3 Lessons from Humans of New York

tumblr_niplah6MDP1qggwnvo1_400I’m a big fan of Humans of New York (HONY), the photo blog by Brandon Stanton. I’m sure many of you have also been inspired by his work, but if you haven’t, go now and follow him on Facebook or Twitter!

Over the past week or so HONY has featured an ever more inspiring series of posts about a young student named Vidal and his school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy middle school in Brownsville, Brooklyn. It all started when HONY photographed Vidal and asked him a powerful question.

I’m sharing this because I believe there are at least 3 important lessons that fundraisers can take away from this example.

First, here are the questions and the answers:

“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?”

“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

“How has she influenced you?”

“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each of us that we matter.” 

With the publication of Vidal’s photo and his comments, a powerful wave of action was set in motion. HONY began raising funds for Mott Hall Bridges Academy through an Indiegogo campaign to help the school take their young scholars on a trip to Harvard, to inspire them to think big about their futures. Then when tens of thousands of people contributed enough for 10 years of Harvard trips, donations were set aside for 10 years of summer programs. And today, with donations continuing to pour in, additional funds are being used to establish a scholarship for graduates. The scholarship is named The Vidal Fund, after the student whose story originally inspired so many, and Vidal himself is in line to become its first recipient.

What made this such a powerful story? What caused people to want to give?

#1 – HONY knows the questions to ask. “Who’s influenced you the most in your life?” He’s not afraid to go deep to get emotion.

#2 – Note how HONY pushes beyond the initial response, asking for more. “How has she influenced you?” Learning to do this is another important tool to have in your arsenal when interviewing for stories that show the impact of your organization’s work.

#3 – HONY didn’t stop with the first image and story of Vidal. He knew a good story when he saw one, and he continued to dig deeper. He went to the school. He met with the principal. He interviewed and posted stories of several teachers. He sustained the story and fed his readers with additional details that continued to make them feel good.

As fundraisers, we can (and should) do the same thing! That’s how you show the impact of your work. That’s how you let your donors experience the joy of knowing they are making a difference.

So take a lesson from HONY. And if you’re feeling inspired and generous, consider making a gift for scholarships for future Vidal’s at Mott Hall Bridges Academy.

– Posted by Lisa Swayze

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