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How have you leveraged the power of storytelling to create strong connections in the community at large and with specific individuals or partners?

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Fiesha Lynn Bell, Sarah Malchow and Robyn McGill weighed in on this topic at the inaugural Meaningful Edges event.

The panelists underscored the power of compelling narratives that are emotionally compelling, relatable, and reflective of the values and experiences of the audience. To grab the attention of media and potential donors, organizations must craft stories that resonate and make people care – often within the first two sentences. Organizations can ignite a sense of shared purpose and inspire action by making stories personal, relatable and aligned with donors' values.

A Media Expert’s Perspective

Robyn began by sharing how her 30-year-plus background in broadcast television has influenced her approach to nonprofit work, emphasizing the importance of captivating storytelling in fundraising events.

“If you can't articulate to me ‘why should I care,’ how am I to translate that to the people you're trying to reach?” she said.  

Robyn recounted her experiences working with individuals affected by Alzheimer's disease, such as a gay white man caring for his partner with dementia and a young woman juggling caregiving responsibilities for her mother with Alzheimer's and her father with cancer. These stories touch on various societal issues, including LGBTQ+ rights, mixed-race relationships and the burden of caregiving in our healthcare and corporate systems. As such, they have garnered significant attention and media coverage – highlighting intersectional issues and bringing forward vulnerable stories from a disease with much stigma.

Robyn also stressed the importance of quickly capturing the audience's attention, particularly in today's fast-paced media landscape.

“With media the way it is today, you have to tell them in the first two sentences why they should care about what you're pitching to them,” she said.

Flipping the Script

Sarah discussed the significance of making the story personal and relatable to donors. This often involves “flipping the script” on issues like funding gaps. She addressed a common problem senior living communities face – annual gaps created by reimbursements, which can total in the millions of dollars for organizations like Cedar Community – noting that it’s difficult for individual donors to think they’re making a difference with $100 donations.

“We flipped the script and made it personal,” she said. “Rather than focusing on the funding gap, we made it about ensuring every senior receives the dignified care they deserve, no matter their income level, ability to pay, or ability to make those decisions themselves.”

Organizations can leverage storytelling to create a sense of personal investment and inspire support by connecting donors to the problem on a larger scale and presenting tangible solutions.

 “When you engage the donor, they’re not just part of the target of your story. You're drawing them in and making them a solutions-focused person with you. That's the alchemy. That's the magic. And that's when you know you're hitting the mark,” she said.

Helping Donors Connect the Dots

Fiesha added another dimension to the discussion by highlighting her role in helping donors identify and shape their stories and legacies. She works closely with individuals to understand their goals, interests, and desired impact, guiding them toward organizations and causes that align with their values.

“Our job at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, with all of the nonprofits we work with in the four-county region, is to help donors connect the dots,” she said. “You may be familiar with all the organizations that work in a particular sector, or you’re new to it, but it's my role to make sure you feel connected so that we can help you create your story, your legacy and what you want to leave behind.”

She emphasized the importance of forging connections between donors and nonprofits in a way that resonates personally with the donors. Storytelling can help build these connections, allowing individuals to see themselves and their values reflected in the organizations they support.

Read the next discussion topic or return to the main article.

Dan Schindhelm, AIA
Project Manager

Dan is a Project Manager for EUA in the Living Environments Studio in the Madison office. His role allows him to take part in a collaborative way, working with the Living Studio to schedule, budget and design requirements. Dan enjoys taking part in outdoor activities with his wife and two young children.

Jennifer Sodo , AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Senior Living Market Leader

Jennifer is a Senior Living Market Leader in our Living Environment Studio in the Milwaukee office. Her inspiration for design stems from people and their stories.