February 2008 Archives

February 25, 2008

Fundraising Needs Good Storytelling -- And Story Editing

There's been a lot of buzz in the blogosphere about the importance of bringing powerful, colorful stories to your potential donors. For a rundown of articles and other commentary, see the February 22, 2008 entry in Kivi Leroux's Nonprofit Communications Blog.

Dorothy and Cowardly LionDon't miss the priceless parody of The Wizard of Oz as written in nonprofit jargon, by Andy Goodman (in his October 2003 newsletter). He starts out, "An at-risk youth from a blended family in the farm belt is rendered unconscious by an extreme weather event."

Andy follows his parody with a list of seven questions to help sharpen your stories -- things like "Who is the protagonist?" and "What keeps it interesting?" All good stuff. But it occurs to me that someone could answer these questions and still churn out lifeless prose like his parody. Very few people write great copy the first time through.

That's why I want to put in a plug for editing. As both a writer and and editor, I've had to learn that there's nothing precious about my words when I first put them on the page. In some cases, they're just plain awful -- but hey (I tell myself), they're mere placeholders, awaiting the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th drafts.

It's often not until I see my early, botched attempts at expressing an idea that my brain starts to kick into gear and think of a better way of getting the point across. From what I've read, I'm not the only writer who works this way. And even without such flashes of inspiration, good editing means looking at each and every word on the page and asking, "Is that one boring -- can I substitute it with a better one?" or "Is that word necessary -- can I cut it out?"

With solid editing, in which you build a story from the ground up, any writer can turn that "at-risk youth" into Dorothy with her ruby slippers.

February 17, 2008

Media Hook Extraordinaire: Linking Foreclosures to Pets

Having recently written about how nonprofits can make a media hook out of nearly every event on the calendar year, I have to point out this story, "Foreclosures Lead to Abandoned Animals," by Evelyn Nieves of Associated Press.

Caged dogRight up there in paragraph 3, it quotes Traci Jennings, president of the Humane Society of Stanislaus County of northern California. She's explaining how when homeowners abandon their homes to foreclosure, they sometimes leave the pets behind, even locked up and starving.

The human cruelty and irresponsibility involved in these actions are plenty newsworthy (I hear starvation is a rough way to die). But I bet the story would not have gotten the same media play without the tie-in to the foreclosure crisis, which is high on every media outlet's "hot news, must cover" list.

I have no idea whether the Stanislaus County Humane Society initiated this particular story, but if so, kudos to them. And even if they didn't, they must have done something right for the reporter to find them. Now let's hope they get the help they deserve in dealing with these forgotten animals.

February 9, 2008

Nonprofit Theatre Trend: Coproductions

If you're with a nonprofit theatre, don't miss Sam Hurwitt's article in this month's TheatreTheatre Bay Area cover Bay Area magazine: "Coproductions: The New Long-Distance Relationship." And even if you work with another sort of nonprofit, your money-saving, collaborative-idea neurons might be fired up by this account of maximizing resources.

The basic idea is that regional theatres in the Bay Area are, more and more, partnering up with other theatres across the country in order to stage consecutive productions that share the same props, cast, and more. The economics don't necessarily work out for small shows, given the costs of transport and housing out-of-state casts. And scheduling can be a challenge -- it seems to work best when one show starts right after the other one ended. But coproducing can allow local theatres to put on bigger, more lavish shows that they would have otherwise been able to.

It makes me wonder what other types of nonprofits could maximize resources by "coproducing" -- perhaps a special event on two successive nights that uses the same venue, decorations, and out-of-area speaker? Let me know if your group has come up with any great ideas.

February 1, 2008

Nonprofit Volunteer Retention Tips

Want to guess at the biggest line item in your organization's budget? It's probably salaries. No wonder layoffs are often an inevitable consequence of lost funding. That's where volunteers can be such a boon -- they add to the man-and-womanpower of your staff without costing a dime. (Well, maybe enough money for a stipend; for example, if you successfully apply for the services of a Jesuit volunteer, who serves full-time for one year.)

Book coverBut we all know the flip side: If you don't pay people, they can up and leave whenever they get bored, have exams to study for, or get a better offer. So, here are some hot-off-the press tips for keeping volunteers around, drawn from the newly released 2nd edition of Nolo's Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits.