Writing for the causes you love
What does it really mean to write for fundraising? It’s very different than what most people believe or fear. Asking for money literally creeps people out even when the ‘ask’ is designed to fund a worthy cause and make the world a better place. Most people equate fundraising with anxiousness, fear and dread. And yet, fundraising through written compelling stories showcases the best in people, the beauty in place, and the benefits of coming together for both.
If you care about something — about someone — about some place; what are you willing to do to help it survive? help it thrive? Are you willing to immerse yourself in something you love so deeply that you can’t help but ask others to join you? Are you willing to write about it?
Worthy causes are worth writing for!
Write compelling stories to protect land for wildlife habitat, restore rivers for drinking water, recreation, agriculture and salmon fishing; feed the hungry, house the homeless, provide safe shelter for women and children; bring art to the human experience, and a myriad of other needs is worth every writing effort.
So, what are the writing-for-fundraising essentials?
In the same way that our home pantry (presuming we are fortunate enough to have one) is stocked with the basics, our fundraising pantry should be stocked with the essentials, too, which include What, How and Why. These three ingredients are your story elements when fundraising for a cause.
What is much like the outstretched petals of a flower.
This outer layer takes in the social, environmental and economic information needed to keep its color bright, petal strong, and root system securely planted in the ground. What also radiates back out to the world about the people, places and things that your organization works to protect, uplift, enhance, restore, revitalize and make whole again.
What are you, and your collaborative organization, doing to meet your mission? Do you hold seasonal ceremonies in an old-growth forest to inspire people to love and protect that forest, its water and wildlife? Do you operate safe shelters for women and children? Do you buy small family farms and then sell them to aspiring young farmers using new and innovative lending strategies? Do you collaborate with local lenders to buy and offer affordable homes to families who need protection from the inflationary trends in the housing market? Do you advocate at the local level in your community to change city practices that bring about positive changes in the name of global climate change? What do you do to make the world a better place?
In addition, your What statement needs to include the numbers and dollars that tell people what it takes to achieve your mission. Metrics tell the story of your work in a way that helps donors of all kinds better understand the ways in which their financial investment will make a meaningful difference. You and your nonprofit peers will need to document and track the number of homeless children sheltered or educated; the number of stream miles or land acres protected; the number of climate change advocates or volunteers in the streets; the number of environmental lawsuits filed that are effectively stopping pollution; the number of days that water temperatures fell to (or exceeded) safe thresholds for salmon; or the number of taxpayer dollars saved by defeating new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Keep track of the numbers, and use them to add tremendous value to your compelling story.
How do you do what you do?
This middle layer of petals is where the tasks get done and accumulate and contribute to the What. This is the place of community meetings, regional events, email campaigns, phone calls, conferences, symposiums, scuba diving fish counts, bird counts and trees planted. How is where plans are implemented; where day-to-day persistence, tenacity and grit gets the work done. It’s the place that wears you out physically and emotionally, but you know it has to be done. You can’t stop because both people and the planet are relying on your excellent writing skills to create community around a common cause.
How is written about by describing the step-by-step tasks that ultimately lead to an accomplishment or a well-defined milestone. For example, how do you cook a Thanksgiving meal for 500 homeless people on a cold winter night in a city shelter?
The first step to How is financial: you must be able to either pay directly for the food you’ll prepare and serve; or you need donated food (or a combination of the two). Describe in detail how you secured the generous cash and food donations. Did you hold a fundraising event? Did you meet in person with ABC Company and ask them to donate $5,000, or donate all of the food? Did you collaborate with a local store and secure a commitment of one fresh turkey for every $10 donated by customers at the checkout stations? These community partnerships are crucial to your nonprofit success. Write about the relationships to elevate the importance of How you meet your mission.
The second step of How is logistical: describe who will be involved in buying, preparing and serving meals; and include their qualifications to do the necessary work. This is not about staff or volunteer bios — it’s about bringing valuable skillsets to this Thanksgiving celebration that reduces suffering.
Count the number of people served over specific periods of time and describe how will you count them. Write about the conditions under which those meals were served including the place, time, date(s), and constraints. Write about how you secured the right space that includes a kitchen, tables, chairs and every little item needed to feed 500 homeless people a Thanksgiving meal. Did you reach out to a local ‘B’ corporation that hosts large events and ask them to donate the space for this important event? Did an anonymous donor pay for the necessary space? Give kudos to your financial and logistical partners as they stand side-by-side with you in making your mission a reality.
The third and equally important task is understanding how your organization made a difference in the lives of those you served. Talk to the people who enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal with others in your community, and truly hear their stories. Track the people who return for meals over the course of a month or season or year. How will you gather their stories? How will you tell their stories? Will you create a library of written and audio files that get distributed via social media and annual fundraising campaigns? How do their stories become part of the social fabric in your community? Write about it! Get the local media involved to help tell your story, and then write about the media writing about your nonprofit.
Why comes from those you serve.
Why is born from a fire-in-the-belly. Without fire in the very center of our planet, Earth would not exist; without pollen (almost always bright yellow) at the center of each flower, the planet would not provide us with food.
Why is the reason that nonprofit organizations exist. Why is heart and soul stuff; it’s made of human and wildlife experiences that no one is ever prepared for. Why tends to come from loss — something or someone was, at some point in the past, different from today. If all people; all wild animals; all landscapes; and all watersheds were healthy and functioning without problems — would there be a need for nonprofits? Probably not.
Children, birds, rivers, women and families, veterans, national parks, whales, at-risk youth, bats, climate change and hundreds of other needs or issues are served, lifted up, enhanced, changed and improved through nonprofit organizations and the amazing work they do every day.
As a writer dedicated to Why, be fully present to ask and listen to the people, land, water and wildlife. Hear the voice of those whose loss needs expressed to the world. Use all of your human senses to be sensitive to what is, and isn’t, going on around you.
Why comes from the stories told by a homeless mother who desperately needs food, shelter, healthcare and an education for her kids.
Why is told in the 20 miles of a former salmon-bearing stream that once supported an entire community. The people who fished that stream in the past — and the stories they tell — demonstrate why it’s critical to restore the landscape and the watershed. Their very personal stories of loss must be told, and they need you to express their voices in ways never heard before.
Why comes from a Native American Elder whose entire being expresses loss. Being presently aware with the Elders in your community will change your own world, and the nonprofit you serve.
Donors of all kinds read our written words because they want to make the world a better place. Every person, every foundation, every business must understand that your organization has impact for one old-growth acre, one orphaned child, one degraded farm, one warm stream mile, one tiny species, one safe shelter, one family.
Just one well-written and compelling story tells and shows the world why your organization exists and how each person can make a difference.
Now — go out there and write! Raise awareness and compassion, raise money and raise the quality of life for everyone on a healthy planet Earth!