Who is the hero of your story?

As a fundraiser, one of the most important questions you should be asking yourself is this: “Who is the hero of my story?”

If your organization’s fundraising is like most, the answer is obvious: Most organization’s fundraising materials depict the organization as the hero.

There are lengthy accounts of the organization’s history. Detailed descriptions of the programs and processes used to advance the organization’s mission. Statistics and infographics trumpeting accomplishments.

And always, always, copy sprinkled with overdoses of “we,” “us” and “our.”

“We feed the hungry.” “We are uniquely positioned to give relief to the needy in the world’s poorest places.” “Since 1967, our ministry has reached a bazillion souls.” Et cetera and et cetera.

The problem? All of this portrays the organization as the hero. It leaves out the most important figure in the story.

Just who is the proper hero for a non-profit?

The Hero’s Journey

One of my favorite videos is Winning the Story Wars: The Hero’s Journey. Based on the book by Jonah Sachs, the video deals with how the world’s most successful brands use the power of storytelling.

The hero’s journey is one of the oldest story patterns known to man. Originally described by mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey involves a seemingly ordinary outsider who wanders through a broken world trying to live out his values.

This outsider is unsuccessful until he meets a wise mentor who gives him a magic gift and calls him to a dangerous adventure of self-discovery.

On this adventure he encounters the evil source of the world’s brokenness and overcomes it.  He wins a treasure which he brings back to heal the world of its brokenness.

It is a story repeated over and over again throughout history. This story pattern has a wonderful application for charities.

Finding your hero

The person who becomes the hero of the story is an outsider. So she is not you or your organization.

She is your donor.

Let me repeat this: The hero of your story is your donor. Not you.

But, do not despair. There is a role for you and your organization.

You are the mentor:

  • You show the hero that she is capable of much, much more.
  • You teach her the core truth that it is possible to accomplish something great.
  • You inspire her by telling her it is possible to do much more than she ever dreamed.
  • You give her the gift of hope and encourage her on her adventure.

To put this into concrete terms: your donor is the Hobbit and you are Gandalf.

In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins is an outsider, living blissfully unaware of the epic battle about to be waged between good and evil. Frodo is a Hobbit, who would gladly spend his days eating and drinking and conversing with his neighbors in the Shire.

But his mentor, Gandalf, arrives to stir him up to play his part in the great adventure. And what a great part it is!

Frodo overcomes his fear and accomplishes far greater deeds than he ever imagined. Evil is confronted and defeated and the world is restored to wholeness.

Even though J.R.R. Tolkien was a Christian, writing from a decidedly Christian worldview, his books have been popular around the world, even among people who do not share his faith. I believe that’s because his story taps into the universal story pattern of the hero’s journey.

When you think about it, the Bible also tells stories that fit this pattern. The disciples are a collection of guys who are about as ordinary as you could imagine. Ordinary, that is, until they are called by Jesus.

Under his mentorship they learn and grow, and are inspired to become more than they had ever imagined. When they receive the supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit, they are empowered to go forth and change the world.

Giving the gifts of hope and courage

So, stop telling stories about how great your organization is, and start telling stories about how great your donors can be. And give them the magic gift of hope…hope that makes it seem likely that the adventure you’re calling them to will likely succeed.

And, one of the greatest gifts you can give your donors is the courage to become generous. And the hope that through their generosity they will change the world.

When you fulfill your true role as mentor, your gifts of hope and courage can work wonders.

You’d be surprised at what amazing things your Hobbit-donors can accomplish!