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Storytelling — August 25, 2014 at 3:58 pm

Goodbye to All That

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After 329 blog posts, fifteen client site launches, and three-and-a-half years, I’m packing up my travel calendar and constellation coffee mug, and heading down the street to ACTS.

This is my last week with Peer Giving, and it is strange to leave a place that I feel nothing but fondness for. This little tech company has come a long way in the last few years, revamping our design, opening up customization, and making our sites mobile friendly. I’m not trying to pitch anything here, I’m just proud of the work my peers have done.

But every workplace has it’s limits. For example, how am I supposed to learn about the crushing weight of too much responsibility if I don’t work for a small charity? (The audience chuckles, then sighs in pity.) So here I go.


 

I’ve written a lot about about the future of the charity sector, how to do fundraising, and how to care for your donors. In my new role I’ll have the opportunity to try out all that advice… or eat my words. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in three years, it’s that charity isn’t easy: not for execs, not for fundraisers, and sometimes not for supporters either.

Over the years, I’ve tried to learn as much about fundraising as possible, gleaning knowledge from charity experts who know a helluva lot more about charity than I do (and that includes you guys out there — most of what I write is just a rehashing of the good advice you’ve given me). So here’s a test to see if I’ve actually learned something. My parting words of wisdom.

Be honest
A better way to say this might be: no bullshit. I think we’re getting better at this overall, but unfortunately there are still some charities out there that are giving the rest of you a bad rap. You’ve got to be honest in the work you do. Don’t fudge the numbers, don’t mislead your donors, don’t hide your failures. Transparency is scary, but trust is the most important thing a charity can have from its supporters (yes, more than money), and to gain that trust we need transparency.

Be creative
If I told you a month ago that a I could raise a million dollars by challenging people to dump a bucket of ice on their heads, what would you say? Forget the fact that the ALS Ice Bucket thing is a total unicorn that has more to do with luck than anything else, creative ideas can work if you take the risk. Be smart about it — don’t go all in on one idea. But try out new ideas as they come.

Tell stories
You possess more stories than you realize. Learn how to tell them, or better yet hire a storyteller, a photographer, or a videographer. Invest in your stories–they’re the lifeblood of what you do–and you will always reach people better than just using numbers.

Be charitable
Be a donor. Not just to your own cause, but to fellow charities you respect and want to support. This is important for two reasons: first, it puts you in your donors’ shoes. As a donor you have a different set of expectations, and that will inform how you treat your own donors. Second, you’ll get a chance to see how other charities treat their donors. Don’t steal their ideas, but be inspired to create something new.

Take care of yourself
I hear too many stories of charity staff working long hours, working weekends, working on their holidays, and burning out. Take care of yourself. Parse out your time. Make time for your family, your hobbies, and yourself. I’m sure I’ll get into trouble with this myself soon enough, but this is the time for me to give wishful advice, right?


 

Alright, enough coaching. It’s time for me to put down the clipboard. Now it’s your turn to teach me how to be a player. I’m not in great shape and my skills could use some honing, but I’m ready to play.

Go easy on me.

 

~ Joel Bentley

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