While working with the Development office at NYU Langone Medical Center, I loved to witness benefactor Ken Langone’s infectious, abundant joy about his deeply personal connection to the institution. He has so much passion for the care and research that happens at NYU that he spends as much time as he can talking to patients and families at the hospital, as well as to other donors during events.
I think one of my favorite stories I heard Mr. Langone tell is about his being an inpatient when Hurricane Sandy flooded the hospital and the power went out. Firsthand, Mr. Langone witnessed a tireless and undeniably committed staff evacuate every patient in the hospital through darkened hallways. Not one injury was reported during this heroic effort. It’s an incredible story, both for the hospital and for its biggest fan.
Any organization could justifiably want to emulate Ken Langone’s extraordinary ambassadorship. And while his particular story boasts suspense and excitement, any story that inspires an individual’s commitment to an organization can be told in a powerful way that can motivate people to take action.
How does an organization create enthusiastic ambassadors for its mission? By helping its key supporters craft good, personal stories that get the facts right and deliver on message.
Where you come in.
Communications professionals have a responsibility, and a great opportunity, to turn passionate supporters—whether they be board members, donors, or volunteers—into eloquent, on-message ambassadors who in turn become worth their weight in marketing gold.
You can do this in a few easy steps:
Listen first. Invite your ambassador-to-be to lunch and ask her why she cares so much about this organization. Know before your conversation how long she has been involved and whatever history you can find out so that you don’t spend too much time on details and so she appreciates that you’ve done your homework. You want to focus on her emotional connection and what keeps her engaged.
Make connections and help craft a story. People are motivated to support causes for very personal reasons. Sometimes those reasons are obvious: cancer survivors can be very passionate about supporting cancer research. Sometimes, the reasons are more hidden: a childhood experience that resonates with the mission. Help your would-be ambassador make the connection between her experiences and the mission of the organization in a way that empowers her to talk about it in her own words. Help her craft the story that she will tell by illuminating these linkages between her personal experience and the organization’s mission.
Supply the facts. Create a fact sheet for your blooming ambassador that directly enhances her evolving story with relevant information. For example, if your organization supports homeless youth, and she was raised by a struggling single mother, include statistics on her fact sheet about the number of homeless families led by single mothers that your organization serves. Further strengthen her message with figures about the even larger number who could be helped with more funding.
Coach her through the creation of her story. Edit and critique with kindness, always offering helpful suggestions but keeping her on point. Let her practice as much as she wants until she’s comfortable telling her story. Empower her to tell her story smoothly and consistently.
Give her a stage. Give your ambassador opportunities to tell her story. Invite her to speak at an event. Feature a profile of her in an organizational publication or online. Bring her along to meet a prospective donor for a conversation over tea. With each opportunity she has to tell her story—to be an ambassador—she will feel 1) more confident, 2) more engaged, and 3) more passionate. And her passion will, undeniably, inspire others.