Leading with Storytelling
with Wendy Adams
of Sports Outreach
Watch the Replay
Wendy Adams, the “Storyteller”
As a thriving development professional, Wendy Adams continues to build relationships between giving partners and the communities they serve. Her efforts have uncovered deeper giving capacity and fostered residual economic growth.
The excitement over fostering effective communication with all audiences, strengthening community ties, increasing brand awareness, and spreading the mission of a community driven organization, is her passion. She is “The Storyteller.”
Wendy’s Specialties: Non Profit Development, Fundraising, Community Engagement, Event Management, Relationship Cultivation, Strategy Development, Community Outreach, Team-building, Planning and Communication.
In the mission fields, our staff initially step on the field with community members providing sports TRAINING, sharing the TRUTH of the Gospel, and building TRUSTING relationships. As relationships develop, our staff step off the field to go DEEPER into lives through mentoring, to meet emotional, practical and spiritual needs through DISCIPLESHIP, and to equip people for the purpose of DEPLOYING the next generation of servant leaders.
Restoring HOPE and transforming LIVES…that’s the mission of Sports Outreach. Telling their impact stories every day…that’s my passion!
For more information http://www.sportsoutreach.net/
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Greetings to The Nonprofit Exchange listeners. We talk about the important themes that we as leaders step up to the plate as influencers in our arena as community leaders, as religious leaders, as leaders in organizations, no matter where we are. We do influence other people in the organization. My guest today is actually a neighbor in Lynchburg. Her name is Wendy Adams. Wendy, welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange.
Wendy Adams: Hugh, I appreciate the opportunity, especially coming off a holiday weekend, to share.
Hugh: Oh yes. Getting back to work on the Tuesday after Labor Day. It seems like a Monday. Wendy, you are in the sports area, but you really are in the storytelling sweet spot. I am not going to try to describe what you do, but I am going to ask you to tell a snapshot of who this mysterious person called Wendy Adams is. What is it that you’re doing right now? Give us who you are and what you’re doing. I also want to know why you’re doing this.
Wendy: Great questions, Hugh. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to share. I am in the industry of storytelling. My official title is Chief Relationship Officer. I am reminded constantly by my family that I thought I was a chief for a really long time, and now I actually have the title. Really what that comes down to is I work with Sports Outreach. We are a ministry of 30 years. November will be our 30th birthday. We have used sports as the common language. We serve in four other countries outside the United States, and we don’t all speak the same language, but we all know what to do with a ball or how to perform on a field or on a chess board. Really what it comes down to is if we can open up conversation, then we can be able to influence. We can be an influence, and we can share where we are getting our influence from. As a Christian organization, Sports Outreach has the ability to meet both practical and spiritual needs.
My journey really began with a bout of disobedience. When I get asked, “How did you get to where you are, Wendy?” it’s not a mystery. I am an open book. I was walking one particular path that I was clear the Lord had put me on. In 2007, He said, “I have something different for you. I want you to use those skills, those abilities in a different way.” I quickly answered, “Thanks for sharing. I love what I’m doing. I’m going to keep going.” As 2009, working as a business owner in the area of special events in Tampa, Florida at that time, things came to a screeching halt. Just as He said, He had something different. I decided to take the long route. It not only brought me to a geographical location, but He literally took the skillset of being an influencer and being a connector of people, and He turned it in a way very different, very meaningful, but not what I saw coming. That brought me into the area of what we would officially call fundraising. What it really is is relationship-building: connecting those who have a need with those who have been called to meet that need and having them meet through the story. One telling, the other listening, and how they can connect. That is really what I do: building the bridge in that. In this case, we use the bridge of sports.
Hugh: As you probably know, I use team analogies with the orchestra, but you could use team analogies with any sports team. What we do together has a lot more profound impact if we function together as an ensemble, a musical ensemble, a drama ensemble. My sport is NASCAR. Wouldn’t have guessed that, I’m sure.
Wendy: Not at all.
Hugh: These guys jump over the wall. In 14.2 seconds, every tenth of a second is critical, they put in four new tires, fill the tank, clean the windshield, and they are back over the wall. They have to do it with utmost precision. They rehearse that. There is lots of different cultures of team performance. I guess you know I served mega-churches as 40 years as music director. Did you know that?
Wendy: I did.
Hugh: My church in Atlanta had something like 85 basketball teams and 100 softball teams. We had quite an extensive sports ministry. I understand a little bit about what you do. That wasn’t my area. How do we come together and build those really important relationships? But I also understand you have hit on a couple critical points in the first couple of minutes of this interview. Creating relationships, telling a story, and connecting people with the value of impact. You didn’t say it that way, but I heard it that way.
Let’s unpack these. Your title is not a typical title. What is your title?
Wendy: Chief Relationship Officer.
Hugh: You’re under that umbrella that many call development.
Hugh: Which is a funny word.
Wendy: It is. What are we developing?
Hugh: Yeah. I have worked with nonprofits of all kinds for 31 years. I am changing that position to be Funding Strategist. It’s how we create all the strategies and relationships that are the underlying factor. The world I live in, underneath leadership, is relationships. Underneath funding is relationship. Underneath communication is relationship. You are probably one of the most important people in this organization as far as putting all this together.
Start out with this. Talk about the storytelling part for a minute. How did you get good at telling stories? What is so important about how you put it together and how you deliver it?
Wendy: I have to say the first piece to that is telling the story is actually being a good listener, which I’ll be honest, is not my natural default. Listening is an active activity, an opportunity. When I sit across the table from one who has either given to the organization or wants to know more about the organization, I really have to do less talking and more listening to be able to hear where they are. That is how you become a good storyteller is because you have to make sure you are telling the right story, what they are actually asking. If I am doing all the talking, that’s not going to happen. That’s really key in what I do. It’s something I have to be intentional in, which goes back when we talk about building relationships. It’s very intentional, not by happenstance.
Hugh: You are getting these highlights that are so on target. I know so many people in charity work – I substitute different words. We are not in a for-profit business; we are in a for-purpose business. I hate the word “nonprofit” because it makes us think in scarcity terms.
Wendy: And you’re in abundance.
Hugh: Yes! It’s there. God has given us abundance, and we turn away from it instead of accepting it. There is a lot of good things we can use that for.
What you triggered with that last thing you said, a lot of people have the script, and they give the same script to every single person without regard to what you just said. What is that person looking to do? What difference do they want to make? What are their interests? As you approach people, what are some of the things that you do to get to know that person?
Wendy: I start with asking a lot of the same questions you have asked me. Who are you? What has brought you to the place for us to sit down and have this conversation? Tell me about your family, your background, your passions. Then you sit back and listen. Usually, in that first meeting and interaction, you may very scarcely actually speak about the organization you are serving because the whole point is to recognize where they are and how they connect with us. That is going to take time. Like any other relationship, it’s going to take time to understand those points and have them be comfortable enough to share. That first meeting is really just getting to know them, and it’s asking those probing questions. A lot of what we don’t do in the traditional networking world. I really enjoy, and it feeds me because I really get to learn. I get to interact and learn more about people. I say most often I love people. I don’t always like people. I am not always liked. But I love the interaction of people. We talk about people-watching. I love to people-listen, get to know them more, and see how we do inter-connect. I couldn’t do what I do all by myself, no matter how much I feel like I have a skillset for it. It takes all of us. To be put in a setting where I get to fill myself up with learning more about others, how they connect, how they click, what they are passionate about, really pushes me to be a better version of myself.
Hugh: Whoa. You keep rolling out these sound bites. You can’t do it by yourself. Build relationship. It’s not about the organization; it’s about them. Here’s one that just zinged past and I am bringing it back. You said in the first meeting. It’s not one and done. Talk about that, would you?
Wendy: Oh no. Hugh, how many times have you and I crossed paths and spent time? It’s not one and done. I don’t go into it thinking one and done. This is for longevity. They’re looking to leave legacy. They want to make sure that beyond themselves, who they are is left behind and others will know. That takes time. That’s not going to happen in one interaction. When I think of any of the relationships, we can all think back to high school. Maybe it was a great experience, maybe it wasn’t. When you think about the opportunities to engage with the people you knew at that point in time, how long did it take to establish a relationship that you could still engage with that person today? We are not high school students anymore, well past that. You cannot think about it as a one and done. You go into it knowing you want more. You go into it recognizing the next time we cross paths, I will be looking forward to learning what’s happened since that time to where we are. It’s that expectation that comes across in conversations that I think draws people in to say, “I want to tell you more.”
Hugh: The other one you talked about is before you can be a good storyteller, you have to be a good listener. How am I doing on that listening so far?
Wendy: You’re doing great. You actually do a fantastic job with that. You know why I know that, Hugh? When we have conversations, the next time we engage, there is usually some sound bite you bring back to the table from our last engagement. That is active listening, to hold onto those nuggets.
Hugh: Active listening. It’s active, empathetic listening. It’s caring about the person. There is a quote I can’t chase down the origin of, “Listening is so close to loving you can hardly tell the difference.” Isn’t that rich? We need more love. We have people fighting over things. We need more love.
We are in a place where charities in this world are more important than ever before in history. We are doing a lot more important stuff. It’s important for us as professionals in that space to continue working on yourself. You said that somewhere along the way. You’re always working on yourself. Jim Rohn, the motivational speaker who used to speak a lot in front of multi-level companies, but he did a lot of generic presentations, was known to say just about every time, “Work on yourself harder than you work on your business.”
Wendy: It’s a great point.
Hugh: You and I knew each other from the Lynchburg Business Alliance. I hear you present at the first Friday gathering, and Lynchburg Business Alliance is a great organization. It’s like a chamber of commerce on steroids.
Wendy: Great analogy.
Hugh: You step out. I talk, and I feel stupid. You step up, and it’s brilliant. Let’s talk about you’re making a presentation. I see people making presentations that don’t make eye contact, they don’t work on their language, they don’t face the person and look engaged, and they talk all the time and don’t listen. What I have noticed about you is A) you are a top notch presenter. You are a speaker, and you have lots of poise. But you have lots of skill. Did you get coaching on presentation skills? How did you get where you are with your delivery? Your articulation is wonderful. Your physical presence, your demeanor, you’re there, you’re engaged with people. Your pacing is very good. It’s so easy to follow. Those aren’t skills you normally drop in and go with. Did you have some learning to get where you are now?
Wendy: I don’t hear myself that way. It’s great to know that’s what’s coming across. It goes back to that intentionality. No formal training. I’ll be very honest with you. I can’t wait to share this recording with my mother. In fourth grade, the big thing was, “She is a great student, Mrs. Adams, if we could just get her to stop talking.” So now I’m using the power for good.
I have just been talking for a very long time. I do like to be heard. We do. We as humans do like to be heard. What makes it pleasant for someone to listen? A big part of it is recognizing your audience. If there is a time frame, we have 30 seconds. 30 seconds is 30 seconds. What can I do in that 30 seconds to convey a message that will be pleasing and attractive to my audience?
Back to that intentionality and thinking it through. We are talking to people at 8:15 in the morning. Have they all had their coffee? What is going to draw them in and engage them for that 30 seconds and get that message across? Leaving them wanting a little bit more. When that time comes for further dialogue, we have something to springboard off of.
Clarity in our speech. People need to be able to understand. If they can’t understand, they’re checked out. We’re busy. There is so much coming past us on a moment by moment basis that if you bog them down with so much, and all these words, and they can’t figure out what you’re trying to say, what you’re trying to convey, what you want them to hear, they’re done. We’re busy. It’s taking those things. I hone in on everything I do to be intentional. Whether that’s in my personal or professional life because time is precious. It is the most precious commodity we have. Can’t get more of it. So let’s use it to the fullest. Those are the things that roll through my mind as we pass that circle and I see my time coming, “How can I use this most precious commodity with these people who have given me their time?”
Hugh: That would be generally true of anybody you are speaking to on behalf of the organization, I guess.
Wendy: Most definitely. There is no doubt. There is so much. We are one of how many organizations. We know that it used to be on average that those that give to a nonprofit who want to do more and beyond themselves, they were having at least seven to ten opportunities coming through to them on a weekly basis. That number has exponentially grown at this point in time. As we get toward the end of the year, that steps up even further because of those who want to jump into the game and get their message out there. Going back to that active listening. Do I know this person well enough that I can speak into what speaks to them? If I haven’t had that opportunity yet, let me at least know that I am engaging and not wasting their time. If there is something that speaks there, they come back and say, “I do want to know more.” So yes, in every conversation, that is the whole point I walk in with.
Hugh: That is such a key point. You keep hitting all the high spots. Let’s unpack that one. You said you want to leave them wanting to know more. I teach at a business growth conference that happens in the Tampa Bay area where you are from. I have been presenting at 12 years. There are meal tables, and they get to sit with faculty and present a pitch. I have been at 900 of those meal tables over the last 12 years. 4-8 people at a time giving their pitch. Universally, there is too much data. That is the hardest thing to cure. We are so enthusiastic, and we want people to be as enthusiastic as we are. There is so much to know. How do you get to what is the essential message you want to give people? How do you stage it so you get their interest? They are not looking for places to put their money typically. They are giving you the time because you have the relationship. How do you go through this sorting process of coming up with what the essential message is for the first and second time?
Wendy: What it comes down to is learning as much as I can, if it’s an individual, about the individual. Most cases, someone is being introduced to me through someone else. How much can that person who is doing the introduction tell me about who I am going to be sharing with and having that opportunity to sit down and have a meal with? Going in with that knowledge.
Again, I have to be super intentional about this because I am a talker. My natural inclination is to tell you everything. I am excited. But I walk in there recognizing that I will never be able to tell you all of it, and I need you to experience it. The best way for you to experience it is when you come back to me and want to ask questions and know more. I have to leave you that cliffhanger. It’s like writing that drama series. You want them to come back next week. How do I give you just enough of the information, being respectful of your time, knowing what I know about you, but leaving enough of a question mark, not I don’t know what you talked about, but I want to know more. It is setting the time before any meeting, any interaction to think through and putting that together. It is orchestrated to a point, and letting them take the lead in bringing that about.
Hugh: How did you get here? You said your teacher said you talked a lot. How did you get from where that was to where you are today?
Wendy: Lots of trial and error. It wasn’t something that was overnight. It was recognizing that work does not have to be and is not intended to be a four-letter word. It is something you can actually enjoy and have passion about. Your passion and your career can come into a marriage that is harmonious. That does not mean that we live in a happily ever after, and you wake up every Monday morning and say, “I just can’t wait to.” That doesn’t mean that’s the case, but it does mean there is a recognition, there is a purpose behind what I am doing. I am able to live in that purpose and perform in that purpose and engage in that purpose on a daily basis. That is what brings me the joy. Happiness is not the end goal. That’s circumstantial. Circumstances don’t always bring about the outcome that I want. Happy is not where I want to reside; joy is where I need to reside.
It’s been through a process. The business I had for almost 12 years in Tampa Bay, I did well at a point in time. I realized one of my dreams, which was to manage a major sporting event, which was the Super Bowl in 2009. At the end of that very year, my highest high, I experienced my lowest low, when the economy took such a tank that it took my small business and pushed me into bankruptcy. Something that was one of the most difficult things in my life to walk through. This is who I had identified myself to be. My faith has really been the catapult to, through the highs and lows, keep me grounded as to not getting caught up in the day-to-day circumstances, but recognizing it is a journey.
That is what took me from that fourth grader who just wouldn’t stop talking. It has been honed and manipulated on that potter’s wheel to a point where I recognize the strengths in it and the weaknesses and being intentional about honing both of those. Allowing the weaknesses to be decreased and those strengths to be increased. It’s in my power, but with my hands surrendered open. No secret. The secret is open to all of us to be able to do those very same things because that was the intention of our Creator for us. That is where I find most of my joy: knowing I Have laid myself in His hands. He is the one who is doing it; I get to experience the joy through it.
Hugh: It is a true joy. There are a couple things there about perseverance. Getting a no. it’s hard not to take that personally. Keeping the faith when you get no’s. There is a process. I want to ask you about the steps and the process. But first, are you familiar with Napoleon Hill and his writing?
Wendy: I am not.
Hugh: Napoleon Hill met Andrew Carnegie. You know that name?
Hugh: Andrew Carnegie said, “If you work for me for 20 years, I will introduce you to the most successful people in America.” It was the 1930s, so they were all male and that competitive capitalist of Rockefellers and Wanamakers and Carnegie himself and Ford presidents. 500 people he interviewed. Came up with this law of success. A lot of it is what you just articulated. God has given us natural laws. We either work with them or not if you want to be successful. What you are presenting ought to be intuitive, but they are logical laws of how things work. The laws of nature, the laws of human relationships. When we don’t have a sensitivity to how those work, then we don’t get the results we think we should.
What he distilled out of those, he wrote lots of documents, but what he distilled were four major pieces. All those people had definiteness of purpose. You talk about purpose. They were very clear on their purpose. They were also very clear they brought value to people in what they were doing. Think of Thomas Edison, the most prolific inventor he ever heard of. He was so intent on inventing things to help people. They also gathered in a group that he determined to be a mastermind group, and they helped each other out. There was this community of people they work with. The last one was this thing about intention. There was no admission of failure. He said every failure there is a seed of a future success. Failure in my language is a rehearsal for success. It is a learning opportunity. Those are very similar to what you said. Napoleon Hill wrote a lot of things. People mistakenly think it’s about greed and money when really it’s about creating this position that you can influence people to create value that brings everyone benefits. I didn’t know if you knew about those writings. They are often misplaced and miscued to be greed when really it’s about what you just said. The way I have read it over the last 30 years.
Any response to that?
Wendy: You hit two great points that are pivotal for me in my day to day. Professionally and personally. One is the idea and the concept of community. The fact of how important it is. We weren’t designed to be these lone soldiers. I know that our culture says, I don’t need, I can do all by myself, self-made, things of that nature. But we really are, not to just use terminology that has been thrown around, better together because that is how we were designed to be. I recognize whether I am talking about my core team I work with within our headquarter staff here in Lynchburg, whether I am talking about our staff that is all the way around the world, or our community of supporters. It is because of all of us working in harmony, community, having that unity, having that common purpose, keeping that common language in front of us that really makes us better. No matter how much I may be in the position of garnering funds down to this basic core of being a fundraiser, truly, if I don’t have intentional communication and unity with my operations staff, communications staff, finance, it’s not going to work. I am not going to be the best I can be, and they won’t either.
Making sure, because that audience is just as important, thinking of my board. They are coming from different aspects. Those are volunteers. We think of board members and how much influence they have. They are volunteers, volunteering their time. One of the main things that you said that sparked with me that is an underlying current is keeping that community in the forefront of anything that we are doing.
Hugh: But your board of directors is your mastermind group, if we would like them to be.
Hugh: How do you interface with the board?
Wendy: I try to be as personal with them as I am with those who I sit shoulder to shoulder with within the office. Again, trying to get to know them, making no assumptions that because they have been a board member for 25 years, that they actually understand all of what is going on in the organization and the direction we are going in. it is so easy to get caught up in how we have done it. Sports Outreach is 30 years old. I started with them last June. This is the first time this organization has really been in a place of having formalized development, formalized fundraising, relationship cultivation. It’s been friend-raising to this point in time. Someone may know this snapshot about this organization, and may not realize they are part of an organization that is really reaching a much broader scope. That includes our board. It’s spending time and being intentional and picking up that phone, beyond an email, and saying, “I need 30 minutes of your time for me to tell you who the organization can best serve you. What are your passions beyond sitting at that board table?” We have a very active board, a very engaged board, but there are definitely those who are founding board members and who are a little stuck a couple years back, if not a decade or so back, to where the organization is, simply because someone hasn’t had that intentional conversation and allowed them to share where they are.
Hugh: That never happens in any other board, you know.
Wendy: I am glad to know we’re not alone.
Hugh: I would say you are in really good company. It’s part of human nature. It’s people like you who inspire people to think out of the old box. Interfacing with the board is key for your position, isn’t it?
Wendy: It is. If I don’t have board support or understanding, they are introducing me to, when we go back to how I get those initial meetings or who am I sitting and talking to, what are those relationships that need to be cultivated, my board is key in opening those doors. If I don’t know them well enough and in turn they don’t know me well enough, they are not going to open those doors up. They will continue to come and sit around the table. We will sign some documents twice a year and move on. If that’s not the case when you sit down and have that one on one conversation with a board member outside of the round table and say, “How is the organization speaking to you? Where do you see our strengths?” opening that door to say, “Where are areas we need work?” Again, people want to be heard. The relationships that are built there are crucial. Recognizing that, especially as one who is coming in brand new to not only a position, but for all intents and purposes, I wasn’t replacing anyone. We were building. I need those to come around me to help build us together. I have received a lot of appreciation for that approach. I would not be one to be listed as traditional. I am outside of the box. We talk about the elephant in the room because he’s not going away even if we don’t talk about him. That’s how we get up and over and on to that next level. It makes some uncomfortable. No doubt. But we don’t just leave it there. That’s where the difference is. You can open up a can and let it fly. It goes back to that intentionality of needing to deal with something, so let’s do this together.
Hugh: I’m pointing out to listeners that the elephant in the room was a “he.”
Wendy: Yeah, I recognize that’s what I said.
Hugh: I wasn’t going to let that slide by. It’s probably more true than not.
There are boards that think when they have a person like you, they don’t have any work to do. What are the different components of your work? I’m thinking there is a teaching component, a team component, a prep component. What are some of the components that relate specifically with the board?
Wendy: You hit on a lot of them. The number one is teaching. They don’t take anything for granted that they just know. There is that idea of we know that this needs to happen. Why does it not just in our organization, but in my previous organization as well. The area of cultivating relationships, we know is important, and it’s people give to people, not to organizations. If we know it’s important to be able to have that groundwork, why does it most times come across as an afterthought to put someone in that role? It’s not because of the dollars and cents that go along with the role that I have, truly and honestly, especially when you are working in the area of as you said, we don’t like to use the term analogy “nonprofit,” but we do recognize that those dollars are crucial. How they come in and how they are being used and the impact we are making and the responsibility that we have with those dollars. Where the rub usually comes in or what makes people uncomfortable is what someone in my role brings to the table to say that we have to do. A lot of that is we have to do this together. It isn’t you get to come in twice a year and speak through a couple of agenda points and move on. There is an expectation that we are going to engage together. We are going to sit down together and meet with us. You won’t give me a list of names and say go. You’re going to share with me relationships that you have established, and we will do that together to a certain point because without you. I am just another person on the other end of the phone. It is that education component that I feel is most crucial with a board, especially an established board.
Then there is the thinking outside of the box. We will only get what we have always gotten if we always do what we have always done. We have to do it differently if we want different outcomes. You want to have a board that is established and not feel they are flighty and all over the place. There is that danger of becoming complacent unintentionally if you just let it lie. There is that pushing component. I don’t know what the best terminology for that is. We do have to stay on the cutting edge. We do have to continue to see what are our constituency saying to us? Listen through their giving or their non-giving. Or they literally are speaking to us. They are writing back on- are we listening, or are we continuing to communicate what we want and we have always done a newsletter every month so we will keep going. Maybe we need to do a quarterly. Maybe we need a new format. Maybe we need more pictures. Maybe it is too wordy. If these are the things they are saying.
Those two components, just within my first year, are the things I have spent most of my time with the board in presenting and showing credence to. Listening to them and giving pushback. Thankfully I have to say I have a board who has accepted that really well, even when we don’t all agree. But they have given me the opportunity to share, to listen. I don’t have all of the answers. But I have been in this industry for a while. The big thing is I have been who I am for 43 years. I recognize that really spending time with those who are like-minded and they want to share, spending time listening to what they are sharing and acting upon it, has the greatest impact.
Hugh: This listening goes all the way around. It’s not just your donors. It’s your board members as well. I experience you as very direct in asking for what you need. That’s one reason I see that board members don’t perform on any level because they haven’t been asked to do so. Let’s ask them to do it, but let’s give them the skills and the documents. They need a one-sheet, or they will talk from a slide deck or the verbiage to open the door for you to come if there is a high-net-worth donor who wants to talk to the person in your seat.
There is also a factor of what psychologists call money shadow. People don’t feel comfortable talking about money so they actually repel it. I find a lot of people say, “I am going to give you a name. Would you connect with us?” I don’t want to talk about money. There is something negative in talking about money. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Wendy: I do. I have heard it enough times from constituency, from our supporters who have said- Just last year, I was waiting to be asked. I needed someone to explain. I wanted someone to understand. Just waiting for the ask. We sit in conferences and hear these things and read blogs that say it, but I have actually experienced it. Waiting for the ask. To share that with a board member that this sphere that we have of they don’t want to be asked. It’s just the opposite.
The other piece to it is the education of. It’s not going in haphazardly. We have a need, and we want you to meet the need here. Back to that intentional conversation. Where is their heart? What is their passion? We serve in a lot of different areas. Through this area of sports ministry, we are touching lives from child sponsorship to feeding programs to education to church planting. There is so much that outpours off the field we are serving that there is bound to be an area where we have to listen, and then you can make that presentation. Oh, they are selling a house. They are sending children off to college. Where are they? That will give you an opportunity to have an ask that is intentional. Again, they want that. I tell board members, and I tell other colleagues, and I have to remind myself of this: It is truly not an ask for dollars and cents – it is an invitation to make impact. That’s what it is. Everybody likes to be invited. Everybody likes to be invited. I want in on that party. That’s the way I walk into a conversation. If I feel like I’m coming after your wallet, then I don’t want to do that. Who wants that? We are going to clench that wallet or that purse so tightly because now you are trying to rob me. But if you are inviting me, I am ready to be a part of that. That is a mindset that has to be one that doesn’t just- cute little phrase to say. No I have to live that out. When I believe that, that’s why it is easy to go in and say, “Here’s an invitation, Mr. Walmart.”
Hugh: Those are really good words. So many good sound bites in this. There is a front end story telling before you meet the donor. There is also a back end after they have donated. We fail miserably here telling them what has happened with their money, telling them the story. You come up on the anniversary. Then when you ask for another donation, it’s a whole different ball game. How do you navigate that?
Wendy: The first thing after they have donated is make sure you don’t muddy the waters and you thank the supporter. We can’t mix all of these things together. There really is an opportunity to thank the donor for what they have done. Thank that supporter for how they have come alongside you, how they have deepened the relationship to accomplish that impact. They want to be appreciated. You want to be appreciated. I want to be appreciated. It’s built into our DNA. Making sure we don’t gloss over that with just a receipt letter saying we received these dollars, but actually saying thank you for the impact you have made. Thanking them. You’re right. If the next time they hear from us is the next time there is an invitation to give, and they don’t know what that last has actually done, I am quite convinced you will get another gift. It’s not going to be the gift that we could have gotten if we had actually shown, if they had become connected with the people on the other end of that gift and not just gotten stuck on the dollar and decimal.
Those are the steps that come along the way is making sure they have that engagement piece and they know they can picture that coming across. Making it real to them. We have the opportunity within our organization to put our supporters on the field where they are serving and interact. That’s not for everyone. I recognize that. Whether it may be stage of life or financial component, just not a desire to travel internationally. But they still want to know. They still want to experience. That as a storyteller is a good portion of my job is making that as real for them through video, through photo, through my story from being on the ground myself. I just returned from El Salvador in July. I have been thoroughly excited, pulling my pictures together, throwing up on the slideshows as if I wanted to share with my family. This is what I was able to experience. Look at what we are doing. We collectively. Not Sports Outreach headquarters, Wendy Adams, chief relationship officer. What we are collectively doing and able to make impact and who we are touching. Families that are. Children that were getting drawn into gang violence and now have an option because there was no option before. That brings people to a point of wow, that’s happening? I am a part of that? Not only do I want to remain a part of that, but I also want to deepen that and share with others. All of a sudden, I have just extended my development team.
Hugh: I am going to give you a chance to leave people with a parting thought. Before we do that, talk about the start from where you finished. What are some steps and a process to find, engage, present, secure the donation, and follow up? Can you give me some of the timeline steps in that timeline?
Wendy: Yeah. I can try to do that in a concise manner here. Making sure that you’re comfortable, I am comfortable enough with my message, that I know who we are. Who am I? Who is Sports Outreach? What are we doing? What are we accomplishing? What is our mission so I can articulate that in a way that makes sense? When I have that opportunity to share, it’s being intentional with the time and with the person who I am with. Knowing about them, sharing that. That first meeting and getting to know them, make sure there is a follow-up. You immediately thank them for that time. That was the first gift they gave: the time to sit and listen and share. Following up with a thank-you there. We can’t out-thank. There is no over-thanking. You can’t. When it comes to a point of making that invitation to give, making sure that that is something that is connected to the supporter’s perspective, or established but you want them to go deeper. That is not something out of the clear blue just because the organization needs it.
From that point, then we make sure we thank them for that gift. Again, going back to that thanking. Then taking those steps to make sure there is an intentionality of impact storytelling along the way. A blog comes through. They may not be an Internet person. That may not be the way. If they are like my mother, she will check every ten days. Print it off. Write a handwritten note, and throw it in that snail mail box so they can see this is the difference that we are making together. I can’t say thank you enough. Inviting them to share it with others. Don’t leave it out there as just well, they are going to do that. Invite them to do that. Remind them how important it is to get the word out that we celebrate this with others. At any opportunity to take them to another level and for each person, you have to have your notes because for each person, that next level is something different. Make sure we do have an intentional plan along the way of how we are going to continue to deepen our relationship.
I know those are the steps that work. Honestly, if we think about it, and you said this before, those are the basics of human interaction. We could take the fundraising portion off the table. That is how we deepen the relationships one on one personally. Making sure those are touchpoints along the way. It won’t happen without that intentionality.
Hugh: Wow, that’s a lot of really good information.
*Sponsor message from Wordsprint*
Wendy, you and I both know email has gotten pretty toxic. I took the weekend off, and after five days, I have 5,000 emails. I haven’t even started on them. If there is a crucial message in there, I am likely to miss it. That is a practical application.
Wendy, I want to give you a chance to have a final word. What closing thought or challenge or idea would you like to leave with people today?
Wendy: I definitely want to be able to say we have been called, our community of nonprofit nonprofessionals to again do this work better together. We may recognize that we represent several organizations. But we are talking to a lot of the same people who have a lot of the same passion which we discussed earlier about leaving a legacy beyond themselves, beyond just what’s happening today. I think instead of really jockeying for position, I know here locally there are organizations and associations that bring us together as professionals in this area to learn from one another, to do exactly what we have done here today in sharing and recognizing that I don’t have all the answers and neither do you, but as we come together, that community that we were talking about, we can actually make deeper and further impact in our world and our time that we are living in now and for the future that is coming. My charge is recognizing that everything we are learning now and engaging around and doing in our present circumstance isn’t just for today. How can we build one another up to make this world a much better place for the time we are here? That is what I have learned significantly over the last seven years and really tried to have as that common line throughout my day-to-day as I am interacting and engaging with my clients and reminding each other of that.
That is my parting word. Remember, work is not a four-letter word. Passion in everything that we do. Enjoy it. Enjoy it and embrace it. It’s something that we need to be intentional about reminding each other about. Today is my day. Tomorrow I might be in the depth of those 5,000 emails, and I will need that reminder. Let’s be that reminder for one another.
Hugh: Absolutely. Wendy Adams, Sports Outreach. Your wisdom far exceeds your years on this planet. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with our friends that listen to The Nonprofit Exchange.
Wendy: Thanks, Hugh.