One evergreen piece of advice often given to nonprofit fundraisers is to share feel-good stories about their mission. They’re encouraged to talk about their mission, introduce the clients they serve to supporters, and share tangible actions they were able to take because of their donors’ generosity.
That’s great advice—and we stand by it, too.
But what about the nonprofits that work with heavy subject matter? What if the feel-good stories are still sensitive or have the potential to further fatigue donors or supporters who are tired of hearing about the challenges we’re facing in the world today?
In short, you don’t want to scare supporters away. Because if they throw away or delete your appeals, that’s a missed opportunity to win their support.
Don’t lose hope if you’re facing this issue! In this post, we’ll share how to connect with supporters while still honoring the work you do.
1. Strike a balance between feel-good content and sensitive content.
Just because the work you do exposes you and your supporters to sensitive topics doesn’t mean that you can’t share some lighter content with your supporters and potential donors.
So, what does balancing out the tough content look like?
Highlighting your staff. Celebrate team members who make your work possible. Who are the people on the frontlines? What keeps them engaged in this work? What do they want supporters to know about themselves or the work that they do? Showing this insight into who carries out your mission internally will likely inspire supporters to get more involved because they’ll feel like they can make a difference on an individual level, just like your team members do.
Elevating the wins. When the stakes are high, the wins are even more significant. Spotlight a client success story, how your work touched supporters, or a big funding win. Solidify in their minds that, despite the dark days, there is a light at the end of the tunnel—one you will continue to strive toward.
Bring the why to the center. Your supporters may know what you do, but do they know why you’re doing it? Again, this is a chance to humanize your work. What does it mean when your organization accomplishes a goal? What does the impact look like when client or organization outcomes are achieved? How do those things play into your why?
2. Share content or trigger warnings when appropriate.
Like we said, we don’t want you to stop sharing the important statistics and somber stories you have on hand. These things communicate the seriousness of the work you do, and you need donors to take you seriously. You also, however, need to prime them to hear sensitive or serious content.
Your staff is likely aware of the realities of the work you do and what it means to think about those things every day. But what events equate to just another Tuesday at the office for you can be triggering for your audience. That’s where content warnings come in.
A content warning is a sentence or two that lets your audience know you’re about to share something that some readers may find heavy or upsetting. It can be as simple as saying, “The post below contains content related to domestic violence.” Readers can then choose to engage with the content or not.
It’s best to separate the warning from the post and make it the first thing readers see so they don’t skim over it and miss the heads up. This simple gesture can protect readers who might be triggered by the information, which lets them know you respect their space. If they feel respected, they will be more likely to engage with your content in the future.
3. Evaluate your content with people’s feelings in mind.
One way to ensure the information that you share is balanced and your content warnings are thoughtful and accurate is to prepare. This isn’t the kind of thing you want to throw up on your blog, out on social media, or in a direct mail appeal without thinking about it. Or, rather, the messaging around the information you share needs to be especially sensitive to your audience’s potential feelings.
This may require your team to spend more time or put more energy into sharing these messages. Most fundraisers we talk to are short on both—but trust us when we say it’s worth the cost.
Why? This preparation lays important groundwork.
This can be as simple as making a plan at the start of the week or month about what to share and determining what content warnings might be necessary. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What is normal to you but may not be normal to them? How will this make them feel? Will it decrease or increase the chances of them responding to your appeal?
If you’re not sure how to do this, ask your audience. Survey some of your community members to see what messages are working and which ones could use polishing.
Along that note, it’s also crucial that you honor what your constituents want. If someone doesn’t want their photo, real or full name, or situation shared in your marketing or fundraising appeals, listen to them and withhold that information. There are plenty of ways to share stories without giving out identifying information. Make sure you get their approval ahead of time so you’re not wasting your valuable time and energy.
As the CMO for Bloomerang, Ann is responsible for the company's marketing and thought leadership programs to strengthen relationships with the nonprofit community. Ann brings more than 24 years of technology marketing experience, including time at the Minnesota High Tech Association. Prior to Bloomerang, Ann was an independent marketing consultant for B2B SaaS businesses, served as Senior Vice President of Marketing at Code42, and was named one of the “Top Women Leaders in SaaS of 2018.”