Atlanta Nonprofit’s Best Fundraising Strategy: Tell a Good Story

January 9, 2018

For Eldredge Washington, telling a clear, consistent and compelling story is the most effective fundraising strategy for nonprofit organizations.

He speaks from experience. The 28-year-old Georgia native has spent the past decade spearheading Motivating Adults Developing Excellence (M.A.D.E.), a nonprofit that aims to help at-risk youths build leadership skills. He is also behind two technology ventures, Spendefy and Musterd.

“We all want to hear a good story,” said Washington. Without a cohesive, understandable and inspiring story of its mission, a nonprofit will struggle to capture the hearts — and wallets — of donors.

“If you want to become a better fundraiser, you have to become a better storyteller,” he said. “You need to clearly show what your organization is trying to do.”

Lending a Hand Since High School

Washington got an early start on his nonprofit career. He planted the seeds of his first venture while attending the private high school Faith Academy. He created M.A.D.E. in 2008 as a senior project after watching a friend struggle when a football scholarship didn’t come through.

Still going strong in Washington’s hometown of Athens, Georgia, M.A.D.E. instills leadership skills in at-risk youth through group and peer-to-peer mentoring. M.A.D.E. youths perform community service and take trips to inspiring locales like South Korea, Kenya and Mongolia.

“You become a leader by learning how to serve others,” he said. “In essence, people will choose me because I’ll serve them.”

Washington is taking a two-year sabbatical from his role as executive director at M.A.D.E to focus on two for-profit ventures he started to support nonprofits and black-owned businesses.

Musterd, co-founded with developer Troy Wilson in 2017, is a crowdfunding platform that lets supporters contribute to nonprofit causes by donating the change left over from purchases. The change goes to the donor’s cause of choice. Twelve nonprofits use the platform, including the United Way and organizations as small as school parent-teacher organizations, Washington said.

Washington’s other venture is Spendefy, a digital platform that serves as a promotional directory for black-owned businesses in nine cities, including Atlanta, Boston and Washington.

“Many black businesses fail almost immediately,” he said. “They get lost in the sauce, so what we do is create a space to let them shine and get the support they need.”

Successful Fundraising Strategies Inspire

Even though he’s now behind two for-profit ventures, Washington’s work still focuses on raising awareness for good causes — not to mention the funds that support those causes. He’s often asked for advice on how to successfully raise funds, and he always points to his belief in storytelling.

  • “If my mission is to end homelessness, I’m literally trying every day to put myself out of a job. To be successful, you need to be consistent with your story every single day.”
  • Constantly promote your organization’s goals, campaigns and successes through blog posts, articles, videos and photos.
  • Don’t give up on social media even if your posts or tweets routinely earn only a few “likes.” Someday, one of those likes could come from a potentially big donor.
  • To develop a story that will resonate, talk to your staff, donors and clients to learn how your nonprofit inspires them.
  • Not everyone is a donor, but most support raising money, through their work and testimonials to others.

Unite with Allies for Greater Effect

Lastly, don’t begrudge other nonprofits, especially those competing for the same donors.

“Write down your top five competitors and then tell yourself they’re not your competitors,” he said. “You should become allies with the other non-profits. By supporting one another, you’ll strengthen efforts for the larger cause and boost fundraising. Instead of being a ripple in the pond, you should collectively be a wave in the ocean.”

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