This blog will help you win loyal friends for your nonprofit organization. I'm Dennis Fischman, and I approved this message.

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Putting On the Shoes: What Ray Bradbury Taught Me about Marketing

“I’ve got to think of reasons for the shoes.”Image

The boy in Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Sound of Summer Running” is Douglas, and Douglas wants new sneakers as if his life depends on them.  His parents think last year’s sneakers are fine.  To Douglas, last year’s sneakers are “dead inside.” But how can he convince Mr. Sanderson, the shoe store owner, to let him buy the Royal Crown Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot Tennis Shoes when he doesn’t have enough money to pay for them?

It’s not reasons that convince Mr. Sanderson.  It’s not even his way with words.  Douglas gets the shopowner to put on a pair of the shoes.

With the sneakers on his feet, down below the suit he wears to do business in, Sanderson feels what Douglas feels. They have summer built in. For Sanderson, it’s a summer far away, running with antelopes and gazelles, a summer as distant as his own childhood.

Even after he agrees to let Douglas work off the price of the shoes by running–literally running–his errands, Sanderson is still thinking, “Beautiful creatures leaping under the sky, gone through brush, under trees, away, and only the soft echo their running left behind.”

Not all of us are marketing shoes.  Some are selling social change.  All of us, though, are Douglas.  We want something that someone else has the choice to give us.  How do we get them to feel, in every inch of themselves, from the ground up, that they want it too?  How do we get them to put on the shoes?

How to Find a Story for Every Occasion

Storytelling is an ancient art that people in communications fields have begun to appreciate.  But how do you find the right story for the occasion?

archery_homeOnce upon a time, a storyteller (the Maggid of Dubnow) was walking along a road when he saw the most amazing sight.  There was a barn, and on the barn was a bull’s-eye target.  Arrows protruded from the target.  Every one of them had hit the bull’s-eye.  And standing next to them, with a bow and an empty quiver, was a teenager, no more than fourteen.

“Young man!” the storyteller called out.  “How did you manage to hit the bull’s-eye every time?”

“Oh, it was easy,” the teenager replied.  “I shot the arrows first, then I painted the circles around them.”

“And that,” the storyteller told a friend later, “is exactly what I do with my stories. I learn to tell them first, and later I find the occasion to tell them.”

Don’t wait for the next time you’re putting together a newsletter or a funding appeal to think about what stories to tell.  Put some stories in your quiver.  Lean how to aim them.  Then, find the right targets.

When Everything Seems Urgent

“Are you serious about doing business with me?”

Diana was a real talent: a former Director of Development for another nonprofit organization who was working part-time these days while raising very young twins. We were lucky she was available. Our nonprofit organization had a lot of grant proposals to write in a short span of time and could not do it all ourselves. But here she was, fuming.

“Dennis, you introduced me to your Executive Director and everything appeared to go well. I sent her a proposal over a week ago. I’ve called and left voice mail messages. I’ve reached out to her by email. She’s just not calling me back. Do you have any idea what’s going on?”

I knew the Executive Director wanted to work with this consultant, and that we were just on the edge of losing her. Never mind that it was 2010, in the depths of the Great Recession, and our anti-poverty agency was working harder than it ever had before. We had not treated this highly professional woman with the courtesy she deserved. It was up to me to win her back.

“Diana,” I said, “I know we have been really, really slow to respond to you, and I want to let you know that we do want to work with you. In fact, we need to work with you. It’s just that we’re so stressed out right now that we haven’t had the time or the clarity to do what would take the stress away. Please forgive us and be patient.”

“Too stressed to do what would take the stress away.” Diana had been there. So have I and, I’ll guess, so have you. Whether it’s hiring outside help for the short term or setting up systems for the long term, we say to ourselves that we’ll get around to that…once we take care of today’s to-do list. Then the day ends, we still haven’t relieved the stress, and so it goes on and on.

There is a way out of this self-defeating cycle. It involves knowing what comes first.  For the way out: