Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Just the facts, Ma'am"?

Viewers of the old TV program, Dragnet, remember Sgt. Joe Friday repeatedly telling the witnesses he'd question about a crime, "Just the facts, Ma'am." He had no time to get mixed up in the emotional aspects, he just wanted names, numbers, and details.

Many fundraisers also take the Sgt. Friday approach. Whether it's in a foundation grant proposal, or direct mail letter, or a talk at the local Rotary, too many of us get so caught up in our fabulous statistics and data that we forget that we are in an essentially emotional business.

When I teach grant writing classes, I always tell my students, "The data may get the funder interested, but it's the emotional hook that puts the signature on the check."

I am reminded of that this week because of a phenomenon being fueled by YouTube. A video was posted a week or so ago telling the story of a Josh Adkins, a boy with terminal cancer and one final wish: to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for receiving the most get-well cards.

Other YouTube users posted replies and helped spread the Josh Adkins message. One of these videos ended up being featured on the YouTube home page, bringing in over 100,000 views (to this date).

Needless to say, there are now thousands of cards being sent to the address given for young Josh. (Note: The Guinness people no longer certify a record in this category since a British child received more than 200 million cards in the decade since he put out his request. Still, Josh is a real boy, who wants to receive cards, whether or not it earns him a record.)

The creator of the featured video, Tom Guarriello (an online buddy of mine and a great business consultant), has since posted a follow-up video talking about the phenomenon that he unwittingly participated in, and some of the reaction to it.

In this new video he mentions that some of the comments he's received are along the lines of, "Why should we care about this one kid, when so many others are also dying?" Tom very rightly answers about the power of emotional arguments to push logic and reason aside. The image of one sick boy hits us all (okay, most of us) much harder than charts showing the number of childhood cancer victims and survivors.

Which brings us back to what I teach my grant writing students: Put in the data, but don't be afraid to include the emotional hook too.

Yes, brag about how successful your organization is, and how many people you serve, and how it has improved their lives - but then illustrate that with a real client story. Put in that name (first name only, remember confidentiality) and create that image. Funders are human too.

After all, did you get into the nonprofit field for all the nifty spreadsheets and the huge paychecks? Or did you get into the nonprofit field to help people?

"Just the facts?" I don't think so.

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