What Nonprofit Fundraisers Can Learn From A Barge Called Mobro

In the 1980's we tossed our trash out very unmindful of where it would end up. Landfills, designed to isolate municipal wastes from society, supported an incredible lack of awareness. Policymakers and the media had sounded alarms for years, citing the ever-increasing numbers. No one listened. No one heard.

But, everything changed with a story. Everything changed with the story of a barge called Mobro.

Because of Mobro, the American nation, New York City in particular, and the whole world was suddenly focusing on what we do with our trash.

Mobro is the story, in the Spring of 1987, of a barge loaded down with 30,000 tons of trash from New York City that North Carolina refused to accept. That rejection grew to over a dozen other places. It was "chased away by the warplanes of two nations." It was called into service by Johnny Carson, who suggested the Mobro be re-routed to Iran. Dan Rather called it "the most-watched load of garbage in the memory of man."

The story of Mobro helped make recycling a household word. Today, Mobro is called the "barge that helped fuel a movement." You can't miss this: A STORY SPARKED A MOVEMENT. This story about a meandering New York City garbage barge shocked our world into action and fueled a movement (See the PBS story here).

Selah. Pause and think about how nonprofits might learn from the story of Mobro.

In Storytelling as Best Practice, Andy Goodman says that "Twenty years ago, I started seeing a disturbing trend among organizations that were dedicated to making the world a better place. Nonprofits and foundations, government agencies, and educational institutions - it didn't matter how large or small they were or what issues they were focused on, they were uniformly bad at telling their own stories."


We are in a world awash with numbers. Every day we work to master the stats in our organization and sector. In our conversations, we use these stats to try to influence our subordinates, peers, superiors, and customers. Our appeals to donors, rather than motivating significant donations, our numbers merely generate tips.

Andy Goodman's observation hurts: "…they (nonprofits and foundations) were uniformly bad at telling their own stories."

Raising more money means telling more and better stories. The better you become at turning your statistics into stories, the more the world will listen.

Marketing and copywriting guru Geoff Kullman puts his story on the first page of his website. AND, IT IS SO ATTRACTIVE. You can't help but know, like and trust him!

Think about your next appeal. Will it be filled with numbers and statistics or will it tell a story?

What about your next presentation, will it tell the stories of the life-change your organization brings?

What about your website's landing page? Does it bring your potential donors into the power of a story?

What about your next staff meeting? How will the power of story be maximized? Have you thought ahead of time what story of life change you will tell?

How are you maximizing the power of story?

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