Lori L. Jacobwith: Engaging Hearts and Minds Through Stories

May. 15, 2014

ArtsLab Curriculum Team Member Lori L. Jacobwith works with nonprofits across North America to develop and share their stories. As a speaker, trainer, and coach, she has helped organizations leverage their stories to raise more than $250 million. Lori was first inspired by the power of art and artists at the age of seven after performing in her elementary school play. She cherished that opportunity and views her work now–presenting training seminars and webinars for fundraisers and nonprofit staff–as a performance just the same. She values the process of planning, scripting, rehearsing, and thinking through the audience’s experience.

In her work with participants in the ArtsLab Peer Learning Community and with other arts and culture organizations, Lori has observed that they frequently struggle to make the leap from, “What we do is a good idea,” to “What we do is integral to and adds value to our community.” As a result, it is hard for them to feel confident when asking for money.  Also, despite spending a large percentage of resources on things like acoustics, performance spaces, lighting, or costumes, smaller arts organizations often struggle to invest in the back-of-house tools like financial tracking, donor databases, and board policies that are crucial to improving day-to-day operations.

Compounding that reality is new and discouraging data on donor retentionAccording to a recent report from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, donor retention is at a 7 year low—39 percent. As a result, Lori said, People are recognizing that they are churning through donors left and right and are finally asking the question, ‘What can I be doing differently?’”

Lori believes this dip in retention rates has pushed sharing stories of impact to the forefront of donor communication practices. Stories have always been an emotionally engaging tool, but new science around how the brain works is proving that there are chemical and physical reasons that making people feel something is incredibly valuable. To those ends, Lori coaches nonprofits to recognize that people give to their organizations when they connect with their stories on an emotional and intellectual level. To be effective fundraisers, nonprofit leaders must recognize and regularly communicate the attributes that inspired that initial gift, as well as the characteristics of the organization that will continue to engage and motivate the donor—keeping them connected as patrons and supporters.