Storytelling is not a new idea for most nonprofits—you know that tapping into people’s emotions, tugging heartstrings and putting faces to your cause through the use of stories is an important way to engage and activate donors.
The challenge is in telling the right story. In your year-end campaign, that’s a big consideration. While people are in a giving sort of mindset, most donors still want to know: “How are you going to use my money?” The right story both informs and inspires them to give.
Storytelling: Theory of Change and Impact
So, first let’s narrow your options down to two types of stories: theory of change and impact. A theory of change story says, “When you give this, you’ll help us accomplish that.” An impact story says, “This is who you’ll impact.” Let’s say you run a nonprofit that provides services for domestic violence survivors. Here’s an example of each:
Theory of change: “Over the past few years, our housing situation has become very tight. We currently only have room to house 15 victims, including both parents and children. Your gift will allow us to buy more beds and expand our space to accommodate 30, doubling our capacity.”
Impact: “We’d like you to meet Amanda and her two children who came to us for help last January. Amanda escaped an abusive situation with few possessions and little money, but your generous gift enabled us to get her new clothes, help her find a job and provide counseling. Today, she and her children are ready to start a new life . . . but there are more families like Amanda’s who need help.”
Tell your story everywhere.
For maximum impact, your end-of-year appeal could include both! Once you’ve decided which story you want to tell, the question is how (and where) are you going to tell it? This is where a lot of nonprofits get tripped up—implementing an effective storytelling strategy. My suggestion in a sentence is this: Tell it everywhere. Don’t just pick one communication platform; marry your platforms and communication channels together, and get them working in sync to tell your story and share your needs. It’s the best way to reach more people and make your story stick.
Here’s how to flesh that out:
Once you’ve identified the story (or stories) you want to share, consider your audience. Who are they? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to do? This should be clear in your mind before you write a word. Your storytelling is important, but so is your call to action—you need to know who you’re talking to and what you want to accomplish before the story even begins. Once that’s clear in your mind, use the following platforms and channels.
This is such a great storytelling platform—blogs just naturally lend themselves to storytelling. You can share one story over a series of blog posts or multiple stories that all tie together and lead your audience to one call to action. Like in the example I shared earlier: “Help us expand our housing capacity.” Maybe you’d feature several families you helped over a series of posts, all culminating in one post that explains how many more families you’d like to help if you had more room.
Once you’ve put all that hard work into writing for your blog, you can use that content other places. Repurpose it into several short but sweet social posts, tweets, Instagram stories, etc. Just be sure to include visual elements like videos and images so it’s not all text; you know what they say about a picture and a thousand words.
With a series of email messages, you could mirror what you’re posting on social so they work in sync. Consider a mini drip campaign where you start off by introducing people you’ve served, share how donations will impact those you want to serve and then finally make your ask in a third and final email.
Immediately grab attention on your website’s homepage with a place dedicated to featuring your year-end campaign and a specific fundraising goal. With a Firespring nonprofit website, you can use the spotlight to highlight your year-end story. If you wanted to really get creative, you could even use three different spotlights: One linking to a blog post, one linking to your dedicated year-end campaign landing page and one that links to your donation page.
Don’t count this out! Printed pieces still get results—impressive ones, in fact. The response rate for direct mail is nine times higher than email, according to the Data and Marketing Association. Add in a direct mail postcard, a brochure, an annual report, newsletter—whatever you want to put your story right in the hands of your constituents and give them something tangible to hold and read. Just be sure to drive them to your website where they can make a donation right away after you’ve inspired them to give.
Take your storytelling up a notch.
So, you know what (and who) you want to talk about. You have a strategy for where to talk about it. Now let me give you a few pro tips to take your year-end campaign up a notch and make it really effective.
- Start highlighting the beginning of your story about a month before you make your appeal. You don’t want to start too far out and lose people’s attention, but neither do you want to wait until a last-minute ask. Prep your audience about four weeks out.
- Sprinkle bite-size parts of your story among all your communication channels early, so the first time your audience hears the story isn’t when you’re making the ask or appeal. Use a variety of channels and start whetting people’s appetites, introducing them to those you’ve helped, your year-end goal, etc. Get them interested without spilling all the beans all at once. It’s like putting out bread crumbs that will lead people to the full meal (your ask).
- Be specific. Vague goals like “you’ll help more people” don’t tell me, as a donor, exactly what you’re going to do with my money. Here’s a better example: $5,000 gives 10 kids who are battling cancer the chance to go to camp next summer. The better you can tell me specifically how my donation will make a difference, the better I understand my tangible impact—and the more likely I will be to give.
- Continue your story throughout the campaign. Even in your thank-yous and recaps, keep connecting faces to your cause and talking about how the money raised is changing this person’s life or that animal’s future. This helps to strengthen the relationship you’re building with each donor and really helps them feel included in both your specific campaign and in your overall mission.
Ready? Set. Go! You now have a great foundation for your end-of-year campaign, specifically how to implement a strategic storytelling plan. For more details on other aspects of your year-end campaign, download this helpful 10-point checklist. Plus, talk to us about how we can help your nonprofit with its end-of-year digital fundraising campaign from start to finish and everything in between.