Glancing down, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing in my colleague’s cubicle. A desk drawer overflowing with bright yellow feathers?! The slightest puff of air would have sent them floating across the office…

I saw a lot when I worked at Sesame Workshop, but this really made me believe anything was possible!  

Carol Leister, Managing Partner & COO

You know I just had to ask, and the backstory was: during filming Sesame Street, Big Bird’s feathers would fall off and need to be replaced. These feathers (special Big Bird feathers!) come in many sizes but only select ones can be used to replace old ones.  

But could the extra feathers be used for other things?  

As a direct marketing specialist, I knew that something as magical as a feather from Big Birdthat could fit in an envelopewas potential fundraising gold.  

What I didn’t know was how successful and incredibly cherished the Sesame Workshop Honor with Feathers program would be. Including Big Bird feathers with an honor or memorial gift made the tribute uniquely special.

The message went to the heart of what Sesame Workshop is trying to accomplish.

“As Big Bird learns, grows, and discovers new things with his friends, he leaves a little trail of feathers here and there…This feather is for you, to remind you that little thingsa kind word, a hug, or a smilecan make a big difference.”

Not every office is going to have a desk drawer full of feathers, but stories can be anywhere…a dog is given a new life with a forever family, the lengths that a news team goes to cover a difficult assignment, a parcel of land with precious trees that needs to be preserved.

As fundraisers, our job is to find compelling stories that clearly illustrate “why” a donor should financially support the causes that we work hard to sustain.

In a perfect world, these stories would come to us, but we all know that most of the time that’s not the case.

Before COVID-19, we could find stories walking around and talking with people, in the office, where an organization does its work, at eventsfrom colleagues, volunteers, programs or field staff, and even donors.

For now, in-person opportunities are still limited. But that is only one way to define your horizon. This presents an opportunity to be a little more creative to find those unique moments and stories.   

Meet at the Zoom “Water Cooler.” Schedule conversations or coffee breaks with colleagues. Fifteen to thirty minutes with no agenda so you both can take a break.  The time doesn’t need to be focused on work, but, during it, you may hear the stories that you used to hear in person. 

Stay social. Attend a virtual programs update or webinar or take the first step and correspond with someone impacted by your organization’s mission. Don’t forget to follow social feeds and sign up for Google alerts to stay up-to-date with anything and everything. 

Wander off the agenda…and wonder out loud. With people spending more time at home or on Zoom, a quick conversation about how they are doing, what they are working on now, or what surprised them this week may be a welcome break.  

Be the fly on the virtual wall. You may be welcomed into zoom meetings you never otherwise could or would attend. One more zoom participant is minimally disruptive and demonstrates genuine interest and may also boost the morale of a team that has been working hard, unseen. Follow-up later on stories that would be compelling to donors, to ask questions and flesh out the message.  

Send an unexpected invitation. This may be the time when you can speak with people you were never able to before. Reaching out to these people may provide new opportunities and connections. 

A question as simple as “what’s new with you?”  at the beginning of a conversation or meeting may help you find your drawer of yellow feathers.