Story Telling – Why I Love Working in Development

I have been asked several times “Why non-profit development? Why would you actually want to work in development?” Through various discussions and job interviews, it seems like a lot of non-profit folks fall into development by accident and/or non-willingly. No one wants to be the one who is begging for operational funding.

For me, working in development and writing is less about begging, and more about story telling. Obviously the need to ask for money is crucial to non-profit development, but I find joy in how you frame the ask. How we craft the story of the mission depending on who we are talking to. What parts of the organization’s story do we emphasize and high light for a specific sponsor? For individual donors?

I live and breathe for my organization. I love coming up with creative ways to share the story of who we are and our mission to as many different groups of people. Framing the money beg part in a story-telling sense has helped reduce my anxiety when I have to talk to people. The idea of blatantly asking for money is terrifying; the chance to spread my mission and story to more people is energizing and exciting.

My organization’s story is a part of who I am. Sharing what we do comes as natural to me as blinking. If I can craft our mission and programs in such a way that benefits my non-profit financially, I know I am making what we do more accessible and understandable to more people.

It’s one thing to run an organization with a great mission. It’s another thing to get funders, volunteers, and the general public on board with your organization. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to constantly have our hand out for funds when we feel like we are taking time away from programming.  However, having to ask for money constantly challenges the quality of our work, and also how we present it to our constituents and donors. We shouldn’t be numbers driven, but story driven. Telling stories allows us to humanize our work and constituents, and it makes us work to be creative in our outreach and grant writing.

Non-profit development makes us better at what we do and helps us spread the message of what we do to the masses. It might not perceived as pretty or glamorous, but in my opinion it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of working in the non-profit sector.

Rethinking How We Define Success in the Non-Profit Sector

Last week I read an article by Jordan Levy about the Ubuntu Education Fund, and how that instead of rushing to outcomes for the sake of results and funding, that we as a sector should acknowledge that positive and lasting change comes gradually. He states:

Our success stems from this comprehensive approach. We strive to address every facet of poverty, helping 2,000 children attain financial independence and lead healthy lives. Our commitment to children ‘from cradle to career’ gives us the courage to push back against the ‘bigger, faster, and cheaper’ mantra, to acknowledge that progress often comes incrementally, that real change requires sustained and sometimes expensive services. And, most importantly, it lets us redefine success as outcomes rather than single interventions. Who’s with us?

My organization works in the United States and also in one other small country (in less than 10 schools). Especially with our international programs, finding sustainable funding has been extremely difficult. I have no doubt in my mind it is because of the relatively micro nature of  our programs. It has been suggested to us numerous times that we should expand into other countries. Sometimes, I feel that, if my organization got a dollar for every time we were asked why we didn’t expand into a multinational organization, we might have the funding we needed to sustain ourselves.

We need to monitor and evaluate ourselves in order to produce the best programs that we can. However, why are the organizations with the largest metrics applauded? Sometimes without looking at the quality of the program? Personally, I have found that working on a ‘micro’ level has helped my organization hone our mission and pay attention to quality; I know for certain that expanding into multiple countries would diminish our work. I’m not saying that large groups shirk on quality, but we need to change the definition of success equating to X amount of people attended or fed, with the highest number receiving the most funding.

Sustainable change rarely comes from cheap, quick, and easy fixes or actions. In my experience, however, those are the type of projects that get the money. Funders want to see quick results, and they want digestible numbers to pass onto their backers. We as a sector NEED to continue to work, piece by piece toward sustainable goals, and remember that we are working with and for people and communities. We can do more than single interventions. We have the capacity and ability to be more than nice looking numbers.

When we work toward our mission in a comprehensive and responsible way, the true impact will speak for itself.

Who’s with us?