As any writer can tell you, an ounce of experience is worth a pound of deliberation. When you write stories about lives being changed for nonprofit organizations as often as I do, it’s easy to lose perspective on what it means to help someone in need. I’m so often crafting my messaging with a technician’s eye — and when working in that mindset, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. But then something comes along and snaps everything back into focus.
Earlier this spring, a series of tornadoes ripped through Kansas and Missouri. Fortunately, there were few reported injuries, and no deaths. But the storms left an enormous amount of damage in their wake. The Salvation Army was ready to help immediately, not only arriving on the scene wherever relief was needed, but also setting up dedicated donation pools for anyone who wanted to contribute monetarily. And when our client partners and local news affiliate KCTV5 put out a call for help with their fundraising telethon, I jumped at the opportunity.
While I’m no stranger to volunteerism — especially with The Salvation Army — I had never participated in a telethon before. When I thought of telethons, Jerry Lewis or public broadcasting tote bags came to mind. Needless to say, I was a little inexperienced, and ever-so-slightly nervous. And I certainly felt out of my element when I arrived at the KCTV5 studios, what with all the ringing telephones, hulking TV cameras and beaming on-air personalities milling about.
But my apprehension was quickly assuaged by everyone involved, who were exceptionally professional and — if I may use such a phrase — totally awesome. I got set up at my phone/computer station and briefed on what to do and how to do it. Then I was let loose, so to speak.
For anyone who’s curious about participating in a telethon to benefit those in need, allow me to give you a couple bits of advice. First, you’re better on the phone than you think. Truly. I know that in the age of texting, Facebook messages and Slack groups, talking on the phone can feel like such an involved act and one that many of us have shed any inclinations toward. I know, because I felt that way, too. But after a few hours of answering constantly ringing phones, all awkwardness melts away and you suddenly feel like a normal person having normal conversations with other people. Honest. Second, get your pen ready, because when people are fired up and ready to get their donations on, the information comes fast. They’ll already be on to their zip code before you can ensure you’re spelling their first name correctly.
I took a number of calls that I won’t soon forget. Like the woman who wanted to place a donation, despite the fact that she only had $20 in her bank account until the end of the month or the man who’d lost his own home to a tornado a decade earlier. While each conversation was unique, they all shared a common theme: a true sense of compassion, and a mutual understanding that they would hope someone would help them if they were in the same circumstances. To hear that sentiment expressed in so many different ways was truly uplifting.
I’m amazed by the effect volunteering has had on my writing. Witnessing firsthand the generosity of so many people eager to help their community was simply incredible. When I look back on that evening, I’m reminded that there’s a reason I write for nonprofits: as long as there are people in need of relief, there will be those there to help provide it. If I’m able to offer a platform for the latter group to express their compassion, I’m happy.
The end of my shift coincided with the end of the telethon, so I was fortunate enough to be present when they announced the total amount raised — nearly $48,000. It was – to use that phrase again – totally awesome being a part of such a spectacular event.
Justin Wheatley is a copywriter at Summit Marketing. In addition to writing copy for nonprofit organizations, he enjoys listening to Talking Heads, developing his Broadway show, Beetlejuice: The Musical, and fretting over the Oxford Comma. Justin is a loving husband to his wife, Elizabeth, and a dutiful father to their dog and three cats.