that hooked me was when Graham related his treatment. He is now two years in remission after undergoing treatment with a drug called Gleevec, a treatment that received considerable funding from the LLS and its supporters. This type of direct impact is what many campaign supporters seek; they need to make change from their contributions so they can share in the accomplishments. This is not an egotistical necessity, although some will speak about it so much that they may make me wonder at times, but rather the longing to connect, to help, to play a part in combating issues that make life so uncertain for us all.

Graham concluded his story by showing the audience a photo of his new baby boy, a son born after Gleevec helped he and his wife regain their footing in the cancer battle. The hope that Graham shared, literally born from struggle and later joy, brought many audience members to tears. However, the hope of Graham’s story would be short lived as the event moved forward.

As candidates for Man & Woman of the Year, each fundraiser was responsible for creating their own outreach for financial support. Managers helped form teams and keep the efforts on track as financial support and community awareness were raised.

The two winners this year raised more than $300,000 combined, a single year record for one, and the room erupted in standing ovations and applause as it was announced that each $50,000 portion would fund a researcher annually. Our host, Nelum, was also honored for raising over $50,000 in her efforts alongside Christie White, who raised over $80,000.

Christie took the podium to share her story of battling blood cancer and her community dinners that raised funds for ongoing research. Moments after a rousing round of applause, Christie shared the news that her doctor had relayed only the day before – her cancer had returned. The air left the room for a moment as uncertainty crept back to each table in the ballroom, lounging confidently next to every supporter. It was Christie, newly diagnosed with this disease, that pulled us back with her unwavering smile and by reminding us that she had a support group that helped her before and they would be there again.

The stories from this event highlight several aspects of why we, as a community, choose to support our causes. For many donors and volunteers, it takes a personal encounter with life’s issues. In each case, it starts with a story and ends with a connection.

Why do you chose to support a cause? Leave a comment below to tell me why.

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