I like stories and I find that the best stories, the ones worth reading again, connect with me on a deeper level. It’s not the hero’s adventure or the amazing experiences the protagonist has going up against their antagonist that catches and holds my attention as much as it is the emotional link that is created somehow between the story and me. Because we live in a world of commercials and crass advertisements of every kind, it’s hard not to be bitter, cynical and downright irritated at our blatantly overexposed, oversold world. It’s almost impossible for me to become connected to anything in any commercial. But on occasion, something will catch my attention and linger with me just a little bit. This is true with Apple’s recent iPhone commercials where they move away from the tech and just show how their product has changed our lives. I think that CDC staff engaged in prospecting for new donors through the CITC program can learn from this marketing approach because we can easily get caught up talking about housing units and how we run one program or another, when what really matters, what really catches people’s attention are the people that we work with and help out through our efforts each and every day.
In order to understand a little bit more about what I’m talking about, check out the Apple commercials on their website. The story here is about music and our lives in one commercial and photographs in another. We are connecting to our world and sharing it with others in ways that simply didn’t exist six years ago when the iPhone first debuted. Apple knows how profoundly they’ve changed our world and they’re able to capture that in video collages or thumbnails sketches that glimpse at how significant these changes are to our lives. But our work in helping transform our communities isn’t any different. When we build a home or a new store front, when we prevent a family from losing their home through foreclosure, when we work with a small business and help them finance a new location or expand online, we’re helping change the way people live, grow, share and support each other. This is the message that Apple captures in their commercials, and we shouldn’t shy away from sharing our own stories with the world.
I can hear many of you pushing back that we can’t afford to capture our work this way. Apple has tons of money to spend on marketing and we don’t. This is true. But the stories aren’t any different. Find the time to collect the stories and the experiences behind your work and learn about the many ways you can share them with people. Thanks to smartphones, we can capture events and without too much editing publish them to YouTube and then release a notice to the world through Twitter. Will your end product look as polished as Apple’s? No, but it doesn’t need to be. Our stories, told compellingly, will engage very well without a multimillion dollar marketing budget.
We owe it to ourselves and our organizations to take the time to learn how to share with others what it is we do and why. As we reach out to new donors, we’re going up against other worthy nonprofits with great missions. We must learn how to connect with people not simply because we do lots of great stuff, but because at the end of the day, we are helping revitalize communities one individual and family at a time.