A woman with money that symbolizes the phrase that paysA couple weeks ago, I got to lead a storytelling training with presidents of community colleges from around the country and their board chairs. They were a refreshingly lively group!

As these board presidents shared, many of them told stories of students who’d attended their institutions and done fabulous things. The stories were powerful because they were:

  • about one person—people can connect with one person so they get into the story much easier
  • about overcoming odds—stories are more compelling if there’s conflict in them
  • and they were rich in details—each president talked about specific details of students (what building they had a key conversation in, what routine a student used to successfully complete her degree, how children responded to a parent going back to school)

As they were rediscovering stories to help with fundraising, you could see them grow in confidence and enthusiasm. It was as though they were saying, “Of course people want to give to help make that happen for more people!”

The Phrase That Pays

As I listened to them, I was reminded of a concept I learned from Doug Stevenson, called “the phrase that pays.” He teaches organizations to look for a phrase that can be used to make the ask.

For example, one of the stories was about a man how worked construction but decided he wanted to become a doctor. The president talked about the man walking into the construction supervisors’ office to give notice. He could’ve easily added a detail like, “Juan went into the office, put down his hammer, and gave notice.”

Then when he was done the story, he could turn the to the person he was addressing and say, “Now will you help other Juans put down their hammer too? Would you consider a gift of $10,000?”

Using a “phrase that pays” reinforces the story and invites the listener to become an active participant in the story. And it doesn’t feel like you’re changing gears. It doesn’t feel like a bait-and-switch. The ask naturally flows from the story.

What is your phrase that pays?

Take a moment today to think about the last story you used for fundraising (whether in a letter or in a talk). What action oriented phrase could you use to easily lead to an ask?

Please share your insights in the comments!

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