When life gives you lemons make lemonade

One of the many benefits of the #smNPchat on Twitter is the opportunity to meet fellow fundraising professionals throughout the world.  During a recent chat on annual appeal writing tips I was delighted to meet Amy Stephan, a St. Louis fundraiser with an inspiring annual appeal story of her own.  I’m delighted to feature Amy in today’s guest post.

Lemons may leave a sour taste in the mouths of many, but when life handed 13-year-old Connor Broyles lemons he made lemonade – literally. Many non-profits could learn a lot from Connor and his lemonade, and in 2008 one non-profit did.

Connor was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 7. The summer after Connor was diagnosed with diabetes, he decided he wanted to do something to help find a cure for not only him, but for others, too. He started with a simple lemonade stand in his front yard and made $80, which he donated to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Realizing the giving nature of the community they live in, Connor’s entire family decided to join the fun and Connor’s Quench for the Cure was born.

Connor’s Quench for the Cure is an annual lemonade stand held the night of the local high school graduation. Connor and his family spend months prior to the graduation asking for donations from local businesses and then hold a raffle at the lemonade stand. Connor’s Quench for the Cure managed to raise more than $15,000 in just a few years and raise awareness for a great cause.

Any non-profit could see that Connor’s family was a great fundraising asset, but Connor’s story had the potential to reach far beyond the scope of his front yard and those that passed by it. In 2008, Connor was the focus of the ADA’s annual appeal letter. In the lick of a stamp, Connor’s impact went out to thousands of households touching one heart at a time.

Annual appeals are a staple in small non-profit shops and yet they are the one piece that usually needs the most polish. A general appeal at the holidays asking people to give generously at this charitable time of the year doesn’t make an impact. People are receiving letters of similar make-up on a daily basis the last two months of the year. If you want your annual appeal to be successful, you need to engage your audience and make the cause personal.

That’s exactly what Connor did for the ADA’s annual appeal. Connor was a real child who lived in the community where the letter was mailed. He went to school with the recipients’ kids, played baseball with their neighbors and was living daily with a disease that anyone of them could have. Connor was a story about someone they knew or if they didn’t know him, they could easily run into him at the grocery store on the corner. Connor was personal.

The ADA used the annual appeal letter that year to share Connor’s struggles with dealing with diabetes. The letter detailed his courage to make the best of his situation, his desire to help the organization, and his financial success, as well as the impact he was having on other youth living with diabetes. The letter featured a photo and testimonial from Connor about why helping the ADA was important to him, as well as information about how the ADA was using the money raised by Connor – research, advocacy, camp for kids with diabetes, etc. But first and foremost, the letter stayed personal. Connor’s story was the backbone of the letter and the reason people responded.

The year Connor’s letter went out was the fourth year that the ADA had sent an annual appeal to the community where Connor lives. The appeal was sent to past event participants in the area, previous donors, business owners, well-known philanthropists in the city limits and program participants. Connor’s appeal letter doubled the number of responses seen the previous year and the donation amounts spiked. The letter even garnered a donation from a prior event participant but first time annual donor who sent in $5000 and a note saying that Connor should be hailed a hometown hero for his courage and good deeds at such a young age. For her, Connor was personal.

All non-profits are working toward a greater good. Whether it’s an organization trying to cure diabetes, feed the hungry, house the homeless or save the whales, there’s always a story out there that makes it personal. Non-profits that want a successful appeal need to find that story and share it. In a world with a million worthy causes, making it personal is the only thing that will make it stand out.

About Amy Stephan
Amy Stephan is a non-profit professional specializing in board development, capital campaigns and major gifts. She has been employed as a full-time columnist for a daily newspaper, created an entertainment publication from the ground up where she also served as the managing editor, and worked as both a full-time and freelance features journalist.

Amy is the mother of two beautiful children – one in first grade and the other in third grade. She currently raises her children in the metro St. Louis area where she is faced with the daily struggles of working as an executive in the work world better known as the concrete jungle.

Learn more at http://kindergartenmazetoconcretejungle.blogspot.com or follow her on Twitter @amy_stephan.

6 Responses to “When life gives you lemons make lemonade”

  1. Excellent piece, Amy! Love that story. Finding those stories is one of the biggest challenges for those of us who write the appeals. Something to make the issue very real and very personal. You offer such a terrific example!

  2. Betsy Baker says:

    What a beautiful story and beautifully told as well! It cannot be repeated enough that people give to people – not organizations. This example is a perfect illustration.

  3. What an inspiration! Locally, we have a young lady who, by making bracelets, made several thousand dollars for a local organization. Don’t know about you, but stories like this really give me hope for the next generation.

  4. Dori Gehling says:

    Wonderful story! People enjoy donating much more when there is a personal connection and a compelling back story. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Sandy Rees says:

    I LOVE stories where youngsters make a difference. They’re so inspirational.

    Sandy Rees

  6. […] as possible. Learn more about how to engage readers through your annual appeal letter in my post, “When life gives you lemons make lemonade” on Pamela Grow’s website Pamela’s Grantwriting […]