You’d never guess by looking at Thomas Chandler Cruikshank Bond, III, that he battled drug addiction for two decades, that he was jailed half a dozen times, or that he spent four years living in abandoned houses in East Baltimore. In fact, even if you had met him during most of those dark years, you never would have guessed what was really going on under his façade.
He had a good job with an expense account, wore a suit and tie and drove a nice car. But, he says, “inside I was a wreck, miserable.”
By 2002, Tom had been homeless or jailed for the past four years. He was injecting heroine and cocaine and had wasted away to 150 pounds. “I really thought I’d end up dying in the projects of Baltimore,” he says. Then, during yet another stint in jail, Tom heard (for the third time) about the Helping Up Mission, an organization that helps men break the grip of homelessness, poverty, addiction and mental illness. This time, Tom was finally ready to seek help.
He entered the mission, and after graduating from their one-year spiritual recovery program, he was hired on staff. He continued moving around to different positions within the organization, and now he is Director of Programs and Services and oversees a team of 40 staff and eight programs serving 500 men. What a difference a year can make Tom Bond is a face and a story to a problem. He breaks the stereotype of the greasy-haired bum on the street. “The picture of homelessness and addiction that most people have isn’t accurate. The larger picture is the kid that breaks his leg and gets hooked on oxycodone and within a year or two goes to heroine. It’s a gigantic, terrible mess.”
So Tom tells his story over and over and over. In his role at Helping Up Mission, he often gives tours to donors and foundation representatives. “Invariably my story pops out during the conversation. They’ll look at me in my suit and they’ll say ‘No way man. No way were you homeless.’” So who’s your organization’s Tom Bond? Who has a story that will compel your donors to give generously? Who can speak with emotion to represent the reality of what you are trying to accomplish? The story doesn’t have to be dramatic with drugs and jail time. It just needs to make people feel something— compassion, anger, excitement, or even guilt. If you’re a university, maybe your storyteller is a graduate doing breakthrough technology research. If you’re a Food Bank, perhaps it’s the blue-collar family who swears they would have starved that one tough year if not for your assistance. If you’re an elderly care facility, maybe it’s the 89-year old woman living with dignity and comfort and playing poker with her girlfriends on Thursday afternoons. But please don’t talk generically about all the residents; talk about this one. Tell her story.
Here’s a quick mental marketing exercise to do. Envision all of your marketing materials, all your website copy, all the verbiage you use when talking to prospects, every PowerPoint presentation you’ve ever done. Imagine it all typed out on a multi-page document. Now imagine you have a bright orange highlighter in your hand. Go through all those words, highlighting only the ones that tell a story or convey real emotion. Most non-profits would see a lot of black and white staring back at them. Now, go find your Tom Bond.
Tell stories. Make people feel.