When it comes to successful peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, the more support your nonprofit can give your fundraisers, the better. Sometimes this means providing participating fundraisers with stock language to use in emails, sample social media posts, reminders to send asks to friends and family and more.

But the one thing that is not often provided is a tool to help fundraisers tell their personal story.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is all about leveraging relationships, but if you really want people to be successful at this they have to do more than just send a standard ask email. They have to formulate their personal story, or as Marshall Ganz has termed it the “story of self.” Ganz’s model is popular in activism and politics, but it also has applications for peer-to-peer fundraising.

A personal story is an articulation about the values, beliefs, and events in someone’s life that have lead them to give and now fundraise. The theory behind this type of story is that we experience our values emotionally, and because stories allow us to concretely describe our values through lived experience, they become more compelling to others. To articulate this, Ganz developed a storytelling model based on challenge, choice, and outcome.

Providing your fundraisers with a framework to tell this story should be a part of the basic information you give them when they sign up.

Here are three questions you can provide peer fundraisers in order to help them put their story together:

  1. What challenge, problem, or question did you face related to this issue?
  2. What choice did you make?
  3. What was the outcome of that choice?

Depending on the story, sometimes the choice is deciding to be a fundraiser for the campaign. Other times, the outcome of a choice is that they decided to be a fundraiser for the campaign. Either version is fine. These two parts of the story are usually easy for people to articulate. It’s the first question that usually causes people distress.

When I’ve worked with individuals on telling their personal stories, one of the misconceptions I often hear is that they didn’t have a challenge or problem. People often mischaracterize this and think that it has to be some huge, insurmountable problem. But that’s not the case. What matters here is the story about why you made the choice you did. Tell that true story from the heart.

I’ll give you an example of what this looks like in action. I’ve participated in the Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.) Society Walk several times and have been a peer fundraiser. Here’s the personal story that I shared on my fundraising page:

I was 12 years old when my mom was diagnosed with M.S. I was young, but I remember it being a very uncertain time because diagnosing M.S. can be challenging and once it is diagnosed, there isn’t a cure. Just treatments to minimize the symptoms.

Compared to many people with M.S., my mom’s symptoms have been fairly manageable. That was until she had an unbearable relapse of symptoms in the spring of 2010.

I knew my mom had been sick for several weeks, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I called her one night. I asked her how things were going and how she was doing. “I just feel bad all the time, Vanessa,” is what she said to me. And then she started crying. I remember her saying, “I just can’t talk about this right now.” Then she hung up the phone.

I was stunned. Being 21 years old at the time, I was hurt that my mom hung up on me. But then I thought about the tone of her voice and the tears she was crying, and all I could to was cry. I cried because I realized the immense physical and emotional pain my mom was going through.

Although M.S. is not a terminal disease, it continues to take away her quality of life. There is very little that I can to do help my mom. But the one thing I can do is participate in the M.S. Society’s walk and fundraise money that could one day help find a cure.

Whether or not you know my mom well, you probably know what it’s like to feel helpless. That’s how it often feels when you have a parent who is sick. Participating in this event is one thing that makes me feel like I’m helping my mom and millions of other people who have M.S.

Everyone who participates as a fundraiser in a peer-to-peer campaign does so because they felt called to participate. Being able to share this in story form is one of the factors that can ignite your campaign. Next time your organization is planning a peer-to-peer campaign, try to incorporate some support, tools, or training, to help your peer fundraisers share their story.


Vanessa recently released a book called, The Storytelling Non-Profit: A practical guide to telling stories that raise money and awareness to help non-profits tell inspiring stories. Order your copy of Vanessa’s book on her website.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vanessa Chase Lockshin founded The Storytelling Non-Profit in 2012 to help nonprofit organizations articulate their impact to donors in a new way. Using narrative techniques to generate greater personal interest and accountability, Vanessa helps nonprofits improve their fundraising success. Vanessa’s fundraising career started at The University of British Columbia, her alma mater. Currently, Vanessa is president of The Storytelling Nonprofit, co-founder of Stewardship School, and board chair of Women Against Violence Against Women.

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