Storytelling without stories

I recently found out I’m attending the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference this year – arguably the most fun conference I’ve been to – and it’s got me thinking about storytelling.

I don’t have to tell any of you that storytelling is critical to fundraising. But it’s one thing to say it and another thing to put it into action.

I’m fortunate enough to work with a number of clients ranging in size, scope, “industry”, who / what / how they serve, etc. They also range as it relates to their access to content a.k.a. stories.

For hospital foundations I work with, it’s arguably easier – they have a clear process for identifying patients with stories that will be compelling for fundraising purposes, and as long as they have consent, a good interview, and photos, we’ve got ourselves a story.

For healthcare organizations that aren’t hospitals, for example research organizations, they’re more removed from the patients they serve (organization –> researcher –> patient) and therefore it’s a bit harder.

Then there are organizations who have lots of content and stories, but their “voice”, so to speak, doesn’t lend itself to the traditional, tear-jerker, heartstrings-pulling direct marketing we know and love as fundraisers.

Now you could say, “Well they should change their voice!” And in some cases that may be the right thing or an option at all. But for some organizations, that voice – the voice that doesn’t lend itself to the usual DM storytelling – is authentic and right, so we have to tell stories another way.

It was in working with a colleague on a direct mail letter recently that got me thinking about this conundrum. So I asked myself, What’s at the core of storytelling in fundraising?

It’s about connection. The problems that charities are solving are compelling in and of themselves, but it takes a real story to bring it home, and really motivate most people to take action. How can we connect people with the cause in a deeper way?

So how can we do that without your standard patient/beneficiary story? How can we connect the donor/prospective donor to the problem, solution, and their role in it? We have to be creative!

Can we talk about sights, sounds, or smells? Approach it from a sensory perspective to bring the donor in?

What have you tried? What’s worked? What hasn’t? What conundrums are you facing? Share with me in the comments or on Twitter! I can’t wait to hear.

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Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives and has been working in fundraising for twelve years.
Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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What stories have we been telling our mid-level donors?

what-stories-have-we-been-telling-our-mid-level-donors

In a few hours, I’m jumping on a plane to Chicago to speak at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference and I couldn’t be more excited!

This conference has had such a positive buzz about it since it started 3 years ago, and I can’t wait to be part of it.

What will I be talking about? Surprise, surprise: mid-level donors. You know they’re my favourite kind of donor, and I can’t wait to share some thoughts on them with the crowd.

My presentation is called “Telling mid-level donors the stories they want to hear”. I don’t want to give away all my secrets, but I will say this: if I’m saying that we need to tell mid-level donors the stories they want to hear, am I suggesting that we haven’t been?

The answer is yes.

So what stories have we been telling our mid-level donors that haven’t been working?

#1 – The brand story

I spoke about this in my post on “The Field of Dreams Myth”, as I call it. A lot of organizations have the instinct to brand their mid-level giving program – give it a name, a logo, and letterhead. This tactic is not off-base, but it’s not enough. (And all too often, it’s based on internal organizational needs vs. the needs of the donor.)

#2 – The variable paragraph story

Variable paragraphs are best practice in direct mail (and email, to a degree) and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. But, if we expect to inspire mid-level donors to step it up just because we call them “generous” in a variable paragraph, then we’re going to be sorely disappointed. We need to do more.

#3 – The closed envelope story

One of the most commonly used tactics is to send mid-level donors exactly what your regular donors get, but with a distinction – rather than a #10 envelope with your usual postage indicia, mid-level donors get their letter in a closed envelope with a real, live stamp on the front! Don’t get me wrong – it’s a classy touch, makes the package stand out in a pile of bills… but is this going to inspire donors to give at a new level? No.

#4 – An insert story (if they’re lucky)

Finally, the most we might do for mid-level donors to try to distinguish their experience from everyone else is to insert something extra into their package – maybe it’s a lift note from someone meaningful to them/the package, maybe it’s a small insert that expands on the funding priorities… And this comes from a great insight about mid-level donors wanting more from the organizations they support. More content! More behind-the-scenes info! More! An insert will take you part of the way, but on its own will it do enough? No.

The stories aren’t working. 

I promise you I’ll talk to you about what stories will work in a few weeks.

Until then – what are you seeing that doesn’t work? What does?

Let me know in the comments!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

20150326_Strathy_Maeve_02
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email