What stories have we been telling our mid-level donors?

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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

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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

You’ve only got part of the story

you've only got part of the story

As fundraisers, we’re constantly working with partially-told stories.

Last week, Andrew Littlefield showed us how to be P.D.D.D. — pretty damn data-driven.

Data is so important, and I think within every passionate fundraiser lies a bit of a data nerd. I love poring over spreadsheets and analyzing results, but it’s only part of the story.

I went to the Blue North Do-Gooders Summit this year and saw an awesome session called “Inspiring New Ideas with Donor Data”. The presenter, Tim Rowley, said that fundraisers have some issues with correlation analysis; we draw conclusions that we shouldn’t.

Here’s an example: there is proof that going to bed with shoes on leads to headaches in the morning. 

Is that true? Yes, but not for the reason that statement implies.

If you are too drunk to take off your shoes before bed, you’re likely going to be hungover and will therefore wake up with a headache. 

Going to bed with your shoes on is just part of the story.

We have a lot of data, but not enough knowledge. We have to take the time to turn our data into information, and then turn that information into knowledge, which is something we can actually use. That’s when we can be data-driven, as Andrew rightly encourages us to be!

How can we find out the rest of the story? One way is to ask great questions.

It applies to looking at mass amounts of data OR looking at one specific major donor.

If a donor makes a $10,000 gift out of the blue, can we make assumptions about how engaged they are with our charity and how they might want to be involved moving forward?

Well, sure! But that doesn’t mean we’re right! We must ask questions to get the whole story.

As for what kinds of questions we can ask, check out this video I saw on Movie Mondays for some inspiring ideas!

Telling the full story is worth the extra work!

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Written by Maeve Strathy


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

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Guest Blog: Video Production for Fundraising – Part II – Quality Control

This is Kimberly Elworthy’s second guest post for What Gives Philanthropy.
Click here to read “Video Production for Fundraising – Part I”.

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I do believe there is a minimum standard in this day and age that can be and must be achieved if you are choosing to represent your organization through the visual medium of video. These basic necessities I outline below; you must follow these 3 principles:

  1. Lighting. Lighting. Lighting. The sun is free. Please use this resource. If your videos are not well lit, they will be pixilated, they will be unattractive, they will look dated and your organization will look out of touch. The best rule of thumb is to keep the back of the videographer (that is the person holding the camera) to be facing the lighting source. Therefore if you are in a room with windows and the sun is shining in, the videographer should be standing in front of the window with their back facing the window. The films subject will then be lit by the sun. If you are outside, always have your subject shaded by trees, never film into the sun. If you’re going to be doing a lot of outdoor filming, invest in one of these: http://www.filmtools.com/ligdep/lighting-control.html. If the space you’re in doesn’t have lighting and you cannot bring in any additional lighting sources, I would highly recommend you move. Bad lighting = bad quality = bad reflection on your organization.
  2. Framing + Depth. Video is a visual medium. People like watching videos not because they don’t want to read, but because people are attracted to pretty things. This is the basis film and it is why Hollywood is so superficial. While filmmakers try not to adhere to this sad outlook on life, it might as well be a universal truth: the better your video looks, the more people will enjoy watching it and the more people will watch it.  So when conducting an on-camera interview I find the following rules to be generally a knock-out (see below image for example):
    1. Frame the subject on the left or on the right. If including multiple interviews, stagger what side the interview is on to mix it up when editing.
    2. Do not move. Cheaper cameras or cell phone videos do not focus well when in motion. You must film interviews on a tripod. The subject can be standing or sitting, but the camera must be at eye level, slightly looking down (never looking upwards à double chin no-no). Tell the subject not move their feet around and not to sway back and forth. These slight movements on camera are exaggerated and communicate discomfort which then makes the viewer uncomfortable.
    3. Always have a background with depth. Alternatively, never film on a flat wall. Unless someone professional is filming, I would avoid this look because it comes down to the lighting to create depth so if you don’t have the proper lighting don’t do it! This also means never have the subject of the film at the deepest point in the space. So make sure there is a hallway behind the film subject, or have the subject sit in the middle of the room so the aesthetically pleasing décor is behind the subject. You will have to adjust the normal set up of the room and you will have to physically edit the scene to fit with the framing.
  3. BROLL. A-Roll means your “a” footage, such as your interview footage; it’s probably the footage with the sound you want to use as the focus of the video. B-Roll (broll, BROLL, b roll) is the supporting footage or the “b” footage. Never ever make a video that is longer than 45 seconds without BROLL. Interview-based videos without BROLL are called “talking heads” and again defeats the whole purpose of video as a visual medium. Nobody wants to watch someone talk and talk and talk on film, it’s boring. I can read interviews and I will probably find it more enjoyable. The beauty of BROLL is below:
    1. It can be any visual. Pictures, other videos, newspapers, magazines, computer screen tutorials, etc. If you’re interviewing a donor about their donation, you can insert photos or videos of their donation in action. If you are making a case for your organization, you can add pictures of your staff, your space and your interaction in the community. The beauty of broll is that you are connecting the dots for your audience in front of them.
      • To determine what broll you’ll need to find listen to the interviewee: what key words do they say that you can add visuals to? Do they talk about funding a new building? If so insert an image or multiple images of an architect’s mock-up for the building.
    2. It has no audio. Sometimes when we film in the real world, people say things we don’t want to hear in our video. Broll plays over the interview, so while you see the broll footage, you hear the interview (aroll footage).
    3. You can edit long winded interviews down better. BROLL is a great cover for difficult interviews. People ramble on and on and you probably only needed a few of the sentences they said. BROLL eases the flow of a cut up interview so that you can better edit the sound bites together and you don’t have to worry about the interview footage cutting together poorly.

If you take these lessons to heart, even the most amateur filmmaker can make a visually-appealing, engaging video that they should be proud of. Fundraising is becoming all about storytelling, so to be able to add a dynamic visual element such as a video when sharing a story or an achievement means donors won’t have to work to get the point.

You want donors to know they are doing good in the world, so show them!

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Written by Kimberly Elworthy

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Kimberly is a communications specialist in educational fundraising and alumni relations who worked in lifestyle television for four years. She is currently on the Board of Directors for the Grand River Film Festival. (Click here for more).

Connect with Kimberly via:
Twitter | LinkedIn

Guest Post: The Number 1 Tip For Great Storytelling When Fundraising

The most successful charities know that in order to attract donations, they need to tell interesting and engaging stories. We as humans need stories; they help us relate and make sense of information.

After seeing countless fundraisers fall-short, meet or exceed their goals, the one thing that differentiates the great ones from the rest is how that story is delivered.

Very few people want to read reams and reams of text. What people want is a story to be told to them, in-person or by the convenient medium of video. And that doesn’t mean a slideshow with a voiceover – it means seeing a real person with a passion talking through the cause, explaining its importance and how a donation can make a difference.

Aside from seeing the success of this method on the fundraising website I run, the recent cause-based viral video titled Kony 2012 demonstrates the power of personal videos that talk through a cause with passion.

The creator of the Kony video, Jason Russell, introduces us to his child and family in the most personal manner. He’s a likeable character and we feel his passion as he explains the issues at hand in great detail. Once we’re involved in his story, the video ends with the simple call to action to get involved and share. The result? To date, his video has had over 96 million views and received worldwide attention.

Now it’s hard to replicate viral success but by following the fundamentals your message will spread further. It’s simply a case of being genuine, personal and sharing your passion through video.

Well, what kind of fundraising video should you create? In my experience and geeky analysis, I found that it’s best to spend the majority of time highlighting the importance of the cause, why it matters and why it’s worth the donor’s time. It doesn’t matter so much if it’s not created by a premium production team – in fact, a few quirks can even make it feel that little more personal.

Once it’s ready, it’s easy to complement your standard fundraising message with this video. Embed it on your fundraising page, add it to your website and share it by email.

Do you have any tips for spreading your fundraising message by video??? Leave them in the comments below.

 


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Written by Sandip Sekhon
CEO & Founder of Go Get Funding
You can connect with Sandeep via:
Facebook | Twitter

Sandip is currently working on medical fundraising website CauseWish which will host a unique community and is due to launch in February 2013.

Guest Post: The Story of NationWares

You all know by now that I got my start in fundraising in the Annual Giving Call Centre at Wilfrid Laurier University, and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Phonathon programs.  One of the reasons why I loved that experience so much was meeting all the people I did; my fellow supervisors, full-time professional fundraisers working in Annual Giving and adjacent departments, and – most of all – the student callers.  Amie Mariana Sider is one of those former callers who I feel truly proud to know.  Though I haven’t seen her in a while, I’ve been able to keep up-to-date on her life through social media, and it occurred to me one day that she’d be a fantastic guest blogger for What Gives.  When I reached out to her she generously accepted my invitation, and I am so excited and proud to share Amie’s guest post below.  Be inspired, excited, and spurred to action by Amie’s words.  Enjoy!!!

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Disclaimer: Brace yourselves readers, this is gonna be a long one. I’ve always been a rambler, but I think for this post it’s totally necessary for you to understand my context, background, and reason for doing what I do.  Hopefully it can encourage and inspire you to join in, or simply rekindle your love of giving and doing good.

My name is Amie Mariana Sider and for some crazy reason I’m one of those 25 year old kids who somehow ended up landing their dream job at an absurdly young age with relatively no official experience. What turned out to be a huge qualifier was my unofficial expertise that came to me by growing up among a family of do-gooders, world changers, humanitarians, and international development gurus. At the age of 10 I had already traveled to more suffering and impoverished nations than fancy beach resorts. I forgot to mention that I was also born in an extremely remote and impoverished area of Guatemala and was blessed enough to escape the cycle of poverty by being adopted into an incredibly loving Canadian home.

Since the delicate age of 5, I have vocalized my determination and passion to truly change the world and end the cycle of poverty for those who deserve a chance to escape it just like I did. From then on I volunteered, participated in countless fundraisers, donated savings from my piggy bank, and searched for the best way that I could to bring about change for the world’s most marginalized and vulnerable people. 15 years later during my student career at Wilfrid Laurier University, NationWares was born.

As a Sociology and Global Studies major, I was determined to come up with some revolutionary idea to eradicate poverty. I’ve always understood charity and charity/development work, but was always drawn to the overwhelming success of the business industry. Let’s be honest here, I was a sociology major because math and numbers terrified me and I vowed to my grade 10 math teacher who promised not to fail me if I agreed to never set foot in another math course again in my entire life… which brings me to my third year global studies course.

The Global Studies department created a program called the Global Studies Experience; it was through this mandatory program that I was personally assigned a placement with a development agency. The agency was directed to give me a mandate to fulfill as a lowly summer intern who had yet to be jaded and discouraged by charity, the international development system, and of course organizational bureaucracy. Their mandate for my summer work involved none other than numbers, data collection, and of course fundraising… basically everything related to numbers and financial accountability that terrified me. To put the cherry on top of it all, they wanted me to target and grow financial resources from “young people”. I thought for sure that I was way over my head!

That summer I traveled to Ethiopia to visit some incredible programs in the area of life skills, vocational training, and income generation. I was so encouraged to see men and women become self-sufficient through these programs and instantly wanted to integrate this model into my summer project. At the time I knew that child sponsorship programs were becoming a model of the past for the younger giving generation, donors of all ages were also becoming more and more skeptical, and in tough economic times the average person looks out for their own interests. Most young people may find it difficult to part with their cash for donation purposes, especially when they feel they won’t receive anything tangible from their gift. I’ve always had a passion for fashion, beauty, and accessories, which led me to combine life skills, income generation, and the creation and distribution of ethical fashion and accessories. You can take a look at one of my first projects in the video below. It features a couple who have been able to change their economic situation and support their family by making scarves to be sold through NationWares in North America as they also produce local traditional clothing to be sold in their own community.

NationWares – Scarf Production from bottledmedia on Vimeo.

Let’s skip ahead 5 years. To say that I learned a ton during the first 4 years of operating NationWares would be an understatement. I tested out the charity model to find that it simply wasn’t enough. It needed to be set firm on a foundation of business and since I have a love/hate relationship with business I needed NationWares not to focus on profit and numbers in a self-interested way, but take the whole triple bottom line concept of people, planet, profit, and push it further. That’s why today NationWares is a social enterprise (a business that exists to serve a social cause) that is breaking the cycle of poverty for multiply marginalized people around the world who have been impacted not only by poverty, but also disability, HIV/AIDS, and other factors that lead to marginalization and vulnerability.

I built NationWares to use fashion as a vehicle to drive sustainable employment for over 2,000 current beneficiaries in 10 different countries as they create ethical products that positively impact their society, the economy, and the environment as we expand their market and share their products with North Americans. Our programs go beyond fashion and fair trade as we provide vocational training, creative education, and mentorship resources through the NationWares International Foundation to ensure sustainability and overall success. By purchasing any of our unique products, our customers transform the lives of those deemed the most marginalized and help us create recognized business people, local heroes, and community leaders.

That’s my personal and NationWares journey as a young entrepreneur in a nutshell. To those who find themselves wanting their dream job in the field of giving and doing good I can’t stress the importance of volunteerism and risk taking. The most rewarding jobs don’t always have the most rewarding salaries (or may not even come with a salary at all). Be ready to innovate, get messy, and challenge the system. To all the givers out there, I encourage each of you to give in whatever capacity you can. Any form of giving is great! If you’re a supporter of charity, continue to support charity. If charity doesn’t sit well with you, don’t use that as an excuse not to give; find something you believe in. Businesses usually get a bad reputation but a lot of them are becoming more concerned with the planet and its people under the umbrella of social responsibility. NationWares profits bring sustainable change and help keep the cycle of employment moving. Find companies like us that use their products and profits to do good things and invest in the greater good for all people and societies around the world.

Time to get giving!

 

Written by Amie Mariana Sider
You can connect with Amie via:
Twitter
 & you can stay updated on NationWares via:
Web | Twitter | Facebook

Why I love what I do: reason #2

I’m reminded of why I love being a fundraiser in an educational setting every day of the week, but occasionally someone will engage me in a conversation about certain aspects of what I do, and a fire is lit inside me.  Just as I discussed in my first installment of “Why I love what I do”, it gets me excited to talk to people about how passionate I am about fundraising.  Getting excited about sharing with people what I love about what I do makes me even more excited to do it.  It’s a very happy cycle to get caught in.

So what’s another thing I love about what I do???  The fact that what I do seems to combine my passions together into one field of work.  For one thing, I love meeting new people and getting to know them – one-on-one (I’m an introvert, after all) – in a meaningful way.  I get to do that a lot as a fundraiser / alumni relations officer, and it’s a pleasure every time to chat with an individual about what they do now, how they stay engaged with their alma mater, and how their experience at my institution was.  Every story is unique and wonderful to hear.

I studied English in university and wasn’t sure if it’d be my BA that counted in getting my first job or my English degree, specifically.  Turns out it’s both!  A degree is important to get you in the door of the job you want, but I find my English degree – both in regards to my knowledge of writing and language, and my general critical thinking skills – is specifically valuable.  Plus, more than just knowing about writing, I love to write!  It’s my favourite and most efficient way of expressing myself, my thoughts, my intentions, and my ideas, and there are a lot of opportunities for writing in fundraising – whether it’s writing an appeal, writing a web article about exciting alumni news, or writing a customized proposal for a major gift prospect.

Secondly, I love words and language.  Word choice is an integral part of fundraising, both in spoken and written forms.  Sometimes it can come off as jargon (click here for an jargon-related, industry-specific laugh), but the truth is that the right word or phrase can evoke emotion, and emotion has so much to do with fundraising.

And that brings me to another thing I love about fundraising, I love the psychology of it.  It’s not just a business matter – although some donors prefer it to be that way – but instead an exchange of passion, emotion, nostalgia, and more.  In educational fundraising, a prospect’s memory of their time at the school, perhaps an opportunity made possible for them through a scholarship or bursary, can evoke such a strong sense of desire to give back.  If they see a current student who is only able to attend the school with the help of financial aid, they might reflect back on their own experience, and feel a need to contribute in order to provide this student or other students’ with the opportunities they once enjoyed.

Like I said, it’s not just a business matter or a transaction of money – it’s an experience.  An experience where a donor aligns his or her passions with their resources, matches their emotions up with their fortune.  And that’s another thing I love, it’s a feel-good industry to work in.  These aren’t static numbers on a spreadsheet.  I can see the look on people’s faces when they’re reflecting on the difference that they’ve made, and it’s magic.

This is once again a moment to share the perfect and eloquent simplicity of a child’s definition of philanthropy:

“Because if you help other people, you’ll be a good person, and you’ll feel good inside.”

And that’s another reason why I love doing what I do.

 

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email

Guest Post: Is storytelling really the answer for your charity???

I am thrilled to add this new post to What Gives??? by our second guest blogger Brock Warner.  I “met” Brock through one of his many initiatives, Young Non-Profit Professionals (of which he is co-chair).  He is bright, enthusiastic, energetic, and full of knowledge.  I couldn’t be more delighted to have him write for What Gives??? and hope to have him involved more in the future!  Without further ado…

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A lot has, is, and will continue to be said about the need for charities to tell great stories. That’s because good advice bears repeating. Stories tickle a part of our brains that statistics can’t.

Most charities understand this. But unfortunately, just telling a story isn’t enough. You need to do it well. Very, very well.

A great storyteller becomes the story. They look their audience in the eye. They take their audience on a journey. They tell their best stories over, and over, and over. They keep what works, and cut the fat. They carry you up to a triumphant high, and catch you at the desperate lows.

About a year ago I was lucky enough to give a TEDx presentation. And I do mean lucky. I’m just getting started in my career. It should be someone with 25 years of experience on the TEDx stage, not 2.5 years. But I ignored my lizard brain, and went for it.

The 20 second version of my talk is that successful charities are successful because they told great stories and reaped the benefits. In the past there were a handful of ways to tell stories, but digital technology has since changed the game. Now, charities that can multiply the emotional impact of their stories across channels, rather than divide it, are going to be the charities of choice for the next generation of supporters.

If I could do it all over again I would emphasize even further that storytelling is a skill like any other that you need to learn, practice, and hone indefinitely.

So, is storytelling really the answer for your charity??? Of course it is. And of course, you need to do everything else it takes to run an effective and efficient charity, but we’ll leave that for another blogger to tackle.

I’m always on the lookout for great examples. You can get in touch with me on Twitter @brockwarner, or post them right here on What Gives???.

And if you haven’t seen it, here is my TEDx talk:

Note from the Author: Because I am so proud of the video, and while I’ve got the chance I’d love to publicly thank my wife for being so supportive, Frankie Chow for suggesting I submit a speaker application, Margaux Smith for rehearsing with me in my living room, and everyone that has watched it. And of course, thanks Maeve for letting me guest post on What Gives???. You’re all awesome.


Written by Brock Warner

Fundraiser @WarChildCan and blogger at http://iamafundraiser.com

You can connect with Brock via:
Twitter | LinkedIn

Fundraising & Peanuts

I just read an awesome article on The Fundraising Resource, a fundraising blog which I found via the CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) LinkedIn group.  It’s called “Everything I Know about Fundraising I Learned from the Peanuts Gang”, and it’s a fun & enlightening piece with some great and simple tips about fundraising as taught (indirectly) by Charlie Brown and friends.  These pearls of wisdom include being open to new approaches, making every ask count, and my favourite, “It’s all about the story”.

Enjoy this little tidbit, but check out the full article for much more great insight!

It’s all about the story
Linus does teach one of the great lessons. What is it that changed everything about Christmas for the Peanuts Gang? It wasn’t the 1st Prize in the decorating contest that Snoopy received, not the Christmas pageant, not Schroeder’s piano prowess, Lucy the Christmas Queen or Charlie’s droopy Christmas tree. It was the story. When Linus articulated what Christmas is all about it changed everything. The lesson is, it is not enough to simply say, “It’s that time of year to give again.” You have the responsibility to articulate the compelling message of the mission and impact of the gift every time you ask someone to consider giving their resources.

 

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email