Make Your Story Smelly
FYI: Not too tasty in this format.
Did you smell that? Ewww. Who left a rotten banana in my car on a day when it was 80 degrees outside? And guess what it smelled like with all the windows rolled up? Your nose must be scrunched up smelling that icky banana. But now I’ve decided to take that gross banana and make some yummy banana bread. Oh, the smell of that bread is wafting through my house as we speak. I can hardly wait for it to come out of the oven and chomp right into a piece. Can you smell it? Yum, yum, yum.
One of my favorite development authors and experts is Tom Ahern. He’s written many a book – and one of his best is Seeing Through a Donor’s Eyes: How to Make a Persuasive Case for Everything from Your Annual Drive to Your Planned Giving Program to Your Capital Campaign (yep, it's a mouthful). I recently came across a chapter in it that caught my attention: “Take Your Prospect on a Verbal Tour.”
Your church, your camp, your non-profit does amazing things each and every day. But your constituents, those who are your ardent supporters (or who should be or could be) can’t see or experience what you do every day.
So it’s up to you to paint a verbal picture in order to tell the story of what happens in your place of ministry. While photographs are great, you can tell so much more with words. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy (yes, it’s weird I know) writing grants. It forces me to put myself in the funder’s shoes and paint a compelling picture of a place or program they know little about.
Ahern suggests that you get up from behind your desk. Yes, actually get out of your chair and start walking through and around your building – and see it with fresh eyes. He even suggests that you pretend to give a tour to a friend.
While you are on a tour with your invisible “friend” - and I highly recommend you refrain talking to this “friend” audibly – notice your senses and experience your work or ministry environment in a new way.
- What do you see that captures your attention?
- What sounds are unique?
- Are there any interesting smells?
- Can you touch anything that expresses something unique to your setting?
The emphasis is on detail – painting a rich picture so that others feel like they experience what you have experienced. Point out colors, textures, sounds, and even the size of objects. Describe if something is hard or soft, loud or quiet, joyful or sad.
Here’s an example: People begin quietly gathering at 8am most mornings in front of the old church doors. Some are bedraggled and have clearly slept on the streets. Others look like they’ve just rolled out of bed. They wear well-worn clothes, wrinkled, and mostly gray. But they are all here for one purpose: to get a warm meal that is served in our brightly lit and welcoming dining hall. Today’s meal is scrambled eggs and hash browns and of course, hot coffee. Each individual is honored and greeted with a smile by one of our dedicated volunteers. This is a special place where ministry happens.
Next time you walk around your work space take a minute to note what all your senses are experiencing – then run back to your office and write it down. You’ve got the perfect beginnings of a beautiful story to tell people who want to be on the journey with you. And I sincerely hope you smell more banana bread rather than a single, rotting banana.
P.S. My heart is heavy by yet another mass shooting – and this time it feels even more personal since it’s in my adopted home state of Oregon. Please pray for the people of Roseburg. And, if you are so inclined, here are some places you can go to do something in addition to prayer:
- Umpqua Bank has set up the Umpqua Community College Relief Fund for those affected by the shooting.
- The American Red Cross can always use blood.
- Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America - that about says it all.
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. Though no prizewinner, her from-scratch (thank-you-very-much) banana bread does not last long on the counter. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation; she is available to consult with churches in Oregon and Idaho. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.