Recruit Advocates; Be a Storyteller

Recruit Advocates; Be a Storyteller

James Read is a Creative Director for Grizzard Communications. His recent article on “Lessons from Young Charities” presented the following five principles that characterize today’s most innovative nonprofit organizations. Each of these ideas can also be applied to well-established organizations also and are worth considering related to yours. They are:


  • Focus on a powerful idea
  • Recruit passionate advocates, not merely donors
  • Be a storyteller
  • Invest in the brand experience
  • Prove your impact

A couple of things jump out of Read’s article for me. The question of how to recruit advocates instead of “merely donors” is interesting and speaks to the need for fundraising to be seen as relationship-building. Frankly, Read’s article didn’t have much to offer in this regard.

“By no means give up the tools you have in place for donor acquisition and cultivation. But make sure you don’t simply view your donors as records in a database. Give them the information and tools they need to connect emotionally to your cause and then share it with others.”

This last part is what I found interesting. Lets’ assume that you have succeeded in recruiting advocates. Do they have easy access to the tools they need to make their case to others (photos, video, maps, scheduled hikes and events)?

I belong to a LinkedIn group associated with the Chronicle of Philanthropy where members were discussing a related topic. One idea worth passing along was to create a series of email cultivation touches that new members receive during their first year of membership. The emails might offer ideas about how to engage with the organization and link to resources for finding more information. The purpose is to reinforce the story new members are telling themselves about the organization and give them the tools to tell it to others.

This suggestion was followed by another member who was hosting a series of “information nights” where the organization purposefully invited curious/interested people together. These easy-to-put-together social events served to attract new people to the organization and offered opportunities for engaged members to bring friends and referral leads.

The other takeaway for me was the combination of the other four concepts. Start with the powerful idea. Develop and share several stories to illustrate the idea. Create and maintain a steady stream of success examples, and invest in brand consistency. Then focus on the stories and the brand again and again in your communications. As Read concludes: “Your constituents won’t get tired of it. After all, that’s why they support you.”

Getting out ahead of the storytelling serves another purpose as well. One of my clients is working in a small community where one person convinced themselves that the land trust was accumulating land as a financial investment. According to the storyteller, the land trust was accepting donations to buy land cheaply, hold for some indeterminate period of time, and sell to the profit of the board directors! It will take years to undo the local damage.

Read’s article was published by SOFII (Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration) in two parts, here: Part 1, and Part 2.

I am looking for the best examples of land trusts who get this substantially right. Please forward your nominations to me, and I will publish several examples in a future post. Your comments and questions about this post are always welcomed.



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