Telling Your Story: Numbers vs. Words

Upon hearing the case for your organization some people will get excited by the words you use, and others will respond to your numbers. The story you tell with words can bring the reader into the lives of those you educate, serve, or advocate for. Your story can bring the work of your nonprofit to life for those who could provide financial support or in-kind resources. But the serious donor or investor will also want to know your numbers. Some will focus on your numbers first. These are not unfeeling people: this is how they process information. In fact, some are so deeply feeling that they know they must look at numbers – in addition to the story – so that they make best use of the money they have to invest. 

Below are examples of numbers to consider sharing when talking about your organization. But first we share an example of how bigger is not always better. We bring this up because sometimes nonprofits don’t want to share their numbers believing their numbers are not big enough, strong enough, or don’t demonstrate enough impact. We believe that the truth and validity of your numbers is what’s most important. There are reasons why some organizations outperform others, and that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something “wrong” with your organization. 

Consider this opinion piece from The Chronicle of Philanthropy entitled Donating to Ivy League Schools Is Ineffective and Unnecessary, and It Reinforces Inequality. “The total endowment value of Ivy League colleges was more than $190 billion dollars during the past fiscal year. Investment returns on these endowments ranged from 34 percent to nearly 50 percent, the result of a strong stock market and investment strategies focused on private equity and venture capital… Despite this growing financial cushion, pledges and contributions to Ivy League schools last year were approximately $2 billion. These donations make about as much sense as writing checks to Amazon to help fund its operations.” The author, Andrew Babbitt, refers to this giving as “the sin of suboptimal capital allocation.” In layman’s terms that means their giving doesn’t make sense.

The following are examples of the types of numbers you can share when talking about your organization or institution: 

  1. Your budget (income with sources and expenses by category)
  2. Economic impact
  3. Number of people served, advocated for, or impacted by your work
  4. Amount raised annually
  5. Earned income/revenue
  6. Size of average gift
  7. Number of gifts and donors
  8. Number of programs
  9. Amount of funding needed to sustain and grow for each of the next three years
  10. Number of staff
  11. Demographics.

What’s most important is that your numbers are real. Share them with people across the organization to test their validity and to ensure everyone understands your numbers and what they mean. Don’t worry if you wish the numbers were different – share your honest numbers and then suggest a solution for how these can change. Having large numbers is not always great. Sometimes the smaller numbers are more powerful. Most important: tell the truth. 


This week on FUNdraising Good Times....

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.