So many heroes: How to decide who’s the hero in fundraising

Yesterday, we looked at the common fundraising error of making the charity administrator as the hero, under the assumption that if you can stir up enough admiration for the charity and its people, donors will give.

Here’s the thing: the administrator — the nonprofit generally — really is heroic. They do a lot more than any donor does to make the good thing happen.

In fact, there a lot of heroes in any nonprofit enterprise, many of them with more skin in the game than the donor: I’d argue that the most heroicof all, at least in some causes, is the person the donor gives to help: the person who overcomes poverty, homelessness, disease, or whatever barriers or injustices they face.

Yet we still make the donor the “hero” in fundraising.

It’s a matter of storytelling. It’s who we’re talking to, and what we intend to accomplish by telling the story.

So let me make a nerdy comparison to the heroes in the Lord of the Rings books…

It’s a sprawling story with hundreds of characters, many of them extremely heroic. But the “hero” of the story is Frodo. An ordinary person (he’s even an extra-small person) who does one important thing the story.

The story is packed with people far stronger, better positioned, more magical, than Frodo.

A history book written a hundred years later looking back at the events of the story would focus on Aragorn as the hero. He brings incredible strength, courage, strategic thinking, and leadership skills to his part. And he ends up King in the end. Surely he’s a much bigger deal than little Frodo.

But in the story we read, Aragorn is a side-character to Frodo. That’s a choice made by the storyteller.

It’s “about” Frodo because that’s the character readers are more likely to identify with. Not because he’s the most powerful or deserving one. A lot of great stories are like that, featuring an unlikely hero. Those stories resonate because most of us feel a lot more like Frodo than like the super-human Aragorn. That includes most donors.

That storytelling choice is the choice we all make in fundraising. Do you want to inspire ordinary people to action? Show them that they can make a difference. That’s how you move people to action.

Don’t focus on the other much more capable people who are in the story. They’ll show up in some other telling. That’s not the job of fundraising.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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