Story Jam - Marc Pitman - Nonprofit Storytelling Conference

Story Jam – Marc Pitman

Written by Sheena Greer


“What would I have to say about that over Chinese Food?”

I am so thrilled and very lucky that the first Jam in this series is with the renowned Fundraising Coach, Marc Pitman. In explaining to him just what a Jam is, he immediately got it.

“People are always asking if they can pick my brain,” says Marc. “And these conversations are helpful for me to clarify my own ideas. Sometimes I think ‘Wow, I didn’t realize I knew that much about that!’”

Marc has many powerful ideas that have been transforming the way we think about fundraising. Through his books, his blog, his courses, and his coaching, Marc has helps nonprofits passionately connect to their donors through storytelling.

It seems Marc’s approach to his work could be best summed up by something we talked about in our Jam.

In Hebrew, the intensified verb of to learn is to teach.

Marc is an incredibly wise teacher, who is still very driven to learn. I am honoured to have been able to pick his brain, and cannot wait to meet him at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference this November.

This Jam took place on Thursday, September 3rd.

In Medias Res

“I met this really cool girl in college who turned me on to the power of stories” – Marc Pitman

In medias res. Let’s begin in the middle, because let’s face it. We’re all in the middle of something.

We’re in the middle of that big campaign where we need to figure out how to raise more money. We’re in the middle of a strategic plan that has the potential the change the direction of our organisation. We’re in the middle of implementing a new program that will change lives, but we need to figure out how to rally the community around the people we serve – who are vulnerable in a variety of ways that we are compelled to help.

Your donor is in the middle too. She’s in the middle of getting their kids out the door. She’s in the middle of her work day, maybe sitting at a desk that leaves her physically and emotionally drained, but she’s there because she needs to be. She’s in the middle of a busy life that is filled with ups and downs and sideways turns. And it keeps her wondering – what is my place in this world? In the middle of things, where do I stand?

And in the middle of it all, this donor has a very real choice. Do I read this fundraising appeal, or do watch cat videos?

We’ve all been there. When we’re in the middle of things, sometimes the last thing we want to do is try to absorb the dense complexities of the world around us. We’d rather watch a dog get stuck in a shrub.

But at the end of the day, we all long to be part of something grander. We all want to feel inspired and empowered.

In the middle of things, each one of us wonders what the larger story of our lives will be.

In a world that all too often leaves us feeling like C3PO, Lando Calrissian, or on a really bad day Greedo, we’d like to be able to feel like Luke.

This is what a great story does.

For a moment in time, your donor suspends her disbelief and feels like the hero in the centre of your story.

In sales and marketing, we learn it’s not about our stuff. It’s not about the product. It’s not about cramming our pitch down people’s throats. Fundraising isn’t an exercise in saying nice things because we want an excuse to tell donors how awesome we are.

It’s about the donor’s dreams.

It’s about their very own hero’s journey.

Dear Jayleen, XYZ Hospital Foundation funded the treatment that helped me beat cancer in just fourteen days.

Dear Jayleen, you helped me beat cancer in just fourteen days…

Which story would you rather read?

Great, emotive storytelling isn’t manipulative. It is permission giving. It gives the donor permission to feel, it gives permission to step into what can all too often feel like an unlikely role.

A space farm boy saves the galaxy.

A tired mom of four cures a man’s cancer.

So as fundraisers, what is our role? If our organisation isn’t the Luke of the story, where do we fit in?

Luke saved the galaxy, and the likes of Obiwan and Yoda served as guides along the way.

Obiwan encouraged and challenged Luke to initiate his journey. Obiwan was bold, and his guidance aided Luke in becoming even bolder. Yoda continues this challenge.

We don’t actually find out much about Obiwan or Yoda when Luke’s story is told. The hints we receive only add to Luke’s own journey, which begins in medias res a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

Storytelling isn’t a fluke. It works. It’s worked for thousands of years, though at some point during the Enlightenment we went off track. Logical arguments are noble, but they do little to give our hearts the permission to care.

So let us begin. In the middle. Right where our donors are, right where they need to be to begin their own journeys as heroes of a much larger tale.

PS – That cool girl in college? She’s Marc’s wife, Emily. Through her love of children’s books, she transformed the way Marc thought of the power of story.

More about our character, Marc

What is your motto statement? 

  • Life’s short, live passionately. 

What is your most marked characteristic?

  • Either my over the top congenital optimism or my bow tie. 

Which living person do you most admire?

  • Michael Hyatt

What is your favorite journey?

  • Bringing coffee up to my wife at six in the morning

What is your greatest inspiration when writing?

  • I get a kick out of trying to connect with people 

Who is your favourite author?

  • At the moment, Lindsey Davis

Who are your favourite heroes/heroines in fiction?

  • Gandalf.

Who are your favourite heroes/heroines in real life?

  • Jesus. He’s motivated me to be the best I can be. I love his ability to be real, to be upfront, in your face. He’s sarcastic, he knew how to cry, and knew when to pour his time into people. 

What are you looking forward to most at the NPStorytelling Conference?

  • The first time around was a bit of proof of concept. Over the past year we’ve seen the results. This is both like an “oil change” and a way to take it to the next level. 

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