When Talking to Donors, There’s Always Room for a Story

Jul 22, 2015

Donor supported organizations are always focused on solicitation, but stewardship is arguably the most integral element of their survival. Stewardship itself is so much more than making sure you thank your donors after they send a gift. It’s making sure you have a plan for how your donors hear from you throughout the year aside from “please give again”. In fact, the average donor retention rate for non-profits is only 40%!* So even when we aren’t actively fundraising—meaning, in the middle of an organized campaign—we need to continue telling meaningful stories of impact to keep the importance of our work top of mind for those that want to be engaged. So how do we develop communications that don’t have a hard ask but still encourage giving?

One word: storytelling.

No matter what channel we’re using to talk to our audience, there’s always room for a story. Here are a few ways that you can stay in balance with your communications and keep things both fresh and relevant:

Get creative with “thank you” pages

Customized thank you pages are a great way to communicate with people that you already know want to be involved with your organization. Chances are your online visitors are re-directed to a page after they’ve signed up for your mailing list, made a donation, or registered for an event through your website. Use these moments to tell a quick story rather than the standard boilerplate thank you for (blank) page that has zero impetus for them to stay on the site any longer. Make use of photos or videos to thank them for taking action or offer more content that allows them to get more involved. Here are some great examples:

OXFAM America

World Wildlife Fund

See also: Making Time: Proactive vs. Reactive Communication

Pictures really are worth a thousand words

Organizations spend a lot of time documenting their work. How many folders do you have on your computer full of pictures you haven’t found much use for beyond your annual report, special event programs, or scattered about your website? We know that captivating pictures can be great to illustrate your writing, but they can be put to more storytelling use. Try using a series of photos—or a photo essay—to create a visual narrative. This form of communication is popular among millennials and terrific for donors on the go since they evoke emotion and get your message across faster with the swipe of a thumb. You can also put these photos to good use on social platforms like Pinterest or Instagram to build-out ongoing social campaigns that evolve over time. With photo essays you’ve got all the elements of cause-oriented storytelling: a strong protagonist, an identified problem, and a hero (your organization) that wants to make the world a little better.

See also: Emotional Appeals: 3 Keys to Feel-Good Cultivation

Let your audience hear from those they’re helping

Testimonials are often one thing that organizations tend to back-burner and try to capture at the last minute, particularly for major grants applications. Positive feedback and anecdotes are constantly around us and a clever marketer can turn those into great stories. But what about getting the information straight from the horse’s mouth? Ask participants in your programs or other beneficiaries of your organization to talk about their experience, how they’ve been helped, or to say thank you! You can use videos or even animated images to make this fun and more engaging. Plus, you can extend the reach of this content again by using it on social media—that way your supporters can help spread the message for you. charity: water always does a great job telling their story so check out this video that thanks supporters.

The landscape is always changing, so it’s important to find new ways to do those old to-do’s. One thing is for certain, it’s never too late to make an impact. No matter which technique you try out, make sure that your stories–both visual and written–relate back to your mission. This way, since you’ll be starting with “why”, your message is clear and consistent across the board.

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You might also enjoy:

+ Making Time: Proactive vs. Reactive Communication
+ Emotional Appeals: 3 Keys to Feel-Good Cultivation
+ The Case for Starting with “Why”

Statistic Resource:
Charityinfo.ca, “Create a Warm Welcome”, Leah Eustace, April 29, 2013

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