The nonprofit fundraising world is filled with storytelling advice, and for good reason. Telling your nonprofit’s story in a powerful way is a far more effective means of cultivating and finding new donors.
But often times, we stop the story telling at the beneficiaries of our organization. Many fundraisers feel that once they’ve told the story of their nonprofit’s mission, there’s no other story to tell.
However, this overlooks what can be one of your most powerful sources of story telling magic (and one that can help you find new donors as well): your donors’ stories.
Donors give for lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s a sense of duty, other times empathy, even guilt can play a role (I’m talking to you, NPR freeloaders). But sometimes you also need some peer-pressure.
Private businesses know this well; customer testimonials are a go-to resource for selling any product. We as humans want to hear the experiences of others who have spent their money on a product or service. Websites like Yelp have made entire businesses out of the power of testimonials and peer reviews.
While buying items and making a donation are certainly motivated by very different factors, there’s still a transactional element to them. Before we give away our money, we want to know that it will be well spent.
Essentially, we want to know “what’s in it for us?”
While that might sound crass, donor-centric appeals are utilized throughout the nonprofit world.
So why not make your donors the star of the show by telling their giving story?
How to Get Your Donors to Tell Their Tale
Just like your beneficiaries’ stories, your donors’ stories can take a variety of forms, but to really make them work you essentially need to interview them. Journalists spend years honing this craft, but there are some basic guidelines to follow:
Ask open-ended questions – Just like a first date or networking event, asking closed yes/no questions will result in just that: a “yes” or a “no.” Not exactly compelling stuff for interviews. Ask questions like “How did you learn about our organization?” “What was the first appeal you gave to?” “Why is solving this problem so important to you?” “What will solving this problem do for the world in 50 years?”
Don’t just focus on the giving – Ask about what lead up to that point. Each of your donor’s has a personal story to tell about how they become connected with you. Maybe it’s a friend or family member affected by a disease, a personal experience from their past, or a powerful movie they saw that moved them to do something. If you just focus on the giving, all you’re really doing to talking about a transaction point.
Narrow in on the change they saw in themselves as a result of giving – Marketer’s selling a product don’t focus their testimonials on the moment of transaction. Can you imagine?
“Buying my iPhone at the Apple store was wonderful! First they took my credit card…”
Instead, they want to communicate what the product or service helped you become. Apple customers are trendy and hip. Whole Foods Customers are healthy. Harley Davidson riders are rebels.
Ask questions in your interview that get at this point. How has their support of your organization shaped their daily lives?
Taking It From Interview to Story
Interviews are boring. Unless they’re transformed into stories. Simply throwing some quotes up in an email is not taking full advantage of the resource your donor has gifted you with. So make it impactful.
I get it, easier said than done, right? Absolutely. But there are some tried and true storytelling structures that you can use to guide you.
One of my favorites is The Pixar Pitch.
The Pixar Pitch, revealed by Emma Coats and spoken extensively about by author Dan Pink, is the structure of every Pixar movie ever made (and those guys know a thing or two about telling compelling stories). It goes something like this:
“Once upon a time ____________. Ever day, __________________. One day ______________________. Because of that __________________. Because of that ____________________.
Until finally ________________________.”
Go ahead, think of every Pixar movie you’ve ever seen and plug it into that structure. It just works!
This is a great storytelling structure because it’s simple and easy to follow. You don’t need (and probably shouldn’t) to use the exact wording, but just following the structure makes it so compelling.
Check it out:
“Mary is a recent college graduate who just got her dream job in New York City. Every day, she sees people asking for money for food to eat. One day, she decides to make a difference and volunteers at her local food bank (and makes a $50 donation while she’s there). Because of that, she sees the people in her neighborhood in a whole new light. Because of that, she finds herself happier and prouder of her neighborhood than she’s ever felt before. Until finally, she convinces her friends to join her next time she volunteers.”
Compelling, easy to follow, and effective. Mix in quotes from Mary, and you’ve got a great donor story!
How to Tell The Story
The next thing you need to decide is how you’re going to communicate your donor stories. If your nonprofit is fortunate enough to have a communications department, this is really their time to shine.
Your donor stories need to be as compelling and well-told as all your other communications materials. Writing them in a clear, concise way, using their quotes, and making it interesting and engaging to read. Remember to utilize headings, as internet readers typically only scan articles. And of course, don’t forget some visuals. Take a picture of your donor, maybe even of them volunteering on a project.
Another option is to shoot a video interview. While these can become high production (and cost) ventures, that’s not a requirement. What you’re looking for is authenticity in your content, not the production value. Purchase a tripod, a mount for your iPhone, and a simple lapel microphone that will plug into your phone, and you’re all set! You can edit the video on your computer with the software that comes preloaded, like iMovie, or the many simple video-editing apps that are available for cheap or free. Some examples:
Mix in some footage of your donor volunteering, meeting beneficiaries, working at their job (that’s called b-reel in the biz) to keep it engaging during all that talking. Next, you can share it on YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook (maybe even using it in a targeted ad) then take shorter clips from there to share on Instagram, Vine, or Twitter.
Story Snippets for Social Media
Taking snippets of your story and adding a visual element is a great way to share them across social media. Pull out the most powerful quotes from each story and place them over an image of your donor using a free design tool like Canva.com. Remember, images always perform better than just text updates on social media, so grab some attention with some snappy pics!
If your donor has a social media account on the platform you’re using, be sure to tag them in it to encourage them to share it amongst their own network. This will open you up to a whole new network of potential supporters who will now have some very powerful social proof: a story from one of their friends.
WeDidIt clients can even scan their whole database using Insights to find who among their donors are big social influencers. By targeting these supporters for donor stories, you can utilize their far-reaching influence to have an even bigger impact.
Where To Tell Your Donor Stories
If you’re not already segmenting your communications, there’s no time like the present to start. A simple way you can segment your donors is by age or previous gift amount. This will help guide which stories you share with which donors, and where you share them.
Donors who have given $25 in the past probably wouldn’t want to hear the story of a donor who gave $50,000. It’s not that it wouldn’t be compelling, but it’s not relatable (nor will it likely have the effect you desire). Similarly, if you’re courting a major gift donor, you probably don’t want to share the story of a $25 donor. Share the story of another major donor that they can relate to and see the impact it had on them.
Use this same segmentation discrimination in where you share your stories too. Donors under 25? Snapchat would be a great place to share mini-donor stories from other young donors! Donors over 50? You might be better off putting those together in a PDF download and sharing it personally via email. The more personalized and tailored you use your donor stories in your communications, the better.
Who To Ask
Just as you want to collect stories from a variety of types of donors in relation to age or gift amount, it can be helpful to also collect stories from donors of differing gift frequency.
Telling the story of a committed supporter who has given for years and volunteers at every opportunity is great! What better way to encourage infrequent donors to upgrade their giving?
But telling the tale of a first-time donor can be equally impactful. Again, we want to target specific types of potential supporters using these stories, so a testimonial from a first time donor can be a great way to garner support from new donors who have been on the fence about financially supporting your organization.
The thing to remember here is that a first-time donor isn’t as committed to helping your cause as your annual givers might be, so a quick phone interview might be the best way to tackle this, to limit their time commitment. However, this can be a great way to bring a one-time donor back into the fold and increase their engagement and investment with your cause by sharing their story.
Keep in mind that everyone you ask will want to tell their story, respond to your requests, or even if they do say yes initially, they might become busy later on and never follow through. That’s why it’s important to have multiple options available in case your first choices fall through.
Consider making a spreadsheet listing possible options to help keep you organized in this process. Besides factors like age, gift size, or frequency, utilize data about their online engagement to guide your outreach. Who always opens your emails? Who visits your site regularly? Who follows you on social media and consistently engages with your content?
These are the people who will be able to tell their stories, even if their financial commitment is small.
Your Donors Are Your Heros
In the end, it’s all about making your donors the stars of the show and showing them some serious #DonorLove. This nor only helps you find new donors, but it also shows your existing donor base how much you care about them and value their commitment. And that makes for a very happy donor and organization relationship.