The difference between taking action and sleeping on it —

In addition to assisting nonprofit organizations with their custom recognition projects, I volunteer as an Ambassador for the Phi Kappa Psi Foundation. I meet with fellow alumni from chapters all over the country to discuss the great initiatives taking place—ranging from leadership development to men’s health and wellness programming. It’s a rewarding role to fill because the experiences I have had as an undergraduate member and as an involved alumnus continue to profoundly impact my life.

One such experience as an undergraduate was the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. as part of an Inter-Greek organization lobbying initiative. The issue at hand involved charitable gifts to fraternities and sororities. While scholarship-related gifts are tax-deductible, capital gifts aren’t (improving the fire safety of on-campus Greek housing, for instance). Legislation was proposed to change this in order to encourage more capital gifts that could improve housing safety.

johnnycochranI met with a now-retired U.S. senator to discuss the proposed legislation. I, along with most of the lobbying group members, told a version of the same story: “My participation in this Greek organization has made a positive impact on my development. I’ve worked hard through part and full-time jobs to pay for both school and to participate in Greek life. I’m asking for your help so that we can ensure our campus housing is safe.” I’ll never forget the Senator’s response. He said that he agreed with us that campus housing should be safe, but he could not support the legislation because his constituents would see it as another “tax break for the rich” due to the stereotypes of Greek organizations.

It was very clear that the stereotypes associated with fraternities, ranging from privileged rich kids to Animal House, weighed heavily on his thinking. Our stories didn’t challenge these assumptions. In retrospect, I realize that working part-time during the school year and full-time over the summer to pay for school isn’t exactly an attention-grabbing story. Where is the conflict? If only I had been equipped with this video for that meeting.

The conflict in the story hits you when the subject, John Kellogg, who is presented as a “typical” fraternity brother, talks about his family’s homelessness during his time in high school. He goes on to describe how his experience in Phi Kappa Psi helped him overcome these obstacles.

“There were times when I thought that I was going to be homeless for my entire life,” he says. “The brotherhood… pushed me through college and helped keep me in.”

The conflict of this student confronting and overcoming tremendous obstacles is a compelling factor that could be the difference between a donor giving now or saying: “Let me think about it.” It also challenges the stereotypes of fraternity members. After watching the video, I question whether the story presented in the video would have convinced the Senator to support the legislation. What I do know is that your organization has a story to tell your audience. Utilizing the powerful storytelling tool of conflict could be the difference between your donor giving now or sleeping on it.

At 1157 designconcepts, we design and manufacture custom recognition displays that Celebrate Philanthropy, Honor Achievement, and Tell a Story. Let’s have a conversation about how to best tell your story through the design and functionality of your upcoming project.

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