fundraising: rock, paper, scissors

Your childhood may have been different, but as a kid, I was terrible at playing rock-paper-scissors! If you don’t know the game you can learn about it here. Somehow I always telegraphed my play. That and I loved “scissors” way too much. Some how, the 3rd “scissors” I threw in a row and the other guy was only throwing “rocks” — rock beats scissors. Over and over.

But I was sure that I was really pulling double-bluff by sticking to my go-to move: scissors. Nothing but “rocks” came my way. Playground humiliation . . . (I see a therapist weekly, he’s working me through the self-esteem damage).

I bring up rock-paper-scissors and fundraising because you may be making the same mistake I used to make when I was throwing scissors too much.

As you make your case for donors to support your cause, you may be going to “scissors” too much. OK, not “scissors” exactly, but if you’re making the case for your cause with facts and figures — those stats we all love so much — you’re throwing “scissors” when you need to go with something like “paper” or even “rock.”

Take a fact/stat like: 1 in 4 people who are homeless are veterans. Donors will engage better if you tell about that 1 person.

They’ll stop and think when you tell how Randy, after his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, got out of the Army only to find that he couldn’t find a job because what he knew best was “blowing things up.”

So Randy ended up drifting and doing manual labor until he hurt his back hauling 50-pound bundles of shingles up a ladder . . . and then not only could he not work, he had a growing pain-pill problem (both to numb the back pain but also to numb the pain of complete failure in civilian life).

Randy currently has all of his possessions in a Glad extra strength garbage bag. He alternates between sleeping under the I5 bridge and in a graveyard (he says with no trace of irony that the graveyard is more peaceful).

The story of a person always resonates when paired with the statistical realities: 1 in 4 means more when you know the 1. I know you know this, but I’m startled by how often numbers are thrown out by great charities without context and story.

Which reminds me how powerful infographics are — a great bridge between story and stats.

What about you? Are you a rock, paper or scissors person? Do you go to the statistics or the story first. I’d love to know what you think.


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: Meme!)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

2 thoughts on “fundraising: rock, paper, scissors”

  1. Good story-telling. When your work life settles down, here’s an idea. I’ll invite some friends over, light a fire in the fireplace, makes some hot chocolate…and we’ll all sit back and listen to you tell stories.

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