Did you know that 72% of all charitable contributions are made by individuals? That eclipses foundations (15%), bequests at (8%), and corporations (5%) by a large margin. In addition, 88% of dollars raised comes from 12% of an organization’s donors and that nearly 1/3 of all online donations are a result of peer-to-peer fundraising. (source: nptechforgood) https://nptechforgood.com/2015/09/16/20-must-know-fundraising-and-social-media-stats/
Now: Imagine if you could get enough existing individual donors to influence their peers to also become donors. That would be a pretty powerful thing, right? But that can only happen by creating and sharing stories that can be passed along.
People Prefer Stories to Stats
Statistics are a great way to inform people about an issue or a solution. They speak to the mind. We become more knowledgeable. We may share that knowledge with others making more people knowledgeable. That’s great. But if you want people to act and to be moved, you need to appeal to their emotions, and you do that with stories.
My first nonprofit client was the Atlanta Children’s Shelter. I received an invitation from them in the mail – you know, that box that the USPS puts a bunch of unwanted letters and flyers in that we all throw away without looking at? That’s what I did with their invitation; I threw it away.
It was only when I checked my email and read a message from a friend telling me to look out for an invitation from the shelter that I dug it out of the garbage, wiped the spaghetti sauce off, and realized that I’d been invited by a friend to attend a fundraising breakfast for the shelter. My friend was a table captain in charge of inviting people to sit with her at her table of 10. Not only did I want to support my friend, but I also suspected I would be interested in meeting the other people at her table, so I RSVP’d.
The event was lovely. I learned about what the shelter did and about the needs of homeless moms. It was educational. I was happy that I attended. And then it happened.
A beautiful woman who I spoke with when we were mingling before the event took the stage. Earlier, she told me she was a little nervous, and I assured her she would do great because of how articulate she was. As she ascended the stage, poised and graceful, she began to unfurl an awesome (in the old-fashioned sense of the word – full of awe) story: She had been a client of the Atlanta Children’s Shelter. She had been homeless. This radiant, intelligent woman was on the streets with her child. She did not represent what I had always assumed what homelessness looked like, yet there she was, telling her story.
I was hooked. I was ready to get involved. I was going to make some calls and see how I could help. But helping by pulling out my checkbook at that exact moment was not what I was thinking. The deal was still not closed. Not until I learned from the next speaker that their operating budget was a little higher than other shelters because their pre-school was NAEYC accredited.
I was a mom of two young boys and I knew the high standards of a NAEYC accredited preschool. I had removed my own children from pre-schools who chose not to renew their accreditation because of the cost of NAEYC. It was expensive, but I knew it was worth it. Here was a preschool for homeless children ensuring that even though these kids were off to a rough start, they were going to have a quality education. The moment I heard this my checkbook was out and I was writing the biggest check I could afford.
There are a number of lessons in my personal story. One is that direct mail is equivalent to throwing dollars in the trash.
- 5.6 million tons of catalogs and other direct mail advertisements end up in US landfills annually.
- 44% of junk mail is thrown away unopened, but only half that much junk mail (22%) is recycled.
- The average American household receives 848 pieces of junk mail per household, equal to 1.5 trees every year—more than 100 million trees for all U.S. households combined.
- Junk mail destroys 100 million trees a year—the equivalent of deforesting all of Rocky Mountain National Park every four months.
- Largely due to deforestation, junk mail manufacturing creates as much greenhouse gas emissions annually as 3.7 million cars.
- Americans pay 370 million annually to dispose of junk mail that does not get recycled.
Also, people respond to their peers and stories move people. But one of the more important lessons is you need to know what stories will move people. For me, it was her story plus the NAEYC accreditation that did it. However, once I started working with ACS I learned that most people did not put the latter issue high on their value list. Everyone has a different trigger.
Know Your Audience’s Hot Button Issues
People will donate based on what their values are. Nonprofits seeking donations can be one of the most competitive industries out there. The resources (money) that people are willing to give is limited and if they choose to donate those dollars to cure cancer, then they won’t have that money available for homeless children or premature babies. Individually, we can’t save the entire world, so we have to focus on giving according to what we value most.
Why do people give? Here are 7 main reasons:
- They feel like they are part of the community and it is their responsibility to contribute to the good of their community.
- Their religious convictions motivate them to contribute to the greater good.
- The see charitable giving as good for business either for tax breaks or PR opportunities.
- They get involved for the networking opportunities (remember why I initially went to the fundraising breakfast)
- They feel a moral obligation to “do the right thing.”
- They have been recipients of a nonprofit’s service.
- They were raised to share their wealth.
Your stories need to appeal to at least one of these motivations and it needs to do so in an emotional way.
Structuring Your Story
Stories do not have to be long. Consider the challenge to tell a story in six words or less which led to “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
A single image can tell a story. For example:
Meals on Wheels
The key to a good story is that you get your audience involved with the main character. You show them the challenges they are facing and provide the opportunity for your audience to make a difference.
Telling your story through digital platforms today provides many more opportunities to build relationships with your donors based on what they care about. Through retargeted ads, you can show
specific ads for stories that are already resonating with them.
Every social network is investing heavily in video which is a more dynamic way to share your stories.
Most importantly, stories shared online and through social ads allow your audience to get engaged through comments and by sharing them with their peers.
Remember that 1/3 of all online donations are a result of peer-to-peer fundraising.
That is a big deal.
Many nonprofits feel the need to post content daily on social media, which yes, you should post daily. But be careful to not post content just to mark it off your to-do list. There are nonprofits that I have supported, that I have been passionate about, but that I had to simply unfollow their social sites because when I saw the updates my attitude was “so what!” or “that again?” Be mindful that your content is constantly compelling by being passionate about the story you are telling as opposed to feeling compelled to post an update.
When you tell your stories, make sure you lead your audience to a call-to-action that is appropriate and seamless. Maybe you’re focused on increasing awareness about your mission and therefore your call-to-action is for your audience to spread the word. Maybe you need your audience to get involved and write to their representatives. Maybe you need volunteers.
Your call-to-action does not always need to be and should not always be about giving money. Give people other opportunities to get involved and the money will come.
Make sure your audience does not need to jump through weird hoops to respond to your story. They should be able to email with a click, not have to copy and paste or write down an email address. They should be able to donate through a site like Paypal, where they do not even have to pull out their wallet. Make sure volunteer opportunities are specific and signup is easy.
As a nonprofit, you are on a mission to make the world a better place. That mission is driven by the stories of the people you serve. Their stories drive the passion of the people who work in the nonprofit every day. Share those stories with that passion and your donors will work for you.
It’s that time of year;
- The ringing of the Salvation Army bells
- The opportunity to donate food as you buy your groceries
- Events that require toys for tots as an entry fee
Whereas all of these activities are successful because they make it easy to give, they seem to lack the personal touch of knowing who you are supporting, where your gifts are going, or how you are changing lives. They also require enormous effort to attract partners and volunteers to be everywhere shoppers and party-goers are.
Even though the end of the year is a time of giving both for altruistic reasons and for tax reasons, it is also a time of great competition for dollars among nonprofits. The smaller nonprofits need to be extra creative within very tight budget constraints.
My client, Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, has created a campaign that is creative, compelling, entertaining with a personal touch.
It starts with a video, Santa Claus Needs New Eyewear.
The video is funny, showcases the work that the Lighthouse does, and has a call to action. The Lighthouse produced this video by showcasing the talents that existed in their own building. The lyrics were written by a staff member and the vocals were provided by another staff member.
The call to action is for you to visit their holiday website Check It Twice. At the website, instead of just asking for a donation, the Lighthouse has developed a holiday gift catalog where you can choose the amount you would like to give by choosing the gift you would like to give. Not only does this make your gift more personal, in one snapshot it also tells the story of all the work that the Lighthouse is involved with.
Not only has the Lighthouse developed an entertaining campaign that is seeking end-of-the-year gifts, but they are also effectively enhancing the community’s awareness of the work that they do all year long; work that not only makes a difference to the lives of individual clients but also makes a difference for the whole community.
About a year ago I was offered the gift to work with Liz Hayes, the Marketing Director for the Center for the Visually Impaired, to build out their social media strategy. Liz is one of those amazing clients who are not only a sponge for information and ideas but also someone who will effectively implement those ideas.
The past couple of months Liz and I have had the opportunity to co-present at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits. At a presentation yesterday Liz was able to showcase how all her hard work in social media is paying off.
Each time I speak to a group of nonprofits I start by asking a few questions.
1. What is your mission?
Practically everyone can answer this question….by rote memory.
Because the mission statement is usually memorized, it is too common that people have to think for a moment about why their mission is what it is.
3. Who have you specifically helped?
90% of the time this question is answered with a statement that sound like it is right out of a marketing brochure. “We have helped 25,000 people who have found themselves without the means to….blah blah blah.” There is nothing to pull at my emotional strings in such statements.
The statement that more the 7,500 soldiers have died in Afghanistan does not have the same impact as hearing about the soldier who had only 2 more weeks left in Afghanistan before he could come home to see his newborn daughter but was killed while on the side of the road changing a tire for a stranded citizen.
4. How does what you do impact my life?
This question almost always stumps my audience. The typical answer is that they are there if I or anyone I know ever need them. That is great, but how are you going to raise money when the only people who know about you are the people who need you? The goal of this question is to help my audience see how what they do has a larger positive impact on society as a whole and that we all benefit from their work and therefore we all have a responsibility to support them.
This is the consultation that Liz has run with at CVI. The CVI Facebook page is full of personal stories, valuable resource information, inspirational stories, and stories of how CVI impacts society as a whole. And it is paying off tremendously.
In a year her community has grown to over 400 members – which is a strong following for a locally focused nonprofit organization. However what is so impressive is the 25% of that following is talking about CVI to their friends.
And what are people talking about? Personal stories of the impact that CVI is making on people’s lives and on society.
Jack and Luke are four years old, visually impaired, and on the path to a lifetime of learning and adventure as braille readers. You can help Jack, Luke and CVI clients of all ages with the vision to see beyond their disability.
What is the secret to CVI’s success? Liz would tell you that before she posts anything on Facebook she thinks about who it is for, why they would care, and what action they would take. She always puts herself in the shoes of her community first.