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The Power of a Six Word Ask

Hand arrange wood letters as Six word

By Guest Maven Alina Gerlovin Spaulding

It is legend that Hemingway was challenged to write a novel in just 6 words… to which he responded: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

There’s a terrific story about Earnest Hemingway, which, like most stories about him, begins as a bar brawl.

Years later, Smith Magazine challenged readers to write their memoirs in 6 words.  Nearly overnight, there were so many compelling responses, that they published a book called: Not Quite What I Was Planning.

A dear friend and fellow philanthropist and fundraiser, Alison Lebovitz, ran a program by which I was completely taken.  In a room full of female leaders, she said: “everyone has a story, what’s yours?”  She challenged us to introduce ourselves, in just six words.  Although nearly every person in the room was a friend of mine, I learned more in the brevity and intention of those six-word introductions than I may have ever learned in years of friendship.  The most important aspects were distilled and communicated.

I started using this technique with other groups… I asked a group of day school heads to capture the mission of their school in 6 words: “Keep climbing, the view is awesome.”  And for a new, low-cost private school, in New York, we heard “It’s affordable, go have another kid!”  When I asked a group of teen leaders to tell me a 6-word story about how they intend to change the world, one teen said: “I don’t now where to start.”  Someone who did this project with Dr. Ruth said that her story was: “I wish for everyone, great sex!”

I know a very quick thinking, impatient rabbi who said, “I got it in 5”.  These two made me smile: “My life made my therapist laugh” and “fourth choice to prom, still overcompensating”.

Here are some other examples that might resonate:

The work we do is sacred.

We help Jews, wherever they are.

My community is a global one.

Why Federation? I can give directly.

LOVE the J! Ask me Y!

Another generation, hanging at the JCC.

Thank G-d for non-Jewish members!

There’s something magical about the ease and brevity of this task.  Now, when I start working on a development project, I ask the team or the leader to give me the mission of the project in 6 words.  They always laugh, but when they actually get it, it opens a new dimension.  What’s the story of your passion?

If you’d like to learn how to create critical messaging for different types of donors and prospects, become more comfortable (and successful) at asking, and learn how to steward your donors for the long haul, join me for my four week online Maven Class: Donor Development Strategies for Breakthrough Results starting this spring. Early-bird registration now available!

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