Storytelling Lessons for the New Year: Part Two

Jan 11, 2017

Last week we discussed how a change in your approach to storytelling can improve the quality and efficacy of communications with your constituency. While the items in Part One focus on a shift in behavior and thinking, this concluding post will outline tactical ways to put things into action. Stories are integral to the strength of a fundraising organization’s marketing, so let’s talk about how to begin walking things out:

1. Focus on capturing meaningful measurements

Stories on their own may not connect with an individual’s own logic. Measurements, while demonstrative of impact, are easy to breeze over as they lack the things that resonate emotionally with who you’re communicating with. Stories need proof, and measurements need context. While everything can be measured, particularly in terms of programmatic outcomes, focus on capturing and sharing measurements that relate closely to your core message and essentially prove you’re fulfilling your mission (that statement of intent we talked about last week).

The goal is to illustrate the “intangible” with something that people both inside and outside your organization can easily comprehend and feel while aligning that measurement with an emotional story.

2. Provide opportunities for people to share

The stories of transformation that help prospects and lapsed donors reconnect with why your work is important lie within your beneficiaries. Be sure to provide opportunities throughout the year for the people you’re helping to share their experience. Real life experiences are more personal and have the power to act as living proof that you’re accomplishing what you’ve set out to do.

Put tools in place that will allow those benefiting from and carrying out your work to share. Utilize surveys and polls, social media, and even public forums to gather testimonials that can be used in grants, on our website, and as part of larger stories of progress.

3. Follow the journey

An often occurrence for organizations is to become disconnected with their programs, particularly those that are the well-oiled machines that essentially run themselves. Make a point to document what’s happening as programs are in progress as opposed to attempting to recap things once a project has ended. Remaining close to your work and gathering stories as they happen allows you to find these stories of transformation that show the public how you’re making a difference. Build documentation into your program plans. If capacity is an issue, then write a plan for documentation into grants so that you have the resources necessary to do the footwork. These kinds of stories aren’t just useful for you, but for funders who want a closer look at how their support is making an impact.

4. Remember the power of one

Humans connect with humans, which is why storytelling is such a big part of how we relate to each other. And, the best stories are people stories. Oftentimes, however, organizations riddle their communications with big numbers; the hundreds and thousands impacted by a donor’s support. While these outcomes are important, they’re more appropriate in an annual report. In one-to-one communications, shift your focus to the power of one. One story from one person’s perspective.

But why does this matter? It’s hard for a person to think in terms of everyone benefiting from the work. In addition to being impersonal, a story about thousands is faceless. Another reality that organization’s must face is that the experience of the people being served is different from the day to day of a donor. However, if a story is being shared about a single person or family it’s likely that a donor—while farther removed—can relate in some way. The objective is to foster a sense of empathy and in turn, make a deep emotional connection.

5. Integrate these stories across all public-facing collateral

The final part is the most fun: sharing your story! Incorporate this new language everywhere you can. Websites, emails, appeals, and stewardship materials are the most obvious places for a story, but internal documents and materials are up for grabs as well. The more you integrate your story and core message into all aspects of your organization, the more your team will begin to adopt it themselves.

Don’t forget these overlooked places to sneak in a story:

– Online donation confirmation page
– Stories or blogs on your website
– Gift acknowledgements or receipts
– Social media posts or special features
– Videos and other forms of promotional marketing

With limited resources, marketing materials are often a big investment for nonprofits. Make sure that what you put time and money into is telling the story it needs to!

The Wrap Up

Unique stories will set you apart from other organizations in your community doing similar work to yours. In a crowded marketplace, it’s imperative that your message stands out and captures the support of an interested individual on a level beneath the surface. While so much of our time is spent focusing on outbound communications, it’s important to note the benefits of a unified message within your organization. A cohesive message can:

  • Help keep your staff engaged and boost morale by reminding them why they come to work each day
  • Aid in the development of programs that connect closely to your core, and not just because they’d be fun
  • Drive donor loyalty and giving capacity by demonstrating impact in a relatable way
  • Serve as rallying points for key stakeholders that support you in some way
  • Provide focus and talking points for your board to master and make their own

You Might Also Enjoy:
Storytelling for the New Year: Part One
5 Ways to Put Your Donation Page to Work
Before You Make the Ask: Build Relationships By Being Personal


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