Be a story maker


Guest Bloggers | 23 October 2017

Richard Turner shared his SolarAid story, warts and all, failures as well as successes at the Opening Plenary IoF North West Conference on 27th Sept 2017.

The media criticism two years ago against fundraising came as no surprise to me.

I could see it coming. What I find even more frustrating is the opportunity we are missing because we are unable to change our mind set. 

It begins with asking the question that every fundraiser has the right to ask up the line – what’s our purpose? Your WHY. This changes you from being a story teller to being a story maker. 

At SolarAid the goal we set back in 2011 to eradicate the kerosene lamp from Africa may not be achieved by the end of this decade. But we have changed lives through selling close to 2 million solar lights and breakthrough innovations that would not have happened had we not set our ambitious goal. 

Despite leaving SolarAid last year I still count myself as part of the mission – I feel I have helped shape the story they are making. That’s a different story to the one that compelled us to set our mission – of the twelve girls who died in 2010 from studying by a burning candle in a dormitory at Idodi School in Tanzania. They were so badly burnt they had to be buried in a mass grave as their bodies could not be identified.

Solar Aid - Mass grave at Idodi TanzaniaPhoto: the mass grave at Idodi, Tanzania

Now we are hearing stories like Koche school in Malawi who, for the first time in their history, are sending children on to secondary school because of access to clean solar lights so they can study safely. I helped shape that story. 

But to be a story maker you need to recognise the rules of communication have changed and so too the rules of fundraising. With the internet many-to-many means of communication is now possible, and so, for the first time in history, everyone is now a channel. The consequence of this is we are all drowning in abundance of information. Interrupt style marketing, based on a traditional one-to-many model, is no longer effective because attention is now scarce. 

And yet what did many charities do in the years prior to the adverse media coverage of fundraising? They reacted to the symptoms - did more of the same and dialled up the volume to make up for the shortfall, because attention was becoming scarce. They shouted louder. So, it came as no surprise to me by 2015 we had created the perfect storm.  

Here is the good news. Everyone is now a channel. Yes, the very reason fundraising is struggling is the opportunity! But only if you have the right mindset. 

By getting others to spread your story you can leverage their ‘social capital’. This is where the magic happens – where fundraising crosses boundaries. Because your story is stronger coming from someone else, and, in this increasingly connected world, you do not know who people know.  Old style response based fundraising is not so relevant – it’s how it spreads so it all connects. 

To have a story that connects it needs to be consistent. And the best way to achieve this is base it around your core purpose – your mission or ambition – your WHY. 

Hence what’s the story to want to shape that others will help spread? 

This helps attract attention to a niche audience who believe in what you believe. And as attention is a scarce commodity in today’s world (because, if you hadn’t noticed everyone is now a channel), having a clear purpose and a mission to tackle a problem that you are uniquely positioned to solve makes you remarkable i.e. it gives people something to remark about! 

It will also bring attention to the very problem – which can lead to far more than donations. This approach led to a corporate partner to assist SolarAid to develop one of the World’s most affordable solar lights which now sells in Africa for just $5. This could be a game changer to achieve that impossible goal of eradicating the kerosene lamp for good.

SolarAid - Child with sunnymoney by solaraid









Photo: a happy customer with the new SunnyMoney light from SolarAid

So, you see it’s all about the mission not the money. That’s why you can be a story maker not just a story teller. 

At a time when the prevailing feeling is one of ‘why would you be a fundraiser?’ I have never been more excited about the potential for fundraising. But only if we can adopt the right mindset. 

Three times I have been knocked down - I abandoned a dream job, had my line reports stripped away, and then had my best year as a fundraiser ever, only to fight for survival because the charity succeeded in putting itself out of business! What drove me to get up each time was having a sense of purpose. 

My question to you is what’s yours?

To understand how you can be a story maker you can download and read the full script with added links to relevant content.


Richard Turner

Richard Turner has been a fundraiser for 27 years, is a member of the IoF, awarded IoF Fundraiser of the Year in 2001 and a member of the special interest group on the Donor Experience. He regularly blogs and tweets as @ifundraiser


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