Remember MacGyver? He could blast his way out of an underground tunnel using his watch, a stick of gum, and a shoelace. He didn't suffer from what Gestalt psychologists call functional fixedness -- a cognitive bias that makes people see objects only for their intended use.

But too many nonprofits do. They're trained to wear organizational blinders. If it's all about the organization, then it's not about the donors. That matters a lot when it comes to getting good stories for fundraising. Stories engage and motivate donors. They show what their gifts do. Donors remember stories far more than they'll ever remember how heartily an organization has patted itself on the back.

But getting good stories is hard. It takes time, too. That's why too many organizations wait for stories to fall into their laps, rather than actively seeking them out.

So what's a time-sapped, budget-strapped charity to do? Here are six steps to mining for story gold:

  1. Always listen. Let those on the front lines of your charity's work tell you what they see and do every day. Take in all the ways, big and small, that your nonprofit (or your nonprofit client) makes an impact on someone's life. Remember those. They're the storylines you want to share with donors.
  2. Channel your inner story scout. Be on the lookout for donor-focused stories at all times. Keep your antennae raised, because you never know when some little tidbit you hear might lead to gold.
  3. Get in there! Go stand in a food pantry line. Visit a homeless veteran. Find out what your charity or your client's charity does firsthand. You'll be able to share those details a lot better when you've experienced it in the field, and not from behind your desk.
  4. Use this as your mantra: Everyone has a story. Some stories may not pan out, but there's a good chance that you'll be able to mine a few shiny nuggets that tug at donors' heartstrings.
  5. Focus on the outcome. Put away the process, and start focusing on how someone's life was changed. That's the message donors care about.
  6. Make the donor the hero. In every story, every time.

Do these, and you'll not only capture good stories — you'll capture donors' hearts. And that's the real pot of gold you're looking for.

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