The Secrets of Nonprofit Storytelling

We handpicked industry experts to lead virtual sessions on nonprofit storytelling techniques that promote fundraising growth and success. Even though the conference is over, there’s enough value in these sessions to influence your campaigns for years to come, and we want to share as much of our speakers’ knowledge as possible. Here are highlights from Day 2!

Asking Made Easy: From First-Time Gifts to Major Donors from Lindsay Simonds, Founder of Lindsay Simonds Consulting; "Fundraising is bigger than you, bigger than your fears."

Lindsay’s background: Lindsay Simonds Consulting was founded in 2017 to guide nonprofit clients in navigating transformational changes. Lindsay has led teams that have raised over $1 billion in new philanthropic funding, and she brings clients her eye for major gifts strategy, structures of influence, community engagement, project management, compelling storytelling, and brand evangelism.

Discover prospects, prospect pipeline, deepen relationships, brief on need, ask for support, enact changes/advance mission

Lindsay’s practical session began with the mechanics of making an ask and then went into the art of soliciting new and increased gifts through storytelling. Lindsay breaks down the nonprofit prospect pipeline into four recurring steps. After discovering prospects, nonprofits should work to deepen the relationship, brief them on the current needs of their mission, ask for support, enact the change that their support made possible to ultimately advance the mission, and then repeat.

A few things to remember if you can relate:

  • Ask if you can ask. Respect their time, and be transparent.
  • Plan your work and then work your plan.
  • At any amount, the fundamentals of making your ask remain the same.
  • Let them know that you have the vehicle to do what they want to be done, ex. “I don’t know your capacity, but I know the impact that you can make with X amount.”
  • Ask discovery questions before you even make the ask, ex. “Tell me about your philanthropy? What feels good for you?”
  • Use transitional language, ex. “Now that you understand where the money is going, would you be willing to have a conversation about contributing to this funding?”

Find donors through affinity, ability, & access

Once your solicitation process is set, the question becomes, how do you find prospective donors to enter your pipeline? Lindsay recommends identifying donors through affinity, ability, and access. In other words, who is within a few degrees of separation from your organization?

To assess donors by affinity, you would look at their philanthropic track records. Do they give gifts to similar causes? Do they give in your region? Are they grateful alumni? Ability refers to their financial capacity to give, determined by prior giving to your organization and/or sector. Access is determined by a direct or indirect relationship with your organization and a willingness to engage.

But how do you keep track of all this information, especially if you are gathering it all yourself? Lindsay recommends creating an internal rating system based on affinity, ability, and access, or segmenting your database as follows:

  • Major donors
  • Annual givers
  • Cause contributors
  • Give-to-getters (looking for personal gain)
  • Donors of time

As far as engagement, In the interest of saving time and headaches, Lindsay recommends making your work more “bite-sizeable.” You can do this by making a plan for each segment based on your capacity, like an email each Monday or a newsletter each quarter, and getting creative with your outreach. She points out that there are plenty of different engagement opportunities to discuss with donors aside from giving, like sponsoring an event, funding a guest speaker, volunteering, establishing planned giving, and more.

Get more practical tips for the art of making your ask

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Is Your Staff a Part of Your Story & Connected to Your Mission? with Jeff Schreifels, Senior Partner, The Veritus Group; "Lead with listening, be vulnerable and transparent, and be compassionate in your honesty."

Jeff’s background: When it comes to advising nonprofit directors on their staff, the Veritus Group has developed a strategic approach built on data and experience training thousands of clients around the world, working with organizations large and small.

Jeff began his session by addressing “The Great Resignation” – more than 4 million Americans have quit their jobs every month for 11 months, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data as of April 2022, and 51% of current fundraisers will leave their organization within the next two years. He puts the onus on nonprofit executives: “Your staff is your most important asset, and it’s up to you to address issues that could cause people to leave your organization,” Jeff says.

According to Schreifels, the issues plaguing nonprofit industry staff are “too many non-caseload-related tasks and unclear job descriptions, metrics, and expectations,” adding that celebrating employees is not currently part of the culture. “They don’t feel valued, and there’s no structure for success or opportunity for growth,” he says.

The impact of unclear expectations and devalued employees is loss of revenue (spent rehiring and retraining) and stagnant fundraising programs (getting passed from employee to employee). Short-sighted organizations may even refuse a raise to frontline fundraisers (who are generating more revenue over time) because of certain policies or criteria. So the cycle continues until nonprofit leadership changes its ways.

How to set clear expectations:

  • Detailed job description
  • Purpose of the position
  • Metrics used to measure success
  • Revenue expectations
  • Clear timeline – “It could be close to a full year before your new Major Gift Officer is managing their full caseload on their own,” Jeff explains.

How to demonstrate value:

  • Create the right plan for each team member.
  • Practice accountability, ex. Spending time with the right donors.
  • Gather information from all fundraisers to identify trends and set goals.
  • Provide evaluation, treating mistakes as learning opportunities.

Attendees share their wins

“In a previous role, I added an agenda item to our regular staff meeting: ‘What do we need to know or celebrate?’ It was a big success as it allowed staff to both plug in their own accomplishments and also acknowledge others.”

  – Cara Palladino, FWCC Americas

“As a steering member of our internal Diversity and Inclusion Committee, I suggested a ‘capacity check-in’ at the beginning of our monthly meetings. We volunteer our time to the committee, in addition to our roles with DonorPerfect, so it’s very helpful to know who will have the capacity to work on our presentations and newsletters.”

  – Allyshia Dycus, DonorPerfect

Join Jeff Schreifels for further insight into nonprofit employee retention & satisfaction

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From Liking to Loving: Connecting your social media audience to your mission with Julia Campbell, Founder & CEO at J Campbell Social Marketing; "Think of each social media platform as a different country with a different language."

Julia’s background: Named as a top thought leader by Forbes and BizTech Magazine, Julia Campbell is an author, speaker, and nonprofit consultant on a mission to make the digital world a better place. She launched the podcast Nonprofit Nation this year, and has written two books for nonprofits on social media and storytelling. Julia’s online courses, webinars, and talks have helped hundreds of nonprofits make the shift to digital thinking and raise more money online.

In order to determine the goals that nonprofits want to achieve through social media, Julia addressed why donors stop giving to an organization in the first place. Then she examined what keeps donors giving to the same organization.

Why donors stop giving, according to Dr. Adrian Sargeant’s research:

  • 5% thought the charity did not need them;
  • 8% had no information about how the funds were used;
  • 9% had no memory of supporting the charity;
  • 13% never got thanked;
  • 16% passed away;
  • 18% had poor service or communication;
  • 35% thought other charities were more deserving;
  • and 54% could no longer afford to give.

A few ways to fulfill donor needs through social media:

  • Connect the dots between your programs, services, staff, and volunteers. How do these moving parts work together to fulfill your mission?
  • Determine your goals – what do you want to achieve with digital storytelling? Your goal could be very different on each platform, so think deeper than the platform. Keep in mind that social media engagement is not a goal, it’s a tactic to achieve your goal.
  • Identify a target persona (or personas) to determine the platform you use and the message you share, because until you know who you’re talking to you won’t know what to say or how to say it. For example, if you are targeting millennial donors, you may consider a post on Twitter with a link to your online donation form. For each persona, you will want to learn to speak their language and use their lexicon.
  • Think about who is already with you – focus on the people who have already opted into your communications. Look through your database and email lists, and learn what they want to know more about, or what motivates them to participate or take action.
  • Determine if there are any knowledge gaps – what misconceptions do your constituents have about your work? You can use social media to address them.
  • Ask directly – via phone, survey, focus group, etc. – what words best describe your donors? Let them know that you’re gathering this information to find out where they fit into the plan to deliver your mission.
  • Thank supporters in real-time during an event – think of yourself as a journalist or documentarian rather than a perfect artist. Canva, Animoto, WordSwag are great tools for quotes and statistics that can be used on the go.

Learn social media best practices for nonprofit storytelling and stewardship

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Using Videos to Tell Your Story with Julie Sullivan & Adam Wilbur, CauseVid Personalized Nonprofit Videos; "Scholars believe smiling is contagious. Videos let your joy live on."

Plenty of fundraisers are still wondering, why video? Even though video marketing is growing in popularity, in the nonprofit sector and in general, fundraisers may have trouble seeing how it fits their mission and finding the time to pull it off. This session, delivered by nonprofit video experts and fellow fundraisers, argues that any trouble is worth working through. Video marketing leads to more opens, clicks, and memories – viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video compared to 10% when reading it in text, according to Insivia research. Plus, videos don’t need to be produced – a phone or webcam recording works just as well.

Simply put, people give to people, and they crave an authentic connection that they cannot get through automated tax receipts or gift acknowledgments. Putting a human face to your communications establishes this connection, allowing you to effectively communicate your story and your organization’s impact on your community. Videos capture the emotion in a person’s voice and the expressions on their face.

Ideas for mission advocates

  • Board members – Inviting them to create a short video on their mobile device could help them get involved in your fundraising in a way that’s not intimidating or time-consuming. Encourage them to share why they give and why the cause is important to them in the context of a thank-you video.
  • Donors – Donor videos reinforce how much the subject cares about the cause, and demonstrates their connection to it through the telling of their own story. This is powerful as donors inspire others in their circles to give. Imagine the influence of a “why we give” video from donors to alumni. Try sending videos to first-time donors, major donors, recurring givers, event attendees, and giving day donors.
  • Beneficiaries – While this method may not work for every mission, especially when confidentiality is a concern, beneficiary videos can be very effective in the education sector, for example. Try inviting a scholarship recipient to share their story, and what they plan to do with their future.

Real-life examples

  • The Timothy Initiative has seen a 69% open rate on 738 videos sent. Director Gary Schneider recommends using video to provide updates on your organization and its work.
  • Eastern European Mission has seen a 59% open rate on their video emails. Vice President Dirk Smith likes to send one video to a group of people at a time. Recently, they have created videos about helping Ukrainian refugees and responding to frequently asked questions from donors.
  • DonorPerfect client Pay Away the Layaway saw a 72% open rate on 337 videos sent. They send individual thank-you videos, and as an organization that pays off families’ Christmas layaway expenses to spread joy, they can encourage beneficiaries to record short impact videos.
  • The Greeley Dream Team sent 48 videos with an 80% response rate. The organization combined a personalized message and an additional video of scholarship recipients thanking all donors. They also track forwards, as these videos are often shared around.

About DP Video

Using DP Video, nonprofits can send personalized video emails straight from a donor’s profile in DonorPerfect. In fact, all DonorPerfect users can try DP Video for free and send 10 trial videos. So how does it work? Nonprofits can add a second video to play directly after the first, and/or add a call to action button for donations.

To request a video from a board member, constituent, or beneficiary, simply send them a unique link to record and submit their video back to you. One link can be sent to multiple people to collect testimonials and store them in your video library. These request links are mobile responsive and videos can easily be recorded on a phone. Then, you can send the video to donors if you choose.

DP Video can be used in-person at events, for guided interviews via Zoom, for donor stewardship, or for scheduling meetings – any communication you want to put a face to – and these engagements are generally easier to track than handwritten notes or calls.

Learn best practices for using video in your stewardship and appeals

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MORE HIGHLIGHTS

by Ally Orlando

Jun 28 22
2 Comments
  1. This is a great whole package to learn from. Thank you for sharing.
    • Of course! Thanks for your kind words. If there are any specific topics you'd like us to explore more in the blog, please let us know!

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