My college graduation, with my husband and son.

At an event for a nonprofit I support the other night, I found myself sharing the personal story of my modest beginnings to a couple of acquaintances. I stopped, surprised at the level of information I was sharing and apologized for “vomiting my life story” all over them. (Thanks, Elizabeth and Eric for humoring me.) They protested and said it was interesting (so polite, those two!) but it got me to thinking. . .

Later in the program, up on a big screen, the donors to the nonprofit were featured. At all the nonprofit events I attend, there’s always recognition for contributors and I am always curious about the story behind why those individuals give. I want to know a) where their money came from, especially if it’s the kind of wealth one sees in Charlottesville) and b) what their personal connection is to the charity in question. Although improbable, wouldn’t it be fun to see a list of donors with, in parentheses behind each name there were answers to a and b?

So, for example, some donors names would have (Inheritance) behind it, or (Married it) or (Divorce settlement), or (Lawsuit). Perhaps (Whiskey) or (Plastics) if it’s old, family money. Even better are the ones whose names would be followed by (Earned it) and those are the stories I like the best.

The reasons people connect with charities are equally interesting to me (perhaps less amusing and gossipy than the money origins). I’m personally interested in education, health care (especially diabetes), social justice, care for the homeless and those living in poverty — all connected to struggles in my own background and the leg up I know can be so valuable for people trying to make their lives better. I devote my time, dollars and talent to nonprofits that serve the populations I want to support, and I’ll bet you do, too.

Do you share your personal story? Do you think it has value in business?



  • KenMueller says:

    It’s interesting, this past Sunday night was the annual banquet for one of my clients, Water Street Ministries, which operates a rescue mission/homeless shelter. We weren’t able to attend, but did go last year. Much of the evening, which was attended by supporters of the organization, included telling the stories of those who have been helped by the organization. Some pretty amazing stories. So in addition to the stories of those who volunteer or give, I think it’s also great to share the stories of those who’s lives have been changed by these organizations. Really helps to put a human face on things, and helps to shows others that the money we are giving is making a difference.

  • Marijean says:

    @KenMueller Thanks, Ken — that’s been the focus of many conversations I’ve had with clients this week — people don’t realize how valuable the stories of the people in their organizations can be.

  • KenMueller says:

    @Marijean And I think that can even work in the for-profit world. Hmmm. I think you just gave me a blog post idea….

  • denisestewart73 says:

    Yes, I’m all about sharing my personal story. I try not to tell it the same way twice, which isn’t to say that I change the details, but I try to think of interesting anecdotes that might help me connect with them. Recently, while preparing to speak the local Rotary group, it came back to me that I had received a small scholarship my senior year from my own local Rotary club. I’ve never talked about this, and had actually, kind-of forgotten it. For this evening, it made sense to tell it, and to say thank you. I saved it until the end of my talk and it got a big cheer from the group. I’m glad I remembered. Our own “bios” are full of millions of moments, not the same 100 words.