I have to admit to a guilty pleasure. I found out a few years ago that I like Taylor Swift as a songwriter. I don’t own any of her recordings, and I don’t listen to the radio stations that play her music, but from what I have heard, I like her style.
Ms. Swift and I have something in common. Over the last thirty-five years or so, I have written fifty or sixty songs myself. While the style of our music is very different, our writing shares the fact that our songs are about things that happen in our lives. Taylor Swift has written a number of songs about personal relationships that didn’t work out, much to the chagrin of those men who did her wrong, and many of the songs I have written are about my own heartbreaks. While I have not had millions of people listen to my songs like Taylor has, the songs that resonated for those that have heard some of my songs appreciated the personal stories they tell. One of my songs, “PTDS (Post Traumatic Divorce Song” was surprisingly popular, perhaps because of its honest portrayal of my marital breakup, but also because people who have had similar experiences could relate to it so well.
Now you may be wondering what this all has to do with fundraising. Well, in my experience, some of the best fundraisers are people who have personal experience with the mission of the organization for which they are raising support. I know women who raise money for women’s shelters because they personally know the toll of domestic violence. I have met development professionals that raised money for scholarships because they, themselves, benefited from programs to educate low income students. There are fundraisers who raise money for treatments and cures for diseases like ALS, cancer, and MS because they are survivors or lost loved ones to those diseases. I know of those who raise money for the homeless because they have known what it is like to have no permanent home. They are successful because they tell their own stories and their passions are real.
I am not saying that a fundraiser cannot be successful raising money for something they have not experienced, because I know that there are thousands of development professionals out there working for organizations who do their jobs well, and they have not been in those situations, but I do believe that those who have personal experience are better prepared with stories about how the cause they are supporting makes a difference for others, as it did for them. It’s more than telling a story; it’s their story they are telling. Donors can tell where their passion comes from when they tell those stories, and often, they will show it when they give their support.