Three Awesome Nonprofit Storytelling Lessons from HONY to Make You a Better Fundraiser

February 2, 2015

“I have something to admit to all of you. Before all of this happened, I was about to give up. I was broken. I felt like typing my resignation.”

Those are the words of Nadia Lopez, principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school situated in one of the toughest communities of Brooklyn.

The ‘all this’ that happened?

Earlier last week, “Humans of New York” photographer Brandon Stanton shot a picture of 13-year-old Vidal Chastanet, a student at Mott Hall Bridges Academy. Brandon asked the teen who the most influential person in his life was.

“My principal, Ms. Lopez,” Vidal responded. “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.”

HONYAfter that photo went viral (over one million shares), Stanton continued to chronicle life inside the walls of Mott Hall Bridges Academy. He learned that Ms. Lopez was in the middle of raising money to send her students on a trip to Harvard. You see, she knew having dreams could be hard if you didn’t have a picture in your mind…and she wanted college (and not just ANY college) to be at a the forefront of their minds. Ms. Lopez wanted to send the message to these kids that yes, they could not only create their dreams, but they could make those dreams happen in a big way. Additionally, most of her students had never had an opportunity to leave New York. So then Stanton started an Indiegogo campaign that raised over $1 million (in less than a week) for the trip, and a scholarship fund named after Vidal.

It’s undeniably inspiring and you can read more here. As the story of Mott Hall Bridges Academy was unfolding, I couldn’t help but think about all of the inherently valuable lessons for us fundraisers.

What are your lessons?

The power of perseverance is one important takeaway and it shines through here. Ms. Lopez is a dedicated woman with an amazing vision that she has been working toward for years. She is not only the current principal of Mott Hall Bridges — she’s the founder of the school, too! Before her career at Mott Hall, she served as a special education teacher at a Fort Greene school. She was cofounder of a math and science program aimed at empowering young women. She joined the nonprofit, New Leaders for New Schools, and completed a rigorous year-long principal program, becoming an Assistant Principal shortly after. And then she embarked on founding Mott Hall Bridges in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Phew! Yes, the admirable Ms. Lopez is certainly someone who persevered for years to become an educator who has positively impacted not only her students, but the world.

Now, that’s not only perseverance — that’s some serious passion! Ms. Lopez has sincere passion for her work and that too shines through. Passion is a driving force that propelled her from working at Verizon for four years to becoming a beloved and respected educator who is creating monumental change. And that kind of passion is contagious — just look at how it’s gone viral and led to some serious crowdfunding!

And of course, we can’t forget how much this whole thing emphasizes the importance of storytelling.  Storytelling matters because storytelling is powerful. Brandon Stanton brought the story of Mott Hall Bridges Academy to life and he’s told hundreds, if not thousands, of other stories since he embarked on his HONY project in 2010. Brandon has taken on the role of chief storyteller, dispersing his narratives among the masses in an impactful, lasting way. How are you sharing your stories? Through words, through photographs, through video? Think about the stories that inspire your donors and how you can be sharing them more effectively.

Lastly, this is a lesson, too, in the power of the individual. Be an agent of change. Look at what Ms. Lopez and Brandon have accomplished as powerful, driven individuals. They live their missions every day. Never forget: what you do matters.

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