A few weeks ago, I re-blogged a column done by my fellow WordPress writter and prestigious nonprofit leader, Febe Galvez Voth. In her article, she eloquently writes about the benefits and liabilities of scripted nonprofit events.
I recently attended an annual fundraising event for a nonprofit; Ms. Voth’s words of wisdom filled my mind throughout the event. The MC of the event followed the script to the letter for the majority of the event. Then, before she transitioned to the subsequent section she “abandoned script!”
As a local news anchor, the trained speaker surprisingly used the usual verbal delays common to us all (umms, ahs, etc.). But between the rare pause, the local celebrity provided an unscripted testimony of the power of her service experience with the nonprofit’s work.
The power of her testimony became one of the lasting impressions of the event; her sincerity arguably pried many clinched pockets books open.
It takes courage to become unscripted.
Comparable to live music versus recorded, the audience that hears the live performance hears the cracks in the singer’s voice, the mistaken tap of a drummers strike, and sees the less than picturesque image of a sweaty band crew. But this is real. This experience is raw, sincere, and allows the audience to connect to the cathartic human connection that Greeks wrote about in their dramas.
Mutual trust must be shared between the audience and the speaker to go off script. The speaker has to have had a personal experience strong enough to communicate. The experience provides a natural script, which although unplanned in the cold press of a Word document, was nevertheless cemented by the unforgettable experience of public service.
The nonprofit has to trust that this experience was indeed powerful and has to trust that the speaker will do justice to their mission.
In effect, as a music fan, I ironically pay to see the mistakes, to see and hear the imperfections. That allows me to feel the music in a way that home listeners cannot; to connect to the soul and purpose of each lyric, note and tone.
Similarly, when a client of the food bank shares why they were able to feed their hungry children or when the homeless citizen remembers what it was like to be housed on a cold night…we are able to connect through an experience that is only scripted through our shared humanity.
As one final note: remember the key moments of your life. The moment you purposed to your spouse; the words of appreciation on Mother’s Day; the last words you said to your friend before she moved away…significant moments of our lives are like one big improvised song. Nonprofits meet the needs of individuals in critical moments of their lives. So, it makes sense that their testimony, just as other significant moments of our shared human experience, will be sincere, unscripted, and heartfelt.
Following the script prohibits speakers from following their heart.
Ms. Voth offers recommendations such as providing outlines for speakers to follow but to allow the speaker to fill it in. I agree with her recommendations. But my plea to all nonprofits is to encourage personal testimonies. Scripts will help with timing and plans; personal testimonies allow for a fundamental connection between beneficiaries of your mission and supporters.