Ah, love. That wonderful feeling that makes our heart beat out of our chests’ with every text message, smile, and touch.
Courting a new love is a delicate thing. Be interesting, don’t say the wrong thing, don’t be boring, sit up straight, don’t pick your teeth, is your breath okay?
Screw it up and it’s hard to undo the damage.
Do your donors love you? Or are you saying all the wrong things on your “first date?” Are you boring them to the point that they’re silently thinking of ways to go home ASAP?
It's a given that people are more likely to want to continue donating to a specific nonprofit when they can relate to the message it espouses. But what's the best way to get that message across?
It's easy to fall into the trap of data when you're trying to make a case to donors, whether you're bringing in new ones or trying to keep people who have already given to your nonprofit. And that's understandable, because numbers do speak volumes. Big Data can paint a broad snapshot of what's going on in your world, but for a more vivid message, you need a more human touch.
“For example, your donors are not at your organization five days per week like a staff member is, so they don't have in-depth knowledge about your work. Because of that, many donors won't understand the significance of the numbers. But they will understand one concrete example of the work in action.”
That is especially important when potential or one-time donors want to understand how their donations were used, Chase says.
“Stories are a very natural way to show the work in action and directly connect donors to the work that they make possible.”
This is all part of a larger framework for retaining existing, loyal fans who want to help you and your nonprofit be the best it can be at what it does. After all, you're all in this together, trying to help other people out. And people want to help. You're just facilitating their help, and so it's important to show them how you're doing it – and how grateful you are.
Chase says that remembering that is all part of the stewardship of your organization: maintaining relationships with the people who donate to your nonprofit, as opposed to just hitting them up for cash around fundraising events. Nothing, she says, will replace great stewardship: no fancy email techniques, no Pinterest boards, not even a really witty Twitter, unless it's all part of that personal connection that the best (and the most successful) organizations know is a give and take.
Marc Pitman, best known as the bowtie-sporting Fundraising Coach holds seminars and retreats devoted to this topic. His advice for fledgling and established organizations is even pithier: just shut up and listen, or at least, please, stop talking about yourself.
“If we want donors to keep giving to us - and even enjoy it - we have to get out of the way,” he says. “Fundraising letters that are all about the nonprofit are like the bore at the party that drones on and on about himself and then says, 'Well, that's enough about me. Now. What do you think about me?'”
That goes back to the power of stories. When you talk about the people you're helping, rather than the money you're bringing in or how great you are, but in a way that shows you actually care and are invested, as opposed to name-dropping or humblebragging, it's better than anything else you can do.
“Donors don't give to us, they give to their values,” explains Pitman. “So show them what an impact they are making with their gift.”
If you know you're good at what you do, and you know your organization is successful, but you don't have any human stories to back-up your data, it's time to get out and start talking to people. You don't need to do full-blown journalistic training to talk to them, but learning basic interviewing techniques can be really helpful. Never underestimate the power of respect and asking a few well-placed questions – and now your once-soulless numbers have become people, entire families, lives all touched by your donors' help, and best of all – they're now success stories.
But you don't need to limit the stories you're telling about people you've helped directly, says Vanessa Chase. You can talk about the people who are working with you, as well. Once you get out from behind your computer screen, you'll find that there's more to your own work than you ever imagined.
“Talk to programs' staff and volunteers, or spend an hour volunteering with a program to get the full experience,” says Chase. “Ask lots of questions and be genuinely curious about other people's experiences.”
In other words, don't just learn about the people you're working for. Learn about who you're working with, as well. If you treat everyone you meet as fascinating and worth respect, dignity, and time (because they all are!) you'll never have any shortage of fresh, relevant, interesting tales to tell.
It may sound oversimplified, but it's a message that is too easy to lose sight of when you're beset by deadlines, addled by burnout, chronically understaffed and searching to find meaning again in the often challenging nonprofit sector. But if you make finding and telling stories a major priority, it will go a long way toward engaging and re-engaging your donor, finding new ones, and keeping you involved in your own work.
“The best part?” says Marc Pitman. “If you do this, you don't have to wait twelve months to ask again. People don't mind giving to things they love.”