Febe Voth: Your Case For Support
Whether you call it a case statement or case for support, it’s a critical part of your next fundraising campaign. Febe Voth has devoted decades to the art of crafting these fine documents. She shares lots of savvy advice from her 2023 book, “the case for your cause.”
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And welcome to Tony Martignetti Nonprofit Radio. Big nonprofit ideas for the other 95%. I am your aptly named host and the pod father of your favorite Hebdomadal podcast. Oh, I’m glad you’re with us. I’d be forced to endure the pain of hypertropia if I saw that you missed this week’s show. Here’s our associate producer, Kate with what’s on the menu? Hey, Tony, I hope our listeners are hungry because this week we have your case for support, whether you call it a case statement or case for support. It’s a critical part of your next fundraising campaign. Phoebe Voff has devoted decades to the art of crafting these fine documents. She shares a lot of savvy advice from her 2023 book, The Case For Your Cause. An Tony’s take two. The right person were sponsored by donor box, outdated donation forms blocking your supporters, generosity. This giving season donor box, the fast flexible and friendly fundraising platform for nonprofits donor box.org here is your case for support. It’s a genuine pleasure to welcome Phoebe VTH to nonprofit radio. She is the author of the book, The Case For Your Cause, a guide to writing a case for support that hits all the right notes, Phoebe has spent more than 20 years working in the realm of the case for support. Her work has helped achieve fundraising goals of up to $100 million. The thesis for her master’s degree was on the case for support. The first master’s thesis to be written on this topic in Canada. She studied storytelling under the tutelage of Canadian novelist, Sandra Birds. Phoebe is on linkedin and her book is at Phoebe vth.com. Phoebe. Welcome to nonprofit radio. Well, thank you. It’s really fun to be here. I’m glad you are. Congratulations on the book. The Case. Your case for support. The case for support. Congratulations. Thank you. And I just uh misstated the uh book is not your case for support. The book is The Case For Your Cause. The Case for your Cause. And I’m wondering why you chose uh all lower case letters for the title, The Case For Your Cause. Hm. Well, the person who designed the cover chose that basically. Um but I think maybe it’s a bit of a reflection of me. I’m not a loud person. I’m a person who lives quietly in my head. And so when I saw the lower case treatment, I liked it. It’s about as complicated or as simple as the answer is simple answers are terrific. Um Interesting. You, you feel you’re, you’re a person who lives mostly in your head with your with your thoughts? Is that, is that helpful to a writer? I think most writers live there? Yeah. Uh, that’s my experience anyway. We, we go away and get our assignments, whether it’s fiction or whatever kind of writing. But in my case I go away and do my interviews, spend a couple of days out in the world with people and then I’d come back to my office, close the door and write where it’s quiet and I’d play with words. And, um, so that, that muscle really gets strengthened as you do more and more of the writing work that um you become, um, yeah, you live in your head. Uh And interestingly, I’ve picked up a hobby now as I’ve slid into retirement and I’m, I’ve picked up pottery and that’s also a very cerebral kind of thing. It’s a thing. You go down, I go down to my basement where I have a lot of set up and I’m quiet and there with my thoughts, maybe some quiet music and there’s lots of activity up in the head but not so much through the mouth. So good luck with the interview today. Interesting. No. Well, you, you wrote a book so you’re willing to share your, uh your introspection about writing. And the book came about in part because people were encouraging me to do workshops and maybe do, do some videos and things like that. And I said, I, I think I’d be a dreadfully boring presenter, but I can write. So maybe I should write about the case instead and share what I’ve learned over the years. So you had, you had some encouragement to do that. Uh Especially from one of your students that you mentioned in your Acknowledgments. Yes, I started tutoring people a little bit or coaching and, and she started looking, she said, you know, there’s so very little out there on the case and it’s such an important document, you should write something. So that’s how this ball got rolling. Plus Tom Barraco who wrote the foreword for me, he is uh he’s now the past chair of CFRE CFO International. He two for a number of years has said you really should write something about the case. So there it is, all right, perfect segue to a 129 pages. So I kept it slim and that’s a perfect segue to uh why the the case for support you, you say it’s the our most important document. Absolutely. I think it is because it gives, it gives uh um everyone in an organization, the language uh with which to speak about their work. Um Otherwise you, I use the music analogy in the book. Otherwise an organization can easily sound like an orchestra tuning up. Everybody’s saying their own different thing about the work that the organization is doing. Um they’re telling stories differently, they’re choosing their stories differently. Um They’re framing their arguments differently and it’s just a mess. Um Whereas a case for support, um gathers information figures out what needs to be said or the writer does this figures out what is the strategic way to present the mission and the vision of this organization in a way that it’s relevant to the donor uh or achieves the, the the goal of the document and then disseminate, disseminate this information, this document amongst all the people involved in moving it forward. And so everyone speaks with 11 voice. Um It’s so it’s, it’s like a music score and you, you uh make the case that uh forgive that, but that this isn’t a neutral document. It’s a, it’s a persuasive document. It is a persuasive document. I think I say that if there’s one thing you take with you when you read the book, if you remember only one thing it is that your job is to persuade if you’re making a case. Um And you know, some people who I read, one fellow asked me what, what portion of a case should be persuasion on what should be information. It should all be persuasion. Some people will be persuaded with information and some people will be persuaded with more. Um maybe with stories or something that’s a little bit more emotional, but the whole thing needs to persuade, that’s the job of the case writer to persuade, to take the bits and pieces of information, what they hear from donors. The work that the organization does, where it wants to go the strength of leadership, the importance of the organization’s history and weave it together so that it becomes this beautiful whole that at the end people will say, sign me up, I wanna be part of this. This makes sense. We need to do this or we need to be part of this. Another analogy that you use is uh that the, and we’ll, we’ll talk about this, uh, in, in your writing, you’re, you’re starting with what an attorney would call the closing argument that you’re, you’re making the case upfront that let the evidence prove that, you know, but in this case, it’s let, let us show you that our cause is worthy. Let us make the arguments, persuade you, uh move you to, to support our cause. Exactly. And be that direct about it. Um IA a case a little while ago and you kind of had to dig around to see what is it that you’re asking the donor to? Yeah, you don’t like that at the end. Tell us up front what you want us to do, what you’re excited about, um, what the big deal is. Um And just like a lawyer would argue in front of a judge and jury. I’m going to convince you that. And sometimes when you write a piece, if you begin with that line in your draft and then you remove it, maybe you need to soften it in final, in the final analysis, but it gets you a focus, right? That this is my job to convince you that this organization is worthy of support, that the work we do here is um worthy of support. That’s actually a better way of phrasing it the second way because people don’t give to, they give through an organization not to an organization, I think more so. And um you know, so avoid putting too much emphasis on the organization itself. It’s on the work that the organization does. That, that’s where the emphasis should be giving to the work through the organization. There you are, you’re, you’re, you’re editing me, you’re editing yourself, you just decided you like the second way better. Yeah, see that’s what writers do. We’re used to playing with words and changing things up. So that’s what you get me. All right, I’m up to the challenge. I know you, you challenged me at the outset. Um And so you lay out, you lay out some essential things that, that need to be in the, in the case, leadership, mission and vision um stories, history, very clear about the giving goals and, and timeline as you had just said, um urgency to, to get things moving and, and the significance of the cause. Um All this is to uh to acquaint us uh to persuade us to give to the cause through the organization. Um I, I found it was interesting that you uh you find stories essential. I’ve read a lot of cases that, that don’t include stories. Most people are, well, let’s, let’s say at the near the beginning, most people are not nearly as thoughtful about the case for support as you are. I think a lot of people write these, as you say, you should not do between meetings. I think a lot of these get written over a weekend. Uh They may get written by committee. You do this part. Uh The, these three will write that part and then the two of us will do this other part. Uh You’re much, much, much more thoughtful about the case for support. Thank you. That, that means a lot to me to hear that because I, I my hope with this book is that we can move the dial a little bit on the case, case development away from what you described there where it’s uh kind of a fill in the blank document or let’s just get it done, kind of a document to really, for it to become a really strategic document that, that moves the organization forward. Um If we can go back to that argument about, you know, thinking like a lawyer and the courtroom, if, if we had a reason to hire a defense lawyer, we would hope that that defense lawyer would defend us thoughtfully. I would think if something has happened in our lives, um to do some research to, to think about the arguments not to carve bits and pieces off and say, OK, you write the opening arguments, you write the closing arguments and you go out and do a little bit, you know, talk to a few experts and then we’ll all just throw it together and see what the, what happens, what sticks with the judge. So one could argue that, that what we do in the not for profit sector, social sector is probably on a scale more important than what happens in the courtroom. For a single individual who needs a defense. You know, we have a lot of, we have big jobs to do. You know if it’s a food bank, we have families to feed, we have um education to deliver health care, to strengthen um feeding the hungry. We’re big, we have climate, that’s a big one. We have lots of challenges, difficult, big things to uh to uh address. And so we need, I think we need to really pay attention to the case. Be super strategic. Take the time it requires to, to develop one test it. Um because a lot writes on it. You say that uh this is advice you would have given your younger self. Yes. So why don’t you share how you came to this work and, and have evolved in it? OK. Um I started my career in corporate communications. I work for government, worked for a post-secondary and then I ended up working in the oil and gas sector for a short stint. And I went out on uh on my own. I had a young daughter at the time, didn’t feel it was right for her to be in so much before and after school care. So I thought I can write. Um I will go out on my own and see what I can muster up for contract. And a friend of mine had um uh communications agency and she got a contract that was just one too many for her and her staff and asked if I wanted to, to take it. And it was a case for support for the University of Calgary Faculty of Law. And um that was my first, that was my introduction to the case and I just loved the document. It’s super strategic motivational, it gives you, it’s almost like speech writing. It, it, it allows you to take license to put kind of put words in people’s mouths. Um And yeah, I, I just really fell in love with this, the strategic element of the document and also the, the creativity that it uh afforded the writer. Um you could take some creative license with it. And, and uh a thing that I keep coming back to is this notion that words make worlds. And if we can get the right words out there, then we can create the world. Maybe that, that we want not, maybe that we want to see, think about really su super motivational speeches. Um The big ones, right? I have a dream, how, how words can build up and um create a response in people. And so it’s very challenging and very uh rewarding work. When you think about the impact of how your words can land and in our sector, this hard, you know, might make you’re hard pressed to find um sectors or, or language that is more, needs to be more motivational and can bring about more change than the language of fundraising. We’re asking people to part with, with money, uh whether it’s large or small, it’s still at a, like the, whether the amount is large or small, it’s a significant decision for people, money and, and money and time to, uh you have a quote, you have a quote that I think is right on point to what you’re, what you’re uh revealing for us. Uh what we say, how we say it and how we hear people affects more than the moment. And I, I think that uh bears uh again, on what you’re saying about the case for support, but also on, on fundraising relationships that, you know, uh um how we hear people, those are, those are and what we say, how we say it and how we hear people, you know, those are fundamental to individual fundraising, which is the work that I do in, in planned giving fundraising, but across all, across all relationships, not even just fundraising relationships. But what we say, how we say it and how we hear people I think are, are fundamental to building relationships with each other. Absolutely. I, I totally agree. Um, listening, really active listening can be absolutely revolutionary as opposed to this, listening to get to the next thing I’m listening. But I know what I’m going to say next, but you’re not really listening. And part of the, a beautiful thing I think with the case is that it begins to work in its making you, if you’re building a case for support, you will want to sit down with stakeholders. So probably some major donors, some longtime donors, um some volunteers, leadership, volunteers and other volunteers as well. Maybe you want to. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to sit down with the mayor or uh some, some, someone of a political stripe um whose influence and leverage might um help the organization down the road at some point. It’s, it’s an opportunity to make friends in the community. Um And to listen to them, you’re asking questions about why they think the organization is of value, um What its mission and vision um contribute, what would happen if that organization closed its doors? What would the impact be? You really have an opportunity to let people think about and dig into why the organization and its work exists and listen and reflect that in your case, it’s time for a break. 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Um So we, we, we can’t talk through the entire book because people need to buy it because we only have an hour together. So you need, you need to get the book uh the case for your cause. Uh I’d like to spend a good amount of time on your, on your part three, which is your advice. You have, you have advice on messaging, advice on storytelling and advice on writing since I think the, the process gets short shrift or if, if not, maybe not, that bad, but it is not done as thoughtfully as you recommend. I thought le let’s spend some time on, uh, on, on the, on the writing process. Um So you have advice on, on messaging and even the importance of the opening paragraphs. Share, share, share your thinking on the, the, the messaging advice. Well, there’s a quote that I used to have up on my office wall. Um, and it reads, it’s by John Steinbeck and it says if the story is not about the Hearer, he will not listen. That kind of wraps it up. Um, it’s easy to write about your programs and services and be dreadfully boring to the Hearer. Um, I tell a story in the book about going to a, a barbecue in our community. Oh, yes, Sarah and Andy. Sarah and Andy and his real name. But it’s not, it’s too, it’s too embarrassing to, to whoever the real Andy is. Yes. Go ahead. Story about Sarah and Andy at the barbecue. So we ran into twos at the bar. Um, Andy kind of just came up to us, kind of accosted us in a way my husband and myself and he just drawn on and on and on about his lovely life and his hospital visits and his Children and how successful they are and vacations and like we just wanted to run away from him and then we turn around and a little while later we see Sarah, I haven’t seen Sarah in a long time and she’s there with her daughter and granddaughter and we just can’t stop talking. We just, I could have had another hour with Sarah and I thought some, some fundraisers are like this. Some cases are like this. How do you become the Sarah and not the Andy. And for one, I think I had much deeper relationship with Sarah than I ever did with Andy. And she was interested in me in my life, um, in our lives and everything had sort of connected a lot more. So, you know, that, that goes to your advice about knowing your reader because you knew Sarah much better than you knew Andy. Yeah. And I was interested in her life and, and she was interested in mine. It was a two way street. Right. So don’t be the boring guy at the barbecue. No. Know your reader, know your audience. I mean, that, so it’s one truth to take away from this. If your job is to persuade, if you’re writing a case and able to persuade me, you have to know me, know your audience. That’s the basic philosophy and crux of any writing to be successful. You have to know who you’re writing to. Otherwise your, your ch your chance of being meaningful to that person if you don’t know what, what they care about. Um It’s pretty slim and, and much of that will come from your interviews that you, that you will have done thoughtfully because, uh because Phoebe explains them in part two of her book that, that we’re gonna get. Um So this notion of knowing your audience is not a new one for a communicator. It goes way back all the way back. Well, probably before even, but it’s recorded with by Aristotle 300 year specie. Um And he says that it is in accordance to the character of the audience that one can examine the passions and emotions that the orator may excite. So, no, you know what, know what they care about. And in, in our work, people give to advance the things that they value. So understand what people value. Um Let me give you one example here. Um My elderly mother um lived in a condominium in a nice little community and there was a community center down the hall, sorry down the street. And she was approached by a fundraiser to um support uh a program for troubled youth that was supported at the community center and they talked about the programs and services and blah, blah, blah. And it did not move my mother. She probably felt a little badly about uh about the young people, but you know, she gave to her church and she had her or getting established. But I think if they had approached her and said maybe through a story here that, that um the outcome of the giving might result in less crime in the neighborhood Uh, right. Sometimes you have to be very, uh, diplomatic in how you say things and that ST, that’s also a time when story comes in and story can be very helpful to shed light on, um, a, a topic that it’s maybe a little bit dicey to speak directly to. Um, do you know what I mean? But if they had told her a story of a young person who, whose life had been straightened out through this counseling and had turned away from a life of petty crime. Um that I think maybe there would have been a different response from my mom because the one appealed to her values, right? And the other just spoke about the organization’s good work and, and maybe the benefit to the young, the young person. But we all approach life with a degree of self interest. So, you know, consider um consider your audience self interest as you’re writing, you’re very thoughtful about words. Um Sometimes I, I think that um uh expletives uh swearing is, is uh can give us a nice uh Everybody understands what everybody understands what we’re talking about. This is sort of a common reference, I suppose, you know that. So you um so I, I heard a comedian once say that there are so few words that mean anything anymore that we, we need to rely on the, on the swear words to, to convey, to convey what we want to say sometimes. So you you, uh you have advice about a shitty first draft of your, your case for support. Talk, talk about the uh the shitty first draft. Very easy to have writer’s block. It’s writing a case. Even for someone who’s done it for many years, it’s intimidating to stare at the empty screen and know that uh an organization’s to some degree, an organization’s ability to move their mission and vision forward and for the people who would benefit from that kind of hinges a bit on, on what you’re going to produce, that’s super intimidating. Um It becomes less intimidating if you give yourself some breathing room some license. Um Anne Lamont, I don’t know if you’re familiar with her as a writer. She’s a wonderful writer. She wrote a book on writing called Bird by Bird. And this is the advice that she gives in there just to label your first draft, a shitty first draft and who cares how it turns out, who cares how it reads, just sort of puke the words onto the page, then play with them a little bit and you just, you just relax on the screen a little until you and then you find your voice and then you get going. But I have to say even with that shitty first draft label, um I rewrite the lead over and over and over for most cases because if I lose the reader in the beginning, if I don’t frame up an argument that’s meaningful to the reader or donor. It’s all over. Yeah, I can, I can have terrific text on page three and four and five and six. But if I’ve lost them, if I’m not meaningful, if I don’t approach them from an angle that’s relevant to them, it doesn’t matter what falls, you also suggest coming full circle from, from the beginning and sort of closing the circle at the, at the end. Yeah. Um That is um that is something somebody taught me that you and it’s, it’s really good, good advice. I think um you, you want to end the way you start, it just provides a nice satisfactory kind of wrap up at the end. So if you begin by talking about Xy and Z, you allude to Xy and Z at the end, um it, it creates a nice package. Yeah, it’s, it’s a good way to write and if you begin to pay attention to, to speeches and how people write, like people who know how to write, how they write, that’s, you’ll see that pattern. I, I see a lot in journalism. So another thing that’s uh been very useful to me is to write into your headlines. If you know, if you’re getting a little bit stuck, figure out what are the main points you want to talk about. So let’s say you’ve got really excellent leadership, create a headline that speaks to the strength of the leadership and maybe weave in to that, why it’s important like strong leaders in a time of something or other. And then you take the paragraph below and you unpack that headline, explain that maybe you need two or three paragraphs below to explain the headline. And what’s really nice about writing that way is that people are just skimming your text then um then they get, they get the high points by reading your headlines. You don’t have to read all the supporting texts. Do you outline? Do you outline before you start writing? Uh not really, but I create a document plan. So when I worked in corporate communications, I wrote communication plans all the time. Um and I took the format of a communications plan and made it a document plan. So what is my goal? What are the object like goal overarching big things that I want to achieve with this? What are the objectives? Do I want to tell, you know, 10 stories through this document or am I good with just two? Do I think, what do I think it means um to, you know, to want it to be friendly to? So, yeah, so cool, objective audience identify the audience in quite some details. What are my key messages? What do I want the takeaways to be when someone’s finished reading the document or had had it delivered to them verbally, however they come across the case. Um and then some timelines and a few other details there and I use that as my guide. OK? That uh I don’t know. That sounds to me, that sounds to me like an outline, but I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna force you to call it an outline. You, you call it a document plan. I’m not, I’m not forcing you to call it an outline. Your, you have your methods. T 2020 25 years in the making. We’re not, I’m not, I’m not trying to remake your method. It sounds like it sounds to me what I envision as an outline to me, an outline would be more one paragraph about this and one paragraph about that. And then I moved to this topic and then that topic, I give myself the freedom not to be boxed in by go from one paragraph to the next to the next. Like not one topic I found being um uh having clients, if I presented an outline when the draft was delivered, they would want the draft to match the outline. Well, sometimes it flows better if I move things around a little bit and that through that, through some of them. So I moved away from that. Yeah. Right. As you’re, as you’re writing, right? You’re gonna reorganize. And uh you also suggest having uh like AAA copy and paste section, I forget what you call it over on the like another a second document or that where you, you, you never delete that. That’s that your advice really is never delete. Just copy. Well, if you have, if you have reasonably good text and you just find, oh, it doesn’t belong here. This isn’t working. Don’t throw it away. Start a second document and put all your scraps like a cutting the cutting room floor. Maybe I overstated to say never delete. But, but if you like something you just don’t know, it just doesn’t fit where it is. It might fit somewhere else. Don’t delete it. Save it, save it elsewhere. Exactly. Because it might fit somewhere else or move it around. If it doesn’t belong where you have it, maybe it belongs somewhere else in the document. So before you get rid of something, make sure you can’t use it somewhere else. But on that note, um be prepared to cut out, edit out your darlings. You might have the section that you think is just beautiful. It just sounds almost like a poem or it just, you’re just proud of it and it doesn’t fit. You gotta, you gotta remember what the goal is and stay goal focused and if your darling sentence or paragraph doesn’t belong, it doesn’t belong. Yeah. II I appreciated that one. Sacrifice your darlings or something you say something like that. Um But I, I really appreciate the uh the license that uh shitty first draft gives. I I’ve Yeah, just, just titling it that it’s very simple advice from uh Anne Anne Lamott. Uh It’s very simple but you know, if you’re thinking that way then, uh, it does, it frees you up, just start getting thoughts out, like you said, puke them out, you know. Yeah. Yeah. The other thing for me that’s super helpful, um, is the time of day that I write. I want the house quiet. Um, I don’t want distractions and I, I think that’s probably pretty common so often. I will, maybe I’ll wake up at night and I’ll have a thought. I will either have a notepad beside me where I can write it down, but more often than not, I will get up in the middle of the night and write. It’s when I do my best work. So someone listening out there maybe just try it and see, maybe, maybe your best work is that early in the morning or mid afternoon. Um, a very cool thing that I find with that kind of approach is, wow. I wonder how the document would have turned out if I wrote it yesterday in the middle of the night, it would have been a different document. That’s the cool thing about a creative process. It’s what it’s what’s in you, what, what is percolating and, and what happens to come out just at that moment and if it’s usable and good, that’s wonderful. You just confirmed that you are much, much, much more thoughtful about your case for support than uh than the average nonprofit writer is because they’re, they’re not this would sound like advice if for someone who was writing a work of fiction, uh you know, to have a note notepad by your, by your bed stand. Um So, you know, you’re, uh you’re taking this a much more thoughtful approach, but you know, the note stand, the, the notepad by the bed is not a bad one even for um someone who’s not a, a full time sort of case writer, but someone who needs to write a case for their, for their, their work because our night brain works differently. I think our night brain is more creative than our day brain and it’s problem solving that happens in the night. So if you’ve given your brain kind of an assignment to think about something and solve the problem, like what, what is my best lead? What is it that people are going to respond to? And you wake up at three in the morning and you have a thought, write it down because it might be gone at six o’clock when they, it’s definitely gone. Yeah, you, you swear, you won’t forget it, but you always do. At least, at least I, I always swear I won’t forget something in a dream and then I always do. Yeah. So it’s a simple, simple thing to do in case that the thought comes. No, this is savvy writing advice. It’s time for Tony’s take two. Thank you, Kate. When you get the right person who knows exactly what you need and how to do it. It makes all the difference. The guest this week, Phoebe Voff is perfect example. She’s been working with case statements for over 20 years or a case for support, whichever you call it. But it just reminds me that the right person for the right task, but it may not even be a job. It might just be some task that you need some project when you find the right person. I had another example myself talking to a financial guy for something this week. He knew exactly what the problem was and exactly how to fix it. So I’m encouraging you to, I guess that means hire the expertise you need when you don’t know how to do something, find somebody who knows it. They, they’ve, they’ve, they’re expert in it and there’s no point in your trying it out as a novice when you can get somebody who’s expert, they’ll do it quicker. Yeah, you, you have to pay them but your time has value the time that you’re gonna learn. Getting up to speed and you’re not gonna get as far as they already are because you’re gonna get the person for the task that’s been doing this for years, maybe decades. Like Phoebe vs, I encourage you. It’s worth the money. Get the right person for whatever project, whatever task, whatever it is that you need done that you don’t have the expertise yourself or you don’t have it in house. It’s worth going out finding the person. The outcome is so much more likely to be so much more successful. Then if you did it yourself or if you did it in house done by folks who are not really sure how to proceed. That is Tonys take two Kate. Well, thank you to all of our guests and the right people who helped make this nonprofit podcast, what it is, you know, all the names that we share at the end. They are the right people for our show. They absolutely are. You’re included, associate producer, Kate. Um Absolutely. And I’m, I’m very glad I, I’m very glad I brought you into the show several months ago. I really am. Well, we’ve got Buku but loads more time now, back to your case for support with Phoebe Vos. Let’s talk about storytelling. Uh The second part of your, your part three is advice on storytelling and you talk about dressing truth in story and I think you were alluding to that earlier, but I didn’t wanna, I didn’t want to amplify it. Then I, I wanted to talk about it as part of your, the, the strict advice conversation. Uh, dressing truth in story. Yes. Did you read the Parable? The Jewish teaching story? I did. Yes. Dressing that they, uh they, they invited the truth in. Will you tell the tell the parable? So here goes truth naked and cold had been turned away. From every door in the village, her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her, she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry, taking pity on her. Parable gathered up her up and took her home there. She dressed Truth in story warmed her and sent her out again, clothed in story. Truth knocked again at the villager’s door dose. This time, she was welcomed into the people’s homes. They invited her to eat at their table and she warmed herself by their fire. That’s a Jewish teaching story. I think as humans, we are wired for story, there’s something that, that grabs onto a story. Whereas cold facts and information doesn’t stick quite as, as well. I remember taking my daughter to um some kind of presentation. She would maybe have been, she was elementary school age and there was a speaker and she sat nicely the whole through the whole thing. And on the way home, I said, what do you remember about what he talked about? And she remembered the stories he told these are things we remember. These are things that we remember. Um because somehow they touch us human to human. Um statistics and numbers are they support things but, but it’s the, the, the people reason that’s why we do things. Um and, and the stories illustrate um how our sisters and brothers in the world fair and how we can help them. I think I have my own anecdote of that. I I used to open my conference uh training sessions about planned giving, telling the story of my very first ask, which was in seventh grade when I had a terrific crush on Lisa Maggio and I asked her to go steady at our seventh grade dance. And the story continues. And years later, people remember that story. They, you had that, you had that story, you had that story about Lisa or some. Sometimes I didn’t even remember her name. It’s remarkable or they didn’t remember the name that you told that story about, about uh your first ask in, in elementary school. You know, uh it’s the same as your daughter, but it’s just years later, literally, people remember that. Remember the story. Yeah, it’s our operating system as humans, I think, look, look at Netflix, look at the storytelling that happens on the streaming systems now and how the Yeah. Yeah. Um Movies uh a series. Uh People sit night after night, after night to hear stories being told. So are I think nonprofit stories are maybe more like parables. They are stories with some kind of meaning. Um Where there’s, there is a goal for a storytelling. I want you to flush that out. Yes. You want each story to have a purpose. Yeah. So it’s, it’s really helpful um As you’re writing your case to sit down and say, what do I need my stories to do? Do I need them to show impact? Do I not need them to maybe put a donor, tell a donor story. Why people, why not? Some, some someone else is giving to this cause? Um Is it about vision, what the future, what, what world we want to create or how we want to change things for people or is it about the mission? Um I had a, a case that I worked on many years ago and pretty well, it was a new organization in Canada. They existed elsewhere in the world, but it had just come to Canada. So we didn’t have that much to talk about. That was of interest uh in terms of um what it was, was actually doing, it was more about the impact that it wanted to achieve. So kind of a blend of mission and vision. Um And we, we took the whole thing and we just w one story and after the next with a little bit of information about where they were going and what they were about and it was this beautiful warm case at the end and um this organization is doing very well today. So it did help them get off to some kind of start. Yeah, you also ask us to consider opening with a story. Wh why, why you might, why pardon me, why you might or might not do that? The reason you would really want to open with a story about a story might just uh get people’s attention whether you need to open with the story or not, it’s a nice way to open. But if people don’t really buy into what you’re doing, um If there’s, if there are people questioning what your organization’s mission and vision is about, like, for example, if the, if the hearers um belief is that um all homeless people are lazy, uh If you begin to tell them a bunch of stats and information about your programs and it’s going to fall on deaf ears. So a story can help tell. Uh maybe a story can help change their belief. If you can show that all homeless people are not lazy, but they fell on hard times and you know, put some flesh on the bones of that story so that the ground that the facts and figures will fall out, uh The thieves will fall into fertile ground, right? When, when they hear the facts and figures and information about the programs, then they’re not going to dismiss them so quickly. Or if at all, let’s, let’s say a little bit about plot. You, uh you, you lay out the elements of a, of a story characters and setting point of view. Um say a little say about share your thinking about the plot. Well, a story, even a short nonprofit story and they are super short, usually compared to uh fiction, um just a few paragraphs, but you have to have an arc, an arc of a story. You have to have a beginning, middle end. Um But consider playing around with the sequence a little bit, uh is a good place to begin. The story is right toward the height of the action, not necessarily a sequential. Um You know, I, I think I tell a story in the book or I do tell a story in the book of a mom who comes into the emergency with her teenage daughter who has a headache. Um, They’re afraid there’s something terrible and she gets sent. The young girl gets sent for an MRI and we find out everything’s ok. There’s something was causing the headache, but it wasn’t a brain tumor or meningitis or something terrible. So I’m supposed to write a donor story about this, but I’m really happy for the family that it was nothing terrible. But it’s easier for me. It’s an, it’s an MRI center that you’re writing about. That’s right. Uh It would have been a lot easier for me if I’d had a little more drama in the store, maybe they covered, uncovered a brain tumor and the girl’s life was saved because of this machine. But instead, uh this is what I had to work with. So I started the, the telling of the story at the point where the mother was watching her daughter’s brain on the screen and how terrifying it was for the mother and then went back and filled in what, what brought them to the emergency and then how things turned out. So you can look for the point of highest drama, highest emotion and try to try to begin your story there or just play around with sequence. A story doesn’t have to be told. Um uh As in, in time sequence, it can be told that, you know, begin at the end or in the middle or wherever it makes sense to begin just again. Like I said, with the shitty first draft, give yourself freedom to, to try on a few different approaches. A lot of Quentin Tarantino films are an example of that. Yeah, shifted, shifted, shifted times point of view is another important one. If I can jump in here, I know our time is running short. No, we’re OK. Yeah. No, a little anarchy is OK. Please point of view is a really important one who tells the story. Um Is it the executive director of an organization? There are benefits to having the executive director build, tell the story. You’re building a relationship with your donors, you trusted voice. Um So there are benefits but the executive director can resign tomorrow. And then there’s the, the risk of that voice. Um the closer to the heart of the action you are. If it’s um you know, a, a home for unwed mothers or um uh abused, abused women, let’s say a home for abused women. If you can tell the woman’s story that might have more impact in hearing it directly from her and then told through somebody else’s uh uh perspective. Yeah, there isn’t a right or a wrong. But the thing to do is to, to be thoughtful about the perspective you choose. If you sit down to write the story, think about which perspective will be most meaningful and most powerful um and pursue that and each voice comes with different uh benefits. Right? There are pros and cons for each voice, whether it’s first person or uh you know, if it’s a doctor telling a story about a new piece of equipment, he can speak with an authority that a patient can’t and he can explain the technology in a way the patient can’t. But there are pros and cons to each. You just need to consider whose perspective, whose point of view you use. What about taking license uh with a story you, you had uh writing for the MRI Center, you said it would, it would have been in easier writing task if there had been something more dramatic, not that, not that you are wishing that on the young girl naturally. But what about uh taking some liberties with the, with the story, maybe maybe mashing uh uh several characters together to, to make a, to make a more complete story. How, how do you feel about that sort of create a composite character composite? Yeah, I think if you do that. Uh And I think it’s legitimate to do it, but you have to you have to reveal that. Then at the bottom of the story, I think you have to say that this is, this represents, this is a composite character. This represents uh what we see in the clinic every day. Um I think, I think the reader here needs to be respected and told that that is me. That’s my, would be my, my response to that. Another way you could approach that is maybe sit down with a doctor or uh somebody who, who sees all these different characters. Uh, people come in and, and have a chat with that person and tell the story, like reflect the conversation you’re having with, let’s say the doctor, the radiologist or whoever. All right, but be, be intellectually honest. Absolutely. Yeah. Alright. Yeah, that’s how I would want to be treated so right. That’s how you have to treat others. I think your, your third advice portion of the, of the, uh, of the advice. Uh, in part three is advice on writing and we, we, we talked about some of some of your advice there, sacrifice your darlings and don’t be so quick to delete. But uh save and, and move. Um, what else, what else could you say about the writing task? Um, know what you want to say. That makes, makes it a bit easier to write and you know what you want to say. But often, not often you can, you can get to the screen and you can sit down and you need to, you know, you need to build up the section but you don’t know what you’re saying and you’re just spinning your wheels. So then that’s a good time to pause and say, OK, what is it that I want to say in this next section and be clear with yourself, what the next section needs to cover and then it’s a lot easier to get going. It sounds, it sounds silly to say it, but a lot of times writers block happens because people don’t know what, what they they need to cover in the next section. You also suggest the active voice, which that, that, that stood out to me. II I uh I actively try to avoid the passive voice. Uh explain that one for us, the active voice is just stronger and more engaged. The action happens in the voice. It didn’t happen yesterday. It’s not happening tomorrow. It’s happening now. Um And it’s stronger and more colorful. Uh So that’s the voice to strive for. Um Yeah. Um What else? Um Well, you have not uh not over qualifying. Yes. Don’t want to overqualify. You want, you want to be authentic like um a lot of times writing is stronger if you, if you remove the qualifiers, like what, like what are some examples? OK. Just uh you know, it was a very sunny day, it was a sunny day, that’s strong, much stronger than a very sunny day. Um So all the little adjectives, try removing the adjectives and you’ll probably have more confident writing. The other thing to do is to look at verbs. Once you’ve written a document, go back underline all your verbs and see if you can make them a little puncher, more active or stronger or more reflective or so if you can find a better verb because they add color and life to a piece of writing. Do you use a thesaurus? Very much? Not really. No, I don’t, I do use it but not very much. Um What I do often do if I, how do you find the punchier one? Uh I just think of a different way of saying you’re walking, you’re walking thesaurus then. All right. I, I rely on a, I rely on a thesaurus to help me. Yeah. The other thing to do is to take whatever it is that you’re not quite happy with. If it, if it’s more than just a verb, put it in your second document just for 10 minutes, try to rewrite that paragraph for that sentence, see what you come up with and then contrast the 21, see which one you like better. Maybe it’s a blend that’s often how it happens for me. Go ahead. You have, you have one you like yes, outward focus. Um It’s not about you, it’s about the reader. So whenever you’re writing, stop and say is this is this inward focus or is it, is it looking out the way it should um in fundraising, sometimes it’s easy to state the negative we need this or that because of this or that there. The need is so great. You can try to flip the negative state, write the negative statement. But then see if you can flip it into a positive affirmative statement. You want your case for support to be a hopeful, joyful documented solutions oriented. It’s not presenting a bunch of problems, it’s presenting solution and hope so. If it’s easier for you to write the problem down, go ahead and write it down and then go back and edit it into a positive sentence or paragraph. Can you give an example of that? Oh What could it be? Um OK, I’ve done a lot of work for, for health care organizations. So um the wait lists are too long for uh for people to access an MRI for example, this is a truth in Canada. Yes, you have, you have this one, you have this one in this example in the book. OK. Right there. That’s not cheating. No, that’s OK. That’s fair. That’s not cheating. Instead of saying um the wait lists are too long. You can say that with your help, we can, we can reduce wait times, we can um we can make sure that people get, get access within whatever time is reasonable that that what would happen within days rather than months. Yeah. Yeah, and in your own community. So, you know, once you begin to, once you flip it into the positive, then you can also build on it. Sometimes you had some advice, uh more, more savvy advice uh that think about your community without your work. What if, what if your work was to cease, what would that mean for your community? A lot of times you can get, um you can see the significance of something if you imagine it gone. So if, if you, if your organization sure closed its doors and didn’t reopen, nobody stepped in to fill the gap, what would be the consequence of the organ on the community? The people who rely on you and think of it as ripples in the water. So yes, the people who rely on you day to day, they would be impacted. But what about the next ripple out? What about the neighborhood? What about, you know, whatever or whatever sector you are in within the sector? How will it be affected? If, if you went away, the food bank went away, people who rely on it to put food on the table would be affected for sure. But would there, what would happen to the community? How would those people fare? Uh would there be more homelessness? Would there be would, would kids not do as well in school? For example, the kids of those families who relied on food bank and maybe they don’t go off to university because they’re hungry and you, you can, you can build on things like that and then go looking, go looking for uh supporting evidence. As a case writer, you have to be a bit of an investigator. So if you think that food bank is closing and it’s going to affect Children, think long term, what would that happen? How many kids who go to university have been, maybe at some point in their life, been been supported by the food bank? Can you find that out? Maybe go talk to? I don’t know, find some, somebody who might have done some research into that and see if you can use that and as you build your argument. Well, this whole conversation has been uh inspirational around doing a more thoughtful case for support. So, uh but I, I’m gonna, I’m gonna ask you to just kind of coalesce and, and leave us with, with even more, more inspiration, more promise. What, what, what can our cases do if we’re just more deliberate and thoughtful about our writing? Well, I go back to, to the courtroom analogy that we sort of started with if you have a case that has been um kind of thrown together, written on the back of a napkin and pieced together and maybe a little bit more like a paint by numbers kind of a case. And you, you create a case that is more strategic, more thoughtful. I I’d be surprised if you don’t see a difference in, in, in everything you do, how you recruit, uh the, the volunteers, you’re able to recruit the consistency that you’re able to speak with. Uh When you put together your um grant proposals, you’ve got a well to draw from. You have your information, your statistics, your stories, your descriptors, you have an argument that’s um compelling and stirs hearts and minds. Um And so it’s like the lawyer who stands up in front of the judge and jury and he’s prepared. He’s thought about how his words are going to land on the judge and the jury. He’s going to have a better outcome than the one who just rushes in and hopes to wing it. So I think, I think, um, especially small nonprofits who have not had the luxury of investing in a, um strategic case. I think it could really make a significant difference. Having one, she takes her own advice, ends, ends where she started. There you go. Phoebe Voff, her book is the Case For Your Cause. A guide to writing a case for support that hits all the right notes. You’ll find the book at Phoebe vth.com and Phoebe is spelled Febe Phoebe. Thank you very much for sharing all your, uh your wisdom. Thank you so much. Thank you for inviting me here. I enjoyed this. You’re a very thoughtful guest and I, I don’t, I don’t mean kind. You’re, you’re thoughtful and, and deliberate all all, all, I don’t know you, you speak the way you write, I think. Thank you. You know, there’s a section in the book about asking good questions and that was your job today. You asked fantastic questions. Oh, you probably said that to all your, all your podcast hosts. All right. Thank you. All. So, so some you don’t. All right. Thank you, Phoebe. Thank you very much. Next week, Tony will pick a winner from the archive. You trust him, don’t you? If you missed any part of this week’s show, you better. Trust me. I beseech you find it at Tony martignetti.com. We’re sponsored by donor box. Outdated donation forms blocking your supporters, generosity. This giving season Donor box, the fast flexible and friendly fundraising platform for nonprofits donor box.org. Our creative producer is Claire Meyerhoff. I am your associate producer, Kate Martinetti. The show’s social media is by Susan Chavez, Mark Silverman is our web guy and this music is by Scott Stein. Thank you for that affirmation, Scotty. You with us next week for nonprofit radio. 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