In the non-profit sector we talk a lot about storytelling. These one-off stories about something that happens to a person, place or thing offer a glimpse into the work our non-profit is doing. In the context of fundraising, these stories connect donors to impact and shows them what their donations make possible. And while many organizations are focused on telling stories, they are often missing a bigger opportunity that comes with storytelling: narrative.
Narrative is made up of a constellation of stories, messages, and other communications that represent and reinforce a key message. I often tell my clients and students that if a story is one slice of a cake, narrative is the whole cake. The challenge that many fundraisers run into is thinking slice by slice (or story by story), which leads to a lack of continuity and ultimately a narrative that is half baked.
Shifting into narrative thinking requires us to shift our mindset about storytelling and fundraising. It’s no longer just about the one direct mail piece or that one email you plan to send, nor is it enough to just think one story at a time. Narrative thinking means we must think about how each of these fundraising and storytelling touch points work together and what whole they are forming. In order words we must be willing to consider what the whole cake looks like. Sure, it could be interesting to have a cake made up of completely different slices like red velvet, chocolate mouse, vanilla, and so on. But when it comes to building an effective fundraising program, consistency, continuity, and clarity make a difference.
Clarity is an especially important element of narrative that can impact fundraising. Donors need to understand who your organization is, what it stands for, what problem it solves, how it solves that problem, and what impact they are part of through philanthropy. When we are clear about these pieces, we build a clear narrative over time that helps donors buy into our mission and vision.
For the sake of example, let’s consider a well-known non-profit like charity: water.
What they stand for: For people in developing countries, access to clean water changes everything.
The problem they solve: Access to clean water.
How it solves that problem: Work with local experts and community members to find sustainable water solutions.
The impact donors are part of through philanthropy: Beyond bringing community access to clean water, each project has powerful ripple effects on health, education, poverty, and women’s empowerment. In other words, clean water changes everything.
Curious how I mapped this out? This page on charity: water’s website does an excellent job laying it out for website visitors.
When you have a clear narrative in mind it is easier to tell stories that reinforce the central narrative and it is easier to build a case for donating to your non-profit. A clear narrative helps you move out of the nebulous language of “donate today to support our organization,” and into concrete language that actually tells donors how they are helping.
As you create your fundraising plans for 2019 and beyond, take the time to build your narrative foundation for fundraising. This is the foundational work that allows us to be on message throughout the year and ultimately, tell more impactful stories in donor communications and fundraising. If you want to dig deeper into how to create your non-profit’s narrative, I outline four steps you can take to create your narrative in this video.
Are you ready to give your donors the content they deserve? You’ll find a worksheet here you can use as a template to build out your own donor-centered content marketing.