Create a tipping point: 3 ways to bring in the bucks for your cause

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America got me.

On April 19th at about 7pm I walked into the ballroom at the Santa Clara Marriott to a dinner honoring the California Youth of the Year, knowing very little about the organization. Three hours later, I walked out as a new supporter. It got me thinking: What did they do to create a tipping point to motivate me (and hundreds of others) to donate?

1. Make them care.

I believe that people are inherently good and do indeed care about many of the causes in their communities - youth, homelessness, education, recovery, etc. The challenge is to make them care so much that they’ll actually do something, and ideally offer up time, talent, or treasure in support of it. You have to get them to change something – to shift their priorities to your cause, charity, or project. And that means more than just sharing big general stats hoping you’ll impress them into the cause. Numbers alone don’t stick.

At the Boys and Girls Club dinner they did an incredible job striking a balance between collective stats of the organization and the powerful stories of the individuals behind them. While the fact that “nearly 4,000 Clubs serve some 4.1 million young people through membership and community outreach” is impressive, it doesn’t alone move people to act.

So they took it to the next level. And by “they,” I mean the high-school students who were recognized as Youth of the Year. For 4-5 minutes, they each took the stage and told their story. The most moving stories were those that left such concrete images in the audience’s mind that made it impossible for them not to do something.  These 17- and 18-year-olds gave detailed accounts of gang violence, watching friends die right in front of them, enduring physical abuse by their own family members, and even being locked in a trailer for 48-hours with a mother on a meth binge.

Here’s the best part: not one of these speeches was one of despair. Only messages of hope; how the human spirit - even one so young - can rise above anything. Anything…with some help. Their assistance came from The Boys and Girls Clubs throughout California that provided a safe haven, a mentor, a friend.

Make your numbers count. Tell the story behind them.

2. Get specific.

In 2011, my husband and I attended our first elementary school auction. About halfway through the live auction, the auctioneer announced the special project for the year that needed funding. He described the need for $30,000 to purchase new iPads and laptops for the new computer lab. He went on to describe the lessons that would be conducted and how every grade level would use them. Every single parent in the room could see how their own child would benefit from this project. It wasn’t just a pool of money going to pay for a bunch of random stuff. My kid would use an iPad to learn!

It takes two things: 1. A specific amount of money needed, and 2. A concrete image of what it will pay for. In about four minutes (which equaled the quick trip my husband took to the restroom), they raised it all. Not bad.

Interestingly, this past year was not as successful. There was no specific project, just dollars needed for programs. I would guess about 2/3 of the amount was raised. Coincidence?

3. Invest in a great MC/Auctioneer/Announcer.

Or, better yet, use your skills from #1 to make that person care so much that they’ll do it for free. NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott emceed the Boys and Girls Club event, and this guy was good. His skills for closing a deal could rival his career sacks and interceptions. If the kids executed the setup, he spiked it. Here’s how it went down…

The ask at a fundraiser always begins with, “There’s an envelope in the middle of your table.” And this time was no exception. But then, Ronnie continued,

“There’s also a pen.

Pick them up.

Go ahead.

I’ll wait.”

Wait he did. He asked for specific donations, even called out specific individuals, and made a public commitment himself. And he did it all with humor, heart, and humility. (Also worth noting: He did all this on the same night that many of his past 49er teammates were breaking ground on the team’s new Santa Clara stadium.)

We can use these three things for any cause – in our communities, but even at work or at home. Aside from bringing Ronnie home to motivate the kids to clean their room, there’s plenty we can do to create a tipping point for action: add emotion by providing concrete/visual images and get specific.

Any other tips? Would love to hear other tipping point successes!

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