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Fundraising for behavioral health: The power of stories

October 8, 2012
by Terry Axelrod
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Good stories, powerfully and appropriately told, stir interested people to help the cause of behavioral health.

You’ve heard it all before: We can’t raise money for behavioral health. Our work is confidential. Our clients don’t pull at the heartstrings like cute kids or puppies. Our needs are endless. People assume we are fully funded by the government. 

Are you going to let that stop you? 

Last week at one of our sustainable funding trainings we had a team of board members, staff and volunteers from The Balanced Mind Foundation—a nonprofit that educates people online about childhood mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.  They don’t have a local constituency. They don’t have a “center.” For the most part, their users remain confidential—even to them.   

Yet they had sought out fundraising training to learn to engage and educate people about their work and, ultimately, to utilize that awareness and engagement to help in the process of raising funds.

In a hotel ballroom with ten other teams from nonprofits of all types—arts, housing, public policy, child abuse, literacy—they were reminded of the power of their mission and the power of stories to engage the general public.  

Everyone on their team had had a personal experience with bipolar disorder. There was no shortage of stories. Yet they hadn’t realized how their stories would resonate with everyone else in the room. 

I watched the reaction of the 100-plus people in the room as one volunteer from this group told her story: the angst of finally getting a diagnosis for her nine-year-old daughter, the support she had received through the online community, the tips about keeping a parent’s journal of observations about your child, what each doctor has told you, and how to advocate for your child. The firsthand positive message she now is able to bring to other parents: treatment is available and there is life after a diagnosis. 

Without shedding a tear or begging for money, this highly credible volunteer, professional woman, and mother had captivated everyone in the room with her story.  People were moved, impressed and they could clearly see the value of the online services being offered. Everyone could relate to some part of her story.

Behavioral health is no longer taboo. Everyone’s got a story: a child, a friend, a co-worker, a family member, perhaps their own story. Telling those stories powerfully and appropriately, while respecting confidentiality, is the easiest and most effective way to dispel the myth that fundraising for behavioral healthcare just isn’t possible.  

Are you constantly on the lookout for great stories about your organization’s work? Better yet, what’s your story?



Generally, I think most people are uncomfortable about asking for money. When I teach my Master's level students about fundraising they often comment... "this is not for me!"

I agree with Terry that if we can teach more people to just "tell their story"... then many donors will open up to our Behavioral Health Organizations.

We have accomplished alot in our last 5 years in this area; but, we have a long way to go.

Terry Axelrod

CEO, Benevon

Terry Axelrod


Terry Axelrod is founder and CEO of Benevon. She has more than thirty years of experience in the...

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