Voice(s) and your charity event

If you read this blog, you probably know I’m a Hip Hop fan. One of my favourite MC’s is Guru of the seminal group Gangstarr. They have a great song called “Mostly tha Voice.”

Why am I telling you this? Because Guru was right, “voice” is key to storytelling. And storytelling is what you’re doing via the media when they cover your charity event. Let’s get right to it… 

Your charity event should have multiple voices telling the story. The key is to understand the role each plays.

Around a cause-related event, there are usually a number of potential spokespeople. If, for instance, you were working on a run that benefitted a local hospital your list of spokespeople might include:

  • The head of the hospital’s Foundation
  • Some of the doctors or nurses who work at the hospital and whose work is financed by initiatives like the run
  • The CEO of the hospital
  • People participating in the run
  • Former or current patients of the hospital, who benefitted directly from the proceeds raised by the event

As I alluded to above, each type plays a role and speaks to different topics/angles of a story. Based on the typology above and my own experiences working on charity events, these might be:

  • The head of the hospital’s Foundation: 
    • Speaking about the nuts and bolts of the event itself: what the event aims to do; what differentiates the event; what communities it brings together; why the event is unique/amazing, etc.
    • Communicating how many people participated and /or how much was raised
    • Answering questions about event organization or logistics
    • Addressing how the event fits into the broader fundraising framework
    • Handling tougher questions if there is a crisis on-event or if there are issues related to cost per dollar raised
    • Talking about the impact of the event
    • Thanking the community and participants
  • Some of the doctors or nurses who work at the hospital and whose work is financed by initiatives like the run:
    • Talking about the amazing work going on at the hospital from a medical/science/caregiver’s perspective
    • Explaining how the event funds critical research/programs and a bit about those initiatives (it is key to make sure this type of dialogue does not devolve into a science seminar)
  • The CEO of the hospital:
    • Talking about the work of the hospital, its mission and its impact in the community in broad terms
    • (Potentially) being a spokesperson if there is a crisis or incident on event
    • Thanking the community and participants
  • People participating in the run:
    • Humanizing the event
    • Telling personal stories about why they’re participating in the event and their relationship to the benefitting organization
    • Explaining how they raised money or trained for the event
    • Discussing the personal benefits (weight loss, sense of satisfaction) of participating in the event
  • Former or current patients of the hospital, who benefitted directly from the proceeds raised by the event:
    • Demonstrating the tangible impact of the event and the benefitting organization (Note that some of these people will be participating in the event itself. When this is the case, you have got yourself the makings of a PERFECT spokesperson)

The main thing you need to remember is that media are humans. Stories that tug at their heartstrings are compelling and get covered. This means that the most important voices for your event are the participants and the ordinary people who benefit from the proceeds raised.

I will say it again so that you absolutely get it: pitching media on human-interest stories that tug at people’s heartstrings is the best way to get your charity event covered. These are also the stories that do the most in terms of driving your bottom line fundraising goals.

Thankfully, if you’re throwing a charity event you probably have access to a lot of these emotional stories.  I won’t get into how you uncover these stories from within your participant community, but suffice it to say you should set up a system where the people who deal with your event participants talk regularly to your Communications team. The Comms staffers should be telling your front line people about the elements of a good story. From there, you should be able to harvest some emotive, compelling stories that you can use as part of a broader narrative about the community around your event and its impact.

What do you think? Have I got the typology right? What about the roles?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sherry Truhlar August 22, 2011 at 10:07 pm

This is a useful post for fundraisers, Jackson. I’d like to add two points.
First, one other topic to add to your list of items is “what’s new.” I’ve had clients secure pre-event coverage by telling reporters about the new elements to their gala, or what changes have been made.
Second, I’d just encourage that the speakers practice before they get on stage. A good story told poorly doesn’t help the cause.

Jackson Wightman August 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Thanks Sherry! Good points :)

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