Are you funny?
Some of us have a natural gift for humor, while others may want to develop their funny side. Humor makes a challenging subject like fundraising easier to learn and embrace. A big group laugh can break a tense moment or add a burst of energy just when you need it.
If you’re looking to add some funny to your training and facilitation, here are three options.
Option 1: Find a good line
Among trainers, one of the funniest is Kim Klein. Over the years, I’ve borrowed several of her jokes.
For example, consider the fact that bequests comprise 8% of US philanthropy, compared to 5% from corporate giving. Kim’s take:
“Dead people give away more money, year after year, than all US corporations combined.” To which I always add, “Statistically speaking, you will have better luck talking to a dead person than a corporation.”
On the subject of “accidental fundraisers,” which happens to be the title of book by Kim’s partner Stephanie Roth:
“There never was a five year old who looked up and said, ‘Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a fundraiser!’”
Here’s another Kim shared with me this week:
“The comedian Kate Clinton says her parents taught her this about sex: Sex is dirty. Save it for someone you love. This is similar to what we’ve been taught about money: Money is horrible. Get a lot of it.”
If you present the same workshop multiple times, as I do, you will find places to use your favorite jokes. Like any stand-up comic, it never hurts to try them several ways – using different inflections, adding and subtracting words – to see what elicits the biggest laughs.
Option 2: Make fun of yourself
Often the best (and safest) humor is the self-deprecating kind. In an odd way, your imperfections add to your credibility. Nobody loves a self-important expert, but we can all relate to – and respect – people who screw up and learn from their mistakes.
Here’s my story about serving as the first paid staff for a grassroots group. I did a great job in most ways, except a really big one: keeping the board engaged. In the past, the board had done everything. As I started doing everything, they gradually backed away. When I left the organization, it dissolved, because I had pretty much become the organization.
This story is titled, The First Nonprofit I Ever Killed.
Here’s another example. Just last week, I led a training for 100 people in Durango, Colorado. I used a favorite icebreaker, Why Do You Care? People paired up and shared their stories. They were having so much fun, and room was so loud, I couldn’t bring them back together. I rang my bell, blew my whistle, pleaded into the microphone, and eventually they calmed down.
“I want to acknowledge,” I said, “that we are fifteen minutes into this workshop and I’ve already lost control of the group.” Once they stopped laughing, I had their attention.
Option 3: Seize the moment
At the Durango event, we were brainstorming the skills and qualities we would design into our ideal board, and listing them on a flip chart. One woman raised her hand and said, “Cojones” – Mexican Spanish slang for courage. (Actually, it means testicles.)
Everybody laughed. Sensing an opportunity, I asked, “Do I need to translate?” More laughter. Someone shouted, “Nah, we all speak Spanish.”
I turned to the flip chart and said, “I’m going with a different body part,” and wrote the word Guts. Even more laughter. I did this because:
- I wasn’t sure how to spell cojones.
- In case anyone was offended, I wanted a less offensive word.
- It’s funny, right?
This all transpired in about five seconds, and demonstrates basic principles of improvisational comedy – work with what you have, trust your instincts, and follow a good thread as far as you can. With luck, the laughs will multiply.
Here’s another example from the same training. Sitting near the front were two women from the local Humane Society. Because they were lively participants, a couple of times I used their organization as an informal example: “If you worked at the animal shelter, you might try this…”
When someone asked for advice on a fundraising problem, I envisioned a number of solutions and said, “Well, there are several ways to skin that cat” – then promptly turned to the animal shelter women and added, “Sorry, wrong metaphor.”
Find your funny
According to Kim, the key to being funny is to not take yourself or your subject matter too seriously – especially if the subject is fundraising.
The funniest trainers, like the best comedians, are willing to look foolish – to be imperfect and share that imperfection. Sometimes the funniest thing we have is our own vulnerability.
And don’t forget your noisemakers. Bells, whistles, kazoos, harmonicas – they make people smile.