How Your Org Can Fiddle Its Way to Strong Relationships

The late Senator Robert Byrd entered politics on a song. And your organization can do the same via savvy nonprofit marketing.

He took up the fiddle when he was growing up in West Virginia coal country. and put it to work years later to build support in his first run for office – a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Byrd fiddled his way into hostile meetings and bars in communities where he wasn’t known. And only after he had charmed his audience with his tunes, did he introduce himself, first as a fiddler and then as a candidate.

He knew that one-to-one engagement, especially when built on wonder and pleasure, was the strongest tie there was. So he made that personal, gut-level connection before anything else.

When you meet or greet your base as an individual, especially in a way that shows your humanity, special interest or quirk, connection. Your team should do the same from time to time, just like Patricia Wilson, executive director of the Greater Bay Area Make-a-Wish Foundation who launched a diet-based fund-raising campaign to help close the gap on her org’s $200,000 deficit.  It’s nonprofit marketing at its finest – read more case studies here.

Here is Byrd’s strategy. Put it to work for your organization!

“That fiddle has opened many doors for me. I’ve gone into hostile groups that back in those coal-mining towns might have been a group made up of United Mining Workers, or it might have been the opposition in those days. …A Republican lawyer had told me, ‘Bob, you take that fiddle and make that your briefcase.’

“You play a tune or two, put the fiddle down and quote a piece of poetry and tell them what you stand for and sit down. And that’s what I did. And I led the ticket. That fiddle got me places where I couldn’t have gotten in at all.”

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Nancy Schwartz on July 1, 2010 in Relationship Building, Strategy | 3 comments
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  • Dave

    “And only after he had charmed his audience with his tunes, did he introduce himself, first as a fiddler and then as a candidate.”


    The direct connection to building relationships between non-profits and their supporters is “first inform, then ask.” The regular purpose of a non-profit’s communication should be to inform supporters of events, activities, successes, challenges and plans. Then, when it’s time for the ask, an affirmative response is more likely. If supporters are contacted only when they are asked for money, they may not be so inclined.

    First a fiddler and then a candidate.

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for saying it so succinctly! “First inform (or engage, then ask.”

    Any good models of that to share, nonprofit communications wise?


  • Dave

    My perspectives come from my experience in sales and marketing. The best way to sell is to teach/inform/engage. If you are educating your customer the right way, the sale (or the Ask) becomes automatic. Unfortunately, I have not seen many non-profits practice this religiously. That’s why I began Click. Buy. Help. One of the most attention-getting concepts I am promoting, is to NOT ask for a donation. Instead, I’m suggesting to the organizations with whom I’m talking to simply educate their supporters about this new way to provide support – and not “dig deeper.”

    I have just recently found your blog and enjoy your perspectives. I hope to drop by frequently.

    Best regards.

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