There are lots of ways to steward donors and even more ways that you could tell stories. In this webinar, Vanessa Chase Lockshin will talk about the best ways to combine these strategies so that donors feel thanked, connected to their giving values, and understand their impact.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Vanessa, my watch just struck 2:00 here. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Vanessa: Yeah, let’s do this.

Steven: All right, awesome. Good afternoon if you’re on the East Coast, and good morning, I should say, if you’re on the West Coast. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Donor Stewardship That Tells a Story.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the chief engagement officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before we get going here. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this whole presentation, and we’ll be sending out the recording, as well as the slides, later on this afternoon. So if you have to leave early, or maybe you just want to review the content or share it with a friend, later on you’ll be able to do that. I’ll get all that good stuff in your hands this afternoon, I promise, so just be on the lookout for that later on today.

Most importantly, though, if you’re listening throughout the hour, please feel free to chat in any questions or comments you have. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A, so don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. And I’ll be checking the Twitter feed, as well, for questions and comments, so send them our way. We’ll have some time to answer as many as we can.

And one last bit of housekeeping. If you have any trouble with the audio through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a lot more solid, a lot clearer, so try dialing in by phone before you totally give up on us. There’s an email from ReadyTalk that has a phone number that you could dial into if that’s [inaudible 00:01:37] if you don’t mind doing that, so give that a try before you totally give up on us.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to you folks. We do these webinars just about every single Thursday throughout the year. We only miss a couple weeks out of the year. We love doing these webinars, bringing on great guests like Vanessa, almost every single week.

One of the things we’ve gotten a lot of notoriety for, but what we are most known for, and if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, we are a provider of donor management software. So if you are interested in that or just kind of want to learn more about what we have to offer, just check out our website. You can even watch a quick video demo to see the software in action if you want to.

Don’t do that now. At least wait an hour before you do that, because you all are in for a treat. We’ve got a very special friend of the program once again returning. We love having Vanessa Chase Lockshin join us for webinars. So she’s back due to popular demand. We’ve got almost, over 1300 people registered for this session, and you’re about to see why as you listen to her presentation.

So Vanessa, how’s it going? Thanks for being here. Are you doing okay?

Vanessa: Yeah, I’m doing great, and thank you so much for having me, Steven. I’m really excited to be here with all of you. I am just super happy to talk about two things that I love talking about, which is storytelling and donor stewardship. So I’m really excited to just share what I’ve been thinking about and keep doing with my clients over the years around storytelling and stewardship, share some fun examples, and we’ll talk about how both of these concepts can really help solidify your donor relationships through the type of content that you’re putting out there.

So lots to chat about today, and as Steven mentioned, you know, we’ll leave time for questions at the end, so feel free to send in those questions, and we can definitely spend some time answering those towards the end of our webinar.

All right, so as Steven mentioned, my name is Vanessa Chase Lockshin, just to give you a face to the voice here, and I’m really excited to be here with all of you. And I want to start by just asking you all a question. So you can answer this in the chat box. So what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of donor stewardship? So go ahead and type that in the chat box. I’d love to hear from you. First thing that comes to mind when you think of stewardship.

Yeah, Emily, so thank-you calls, great. Silvia, relationship-building. I see gratitude, thank-you letters, donor appreciation, hand-written notes. You all have so many great ideas. Really good things that you’re putting in there. Retention. Fantastic. I see a few of you have put retention and relationship-building, which is great. Yeah. Let’s see, impact, maintaining relationship and retention. Fantastic.

These are all really good things. I’m really glad you all shared these things. Because to me, stewardship is a lot more than just a thank-you. There’s a real reason why we’re out here doing donor stewardship. We want to build relationships with donors, and this is the really key mechanism for moving relationships forward and moving them through the relationship-building cycle.

And of course the benefits of that are that hopefully we retain more of our donors, hopefully we can upgrade donors into different levels of giving, and also hopefully we build life-long relationships with these donors that maybe transition into a major gift at some point in their life, or even a legacy gift down the road. So there’s lots of good things with donor stewardship, and I’m just glad we could do this kind of brainstorm together.

I just think, when I think of donor stewardship, one of the first things that comes to mind for me is really thinking about the impact and being able to help donors understand the impact that they’ve been a part of. That to me is a really important part of what we can do when we report back to them and help them understand the power of their philanthropy and their giving.

So a couple of things we’re going to talk about here today. I want to just kind of quickly give you an overview of where we’re going. I’m going to talk about three practices for using storytelling in donor stewardship. We’re going to talk a little bit more about the elements of a great story and the types of stories that we can use in donor stewardship. And I want to also give you some really good examples of storytelling and stewardship in action and help you really see what this can look like.

I have to say I’ll give you all a warning, though. I was going through my examples this morning and noticed a couple of them are email-based stewardship, but I’ll talk about how we can apply some of the concepts to other types of stewardship that we may do, whether that’s offline or digital touchpoints.

All right, so hopefully that sounds good. So I’ve got one more question for all of you before we move into our content here. So my question for you is which of the following best describes your stewardship materials? And you can just put A, B, or C in the chat box. So A, inspiring and connecting. B, so pretty standard, nothing special. C, maybe a little boring, maybe a little uninspired.

Great. Wonderful. So I’m seeing lots of Bs and Cs. A few of you are putting As, which is great. Glad, you know, you’re feeling good about your stewardship. Wonderful. Great. Yeah. Fantastic.

All right, so I think it’s always good to do this kind of self-reflection. I am always encouraging my clients and students to be self-reflective no matter what they’re doing in fundraising, and to just kind of pause and think about, like, how are we doing? Like, if we had to grade ourselves today, like, how would we rate what we’re doing in our fundraising program?

And I find that no matter where we are on this spectrum, whether you feel like it’s an A, B, or C, chances are, you know, there’s probably some room for improvement. And I find that’s true no matter what in fundraising. Even if we feel like we’re killing it and doing our best work, there’s often ways that we can optimize what we’re doing and really take it up to the next level, and I think that’s always a good thing to be thinking about, just to continue to innovate and iterate and do our best work as fundraising professionals.

So hopefully this gives you a chance to think about that for a minute, and if you’re not sure, one of the things I would encourage you to do is, you know, just pull out some of your recent stewardship materials. Grab your thank-you letter. Look at some reports that maybe you put together, your annual report or impact reports, anything like that. Gather those things and just, I don’t know, set aside, like, 15 or 20 minutes and read through them and just think about, like, if I were a donor, what would I think of these things? And it’s really great to kind of do that slightly more objective review of some of those materials.

All right, so let’s chat about this some more. So I think one of the reasons I’m always most excited to talk about donor stewardship is because it’s a really good opportunity for us to really be excited about the people who donate to our organizations. Donors make philanthropy possible, and they’re a big part of the reason why we do what we do, right? We get to work with awesome people who care about our causes, who care about our mission, and want to donate and want to be involved. And I think it’s a really special opportunity to recognize that level of commitment, and also that level of engagement that they have with our organization and with our causes. So for me that’s, like, one of the things that makes me most excited about fundraising and one of the things that I’m always most excited about in terms of doing this work is the opportunity to get to work with these amazing people.

And, you know, I think it’s a really important part of fundraising, as well, is doing this stewardship work. You know, I think about all of the parts and pieces that go into fundraising and a really successful fundraising program, and when I reflect on my career over the last 10 years or so now, I have to say, one of the things that I consistently [inaudible 00:09:36] is donor stewardship, and I think that’s because there’s so much creativity and also innovation that can go into the stewardship that we put out there for our donors.

Now, I have to say, stewardship, of course, is a really big category. There’s a lot of things that we can do for donor stewardship. But today, we’re going to talk specifically about stewardship and storytelling. So I just want to talk briefly about why these two things, why they go together, and why it’s worth considering them together as kind of, like, a package deal, so to speak.

So there’s two things that I think about in terms of storytelling and stewardship. So I always think about some of the really key findings from Penelope Burke’s donor-centered fundraising research, which is great research to look at if you’ve never taken a look at that before. But she consistently reports back that one of the things donors want to know is how their gift was used and what impact it had. And that second piece of what impact the gift had is a really important one for us to be able to extrapolate and share with donors.

And of course it’s one thing to tell them, right? We can tell them, like, here’s how we used the gift and here’s what happened. Like, maybe it helped this many people. We were able to support X number of people through our program or service. Anything like that. Like, we could be very matter-of-fact about it, right?

But it’s another thing to show them what impact it had, and that’s where stories come in. It’s a real opportunity for us to actually show the impact in action and tell a story about a person or a place or a group of people, maybe, who were helped as a result of philanthropy and the services and work that your organization does. And so I think it’s really powerful to think about how we can pair those together and really show, not just tell, in our donor stewardship. Hopefully that makes sense to some of you.

And I would encourage you to think about, you know, in your stewardship, do you have a track record of showing or telling? And maybe it’s been a combination of those two things. But just think about, like, how you have presented that information before and how you’ve been able to connect with donors through the stewardship that you’re putting out.

All right, so let’s talk about some practices for using stories in stewardship. So I want to start with just kind of three things that I am often thinking about when I am writing stories for stewardship materials. So to me, these are kind of, like, general writing guidelines that I use or kind of principles that I follow in my work, and what I’ll share with you is just kind of these three different kind of broad categories that I think about and give you some kind of pointers for thinking about your own writing and your own storytelling. And then what we’ll do after that is go into talking a little bit more about the mechanics and structure of the stories themselves.

So let’s talk about these three practices. So the first one is to really aim for clarity. Aim to increase clarity, I should say. And so I think this is really important. One of the things that happens oftentimes both in fundraising asks and also in stewardship materials is that we can veer towards being a little vague about what it is we’re doing or what it is we plan to use the donations for. And one of the things that I think we’re being called to do increasingly is be really clear about what’s happening.

So one of the kind of places that I often look for is places where I’d use the word impact, but haven’t really explained what I mean by that. So I’ll give you an example. So one of the things you could think about is sometimes you might write a line like, you know, “Your donation has made a significant impact in our community.” But what kind of impact has it had? So really being able to extrapolate that a little bit more and explain what that impact is.

And to me, I think that’s a really good opportunity to look for places to be tangible about what it is that’s going on, and also really be able to go from big picture, so broad, like, this is what’s happening with the whole mission, to specific, and helping people understand the really specific aspects of how your mission works and how it’s really impacting people, communities, you know, places, anything like that.

So the second principle I have in my writing is to be more human. And this might seem like a really obvious one. You might think, well, of course, you know, we want to write conversationally. Of course this is something we should be doing. I find this one’s easier said than done sometimes, so I just wanted to name it and point it out as a really good quality for our stewardship work.

And, you know, to me, I always think about storytelling as being conversational. It’s something that, you know, we want people to feel engaged with. We want them to read and feel like, wow, this is really interesting. I feel pulled in to continue to read what’s going on here, all those things.

And so, you know, to me, that’s a real indication of the tone and way that we write. We want it to feel conversational. We want it to flow. We don’t want it to feel like someone’s reading a policy paper or a report, right? Because that’s never something that’s fun. So being able to be human and be conversational in that writing is really important.

So for myself, one of my kind of, like, guidelines around this is making sure that there’s limited jargon, kind of, like, boilerplate information, or what I would also qualify as, like, accepted, factual information that’s just kind of overloading donors with that information.

So in kind of reading your writing and thinking about how you’re writing and how you’re kind of positioning your copy and stewardship, I would encourage you to think about how can we make this really conversational for people? And I’ll give you one tip that I’ve given to many clients and students over the years. If you feel like writing is not something that’s a strong point for you, like, maybe you feel like it’s, you know, a skill that needs some work in your toolbox, and you just never can quite capture a good tone or kind of conversational flow to how it is you write, one of the things you can do is actually just take a voice memo recording of you saying the thing out loud.

So rather than trying to just sit down at your computer and write, pick up your voice recorder on your phone and just record yourself saying it out loud. Because when you speak, you’ll be able to capture that really conversational tone and flow, more so sometimes than if you just sit down and try to write it first without doing anything else. So if you struggle with that, I totally encourage you to just do that, to try that out, and I find that’s really helpful for some folks in terms of being able to capture that conversational style and tone.

All right, and the last thing I just want to share with you before we go into some more storytelling tips is to think about the donor story in all this. So, you know, we talk a lot about donor-centered fundraising and donor-centered copywriting, things like that, and in storytelling and in stewardship, there’s a couple of considerations for this. So first of all, you know, where is the donor at in their giving story or their giving journey? Is this their first-time gift? Is it a monthly gift that they make? Is it them moving into making a legacy gift? Like, where are they at in this trajectory, and how can you kind of account to that and kind of speak to that in some of the stewardship you may be providing them?

Can you also provide them with some narrative for that part of their story that can help shape that story for them to help understand where they’re at and give them some context for that? To me, I think more than anything else, it’s about showing them that giving says something good about them. One of the key questions that I always try to answer in fundraising appeals when I write an email or a direct mail piece is what does giving say about me? I really want donors to understand the kind of, like, principle or values-based answer of what does it mean to give to this cause? What does it say about me as an individual if I decide to donate to a food bank, or if I decide to donate to an environmental cause, or a local healthcare foundation, any of those things? And so I think being able to reflect that back in stewardship is really valuable.

I had read last year in a report from the Lilly School of Philanthropy out of Indiana University that they were finding, especially among women donors, that there’s this increasing need to kind of be values-aligned in their giving. I think we continue to see a trend with those kind of emerging out of things that are happening in the political space, as well. But being able to really identify that and help donors understand the values alignment in their giving is something that you can do that I think is a really powerful tool and really powerful way to connect with them and help them understand the real value and importance of their giving.

All right, great. So let’s talk about some tips for storytelling in stewardship. Here we go. All right, now we’re going. All right, so let’s talk about some tips around stewardship and storytelling here. So what I’d like to do is talk a little bit about the structure of stories and how we can think about how we present and write the stories in our stewardship materials. So before we get into that, I’m going to ask you another question, and feel free to just answer this in the chat box.

But what do you think are the elements of a good non-profit story? I would love for you to tell me maybe, like, your top thing, like, this is something that I think makes a really great story. You can let me know in the chat box.

I see Jason says sharing the problem. Yeah, I think that’s a really important piece. Amy, showing real change. Great. Overcoming challenges. A lot of you are saying problems and solutions. Great. Exactly. Emotions, definitely. I would agree with you all on that. The emotional connection, emotionally moving, emotionally compelling. Great. You all are hitting this on, hitting the nail on the head here. Fantastic. So lots of different things, yeah. And I have to say, I think that there’s not one single element that makes a good story. I think it’s a mix of things, and many of you have touched on the things that I certainly think are a big part of this.

So I’ll share with you my story structure and what I teach my clients and students to give you some perspective of what I think goes into making a really good story. So these are what I would consider really good elements of a story. And of course there’s other pieces, as well.

Generally speaking, when I think about storytelling for nonprofits, I think about it as a series of facts told with details and emotions. And, you know, it’s really easy in our work to just kind of give, like, a series of chronological information, right? Like, these things happened in our program, here’s what’s happened this year or this month or whatever, and that’s fine. Like, that’s factual information. Maybe it’s kind of loosely considered a story. But what really makes a good story are the emotions and details, and so being able to incorporate that is the really important piece.

All right, so let’s talk about the story structure, and my apologies here. I feel like some of my texts got cut off a little. So the first piece over here on the far left-hand side is connection. So I think that this is a really important opening piece in a story. We want the donor to feel connection with what they’re reading. So there’s lots of ways to connect with people.

I have to say, I usually look for a values or emotion connection, or something along those lines, but you could also find something else. It’s really just about creating common ground, inviting them into the story, and helping them see why they should continue to read this. And I think as some of you rightly kind of pointed out in the chat box, the kind of emotional pull or the emotional quality is something that can also do this, as well, so being able to integrate that in right from the start of the story is one way that we can connect with people.

So the second piece is character. Of course, this is a really big piece of any story. We’ve got to have a character in our story that people can kind of identify and relate to. It’s generally a protagonist, and, you know, this doesn’t necessarily have to be just one individual. It could be a group of people. It could be a place. It could be a thing. Like, you could really think very expansively about what character can mean for your story. So I’d encourage you to think about this kind of creatively and not so narrowly. It doesn’t just have to be a beneficiary of your work or a client. There’s many other ways that we can think about this.

And that leads us into the next part of the story, which is understanding the conflict that the character is going through. Now, I personally think this is one of the most important parts of a fundraising story. It’s also a really important part of a stewardship story, as well. Which is showing that there is a need or a problem, and that both your donors and your organization could ultimately resolve that in the resolution of the story.

And I would suggest to you that in conflict, it’s really important to demonstrate what this is, talk about why it was so challenging, why it persisted, why it’s something that your organization is perhaps uniquely qualified to address. Like, that’s something you can also think about, as well.

So in stewardship, one of the things you also want to think about is the resolution piece, and this is about helping donors see how this problem was resolved. What were they able to do as a result, what were you able to do as a result of donations that they made? So being able to really think about that and identify those pieces is really useful and really great to be able to report back on impact and connect the dots of their donation experience.

Now, the last piece is call to action, and I have to say, in stewardship stories, this is not a piece that’s often used. This is much more for a fundraising story. We’ll make a call to action to donate. But in stewardship, your call to action might be, you know, to find out more on a social media post or to follow your organization somewhere else. It might be some different call to action that’s not donating, and you could think about what might make sense there for your organization.

So just some tips to consider about the story structure. So I always encourage people, as I mentioned to all of you here, to have your stories really show how giving solves a problem or fulfills a need. So really making that clear, that giving does something very important for your organization.

I think it’s useful sometimes to help donors see themselves as having a role in the story, sometimes the heroes, and so making it so that your organization is not the only hero of the story. Of course, you do important work, your staff do really important work, but it’s beyond that. There’s a partnership that happens that makes this possible, and your donors are part of that partnership.

And I would also just say, as well, you know, in terms of providing, you know, a resolution of that story, one of the things that I think is really valuable for stewardship is to think about how you can demonstrate an inspiring vision for the future. What’s possible? What are we excited about, and what do we think can happen as a result of this great work that we’re doing together? And being able to get donors excited about that and thinking about kind of more of a forward-looking vision for what’s possible in your community or region and the work that you’re doing.

So just to give you some more tips on storytelling, so if you’re thinking about the types of stories you might share, one of the ways you can consider this or think about it is with the characters that are in your story. So you might have clients, staff members, board members, volunteers, donors, community advocates. There are so many people who could be a part of your story. And I would encourage you to think about who those people could be and think about, you know, just kind of the wide range of perspectives that you can share in those stories. It doesn’t always have to be a client story to be impactful and be really . . . yeah, I would say impactful and compelling for donors, but there’s lots of other perspectives that can share really meaningful, powerful stories. And so don’t necessarily get in this, like, narrow storytelling box of only telling, like, empowering, exciting client stories. Think about all the other perspectives you can bring to that storytelling work.

So another thing you can think about when you think about the stories to share are the types of stories you can tell in stewardship. So I just wanted to give you kind of, like, a short list of what I would say are, like, themes or, yeah, I guess themes, of the types of stories I see in stewardship.

So you can certainly tell stories about outcomes. That’s a really big one in stewardship. As I said earlier, we want to make sure that donors really understand the impact and really understand how their gift was used, and so telling stories about outcomes is a really important thing we could do.

We can also tell stories that reinforce a donor’s giving values. So identifying why it is they gave and what kind of motivated them to give and being able to tell stories that reinforce that and reflect that is also a good thing we can do.

Stories that connect donors to their impact. So hearing directly from clients and beneficiaries or even from staff members is a really good way to connect them to that impact.

We can also tell stories about people or places that benefit from what donations make possible. So again, another way to think about the impact.

And lastly, and I think this is a really valuable one, we can also tell stories about the future. So maybe your outcomes haven’t come to fruition yet. Maybe it’s something your organization’s working towards. You’re trying to take some big strides towards this work that you want to do towards making your mission possible. So you may not have something super tangible to report today or tomorrow, or even next month. But being able to tell stories about future vision, about what you hope is possible, is another way to tell stories about that.

And I’ll give you some examples of these stories in action here in a couple of minutes, just to kind of look at these a little bit more and help you understand, like, what could happen in terms of the stories that you can tell.

All right, so just some other tips I want to give you here as we’re chatting about this. So I think that one of the things I hear most often from clients and students is that they want to be able to consistently tell stories, but they have trouble with the consistency piece. So I want to just give you some tips for, you know, thinking about this and how you can really consistently include stories in your stewardship work, or maybe more broadly, in all of your fundraising and communication.

So one of the things you can do, start with, is taking an audit of your stewardship materials to look for storytelling opportunities. So what I would recommend doing for this is gathering up all your stewardship materials maybe from the last six to 12 months and just kind of reading through them and thinking about, are there any places where we had explanations that we could’ve used a story instead? Like, we could’ve brought in a story or a testimonial or something else along that line.

And, you know, so being able to kind of ask that question I think is really valuable, and it helps you to creatively think about how else you can communicate with donors besides just through facts and figures and informational updates.

You can also think about developing a stewardship checklist that includes storytelling. I’ve done this with organizations I’ve been at before where we’ll have a process checklist for things like a donor report back or a thank-you letter, and one of the things that we have on this checklist to make sure that we include and don’t forget is a story. Like, we want to make sure that there’s a clear, interesting story that feels relevant and timely for donors to receive. And first, having that there as kind of, like, a checks and balances, if you will, just to make sure that it’s included in your piece might just be enough of a prompt or a reminder to include something like that.

And lastly, and I feel like putting this as a bullet point probably doesn’t do it justice, but thinking about really cultivating a broader culture of storytelling at your organization. This is something I’ve talked about probably since, like, 2012 at this point, but this idea of being able to really cultivate a culture of storytelling at your organization is one where storytelling is valued and people feel empowered and engaged in the idea of storytelling internally.

So giving you an example of what this could look like, many years ago I worked at a human services organization in Vancouver, and one of the things that we did really well was focusing on telling each other stories first as staff members. So when we had staff meetings, we would often make a little time at the beginning to talk about what stories we were hearing.

And even for myself working as a front-line fundraiser, you know, I would come in and talk about, you know, stories I heard from donors, and be able to talk about things that I heard from them that were inspiring, what was, you know, exciting them about our work, things like that. And our program staff had an opportunity to talk about people they were working with, stories they were hearing that were inspiring them and encouraging them to show up every day and do their very best work.

And so being able to do that, and being able to prioritize stories as a way to both engage each other and, you know, also really motivate each other in the mission our organization had really cultivated this kind of, like, cultural piece of storytelling for that organization. And that was something that was really valuable for all of us. Not only did it help with staff engagement, but it also helped ultimately for all of us to be able to tell stories externally and to really be an organization that was focused on storytelling as a really key piece of our communications and fundraising work.

And I would say if you have questions about that, feel free to ask. I’m happy to answer questions about that or anything we talked about so far.

All right, so let’s look at some examples. I have to say, I have rather a lot of examples of stewardship that I wanted to talk about that share different types of stories. And as I said earlier, you know, I really encourage you to kind of step outside the storytelling box that always has to be an impact story about a client. So I really wanted to round up some different examples to give you some ideas of what this can look like, how we can tell stories.

And I’ll just preface the examples before we dive in here by saying that a lot of them are email examples. They might be a thank-you email, an impact report, informational updates, things like that, all sent by email. But I think that even though the format is email, they’re totally ideas that you could take to your newsletter, to direct mail, or to other types of mediums that you might be using for donor stewardship.

So let’s talk about this. I want to share the first one with you. So I’ve recently been doing kind of a, I don’t know, almost a little donation experiment of making a lot of small dollar donations to organizations just to see what their stewardship follow-up is like. And one of the organizations that I made a donation to recently was, which is a climate change organization. And I have to say, I was super impressed by the follow-up that I received from them. Not only did I receive a really great first thank-you email from them, so after I made a donation, but I got a second thank-you email the very next day welcoming me as a new donor, which is a really nice just kind of follow-up and sequence after making that donation.

But I wanted to show you this as an example of a story about the future, because their work on climate change is happening in real time. There not necessarily have been huge outcomes yet. But they’re able to tell a story about what the future could be if they’re able to organize, bring people together, and really work towards fighting the climate crisis. And so they do a really good job of telling what I would say is a story about common values we have, things we have in common, what we as a community are bringing to this fight.

And I think that’s something that you can also bring into your work, as well. You can talk about, like, what do we as, you know, a full community, a donor community, you know, the community that surrounds your organization have in common. Like, what sort of future are we fighting for? What sort of future are we hoping for? And how are donations a really important part of that?

So this email I think does a really good job articulating that story, and as I said, it’s not about a specific person, but it’s more about the mission. It’s a story about the mission. And I think that’s a really powerful type of story that we can tell.

So another example I have for you is from UNICEF. This is one I got in my inbox, gosh, probably, like, three or four years ago now, but I pull this out quite often because I think it’s a really good example for us to look at. So this email on the left-hand side, I think the subject line was something like “Your Impact in 20 Photos,” and it was an email to donors just to help them understand their impact and what was going on on the ground in the areas where UNICEF works.

And what I thought was really great about this was that it’s actually multi-channel, so it integrates a Facebook photo album, which you can see a photo of over on the right-hand side, with email. So they decided to use something they already put together on social media, so a photo album, or maybe you have a video, something like that, and use email to drive traffic to it and use it as a way to help people see their impact in action.

So if your organization, I would say, is especially poised for, like, visual reporting, like, photos are really easy for you to take, or maybe you can take some videos, things like that, this is a really great idea. This is a really easy way for us to kind of show those things to donors and also really leverage that stewardship work in multiple places like email and social media.

All right, so another example I have for you here, this one’s from Invisible Children, and I think I got this email around, definitely around Thanksgiving. And I think this is a really great use of photos. So they have these great photos of staff in their emails. But they talk about really why they appreciate supporters, and being able to really tell the story of their supporters’ values and the reasons why people give. So being able to reinforce that story of why someone gives and the importance of giving through this email.

And again, I would say unlike the last example from UNICEF, which is very specific stories through photos, you know, this is a little different. It’s more about high-level story, but it’s still a type of story nonetheless. I would say it’s a values-based story, where we can really connect donors to their impact in helping see what happens, or help them understand why their giving is important.

All right, so another example I have for you here. This is from Human Rights Watch. And I think this is a really interesting example of how we can report back to donors and supporters. So they chose to use a really specific day to do this report back. So they reported back on Human Rights Day. And maybe there’s, you know, an analogous holiday or seasonal time where reporting back would be good for your organization.

But they took this opportunity to just reflect on what they’ve been able to do in the last couple of years, what some of their big victories have been as a result of their work, which is largely funded by donations. And so they focused on three kind of key areas. You can see there’s different little images next to each of them. And just kind of gave people very specific anecdotes about their work in action, and really being able to talk about the impact of that.

So I think this is a really interesting way to kind of frame support, frame impact, and frame stewardship, and tell some stories about them. And, you know, I think maybe your organization can relate to Human Rights Watch in some ways in that they, I think, struggle to tell stories about individual people because of the nature of their work. They’re dealing with complex issues, sometimes issues involving, you know, really terrible things that are happening to people, and it either is infeasible or inappropriate for them to really highlight one specific person who’s been impacted. And so they have to take a different approach to storytelling, so that’s telling stories about the projects and about the campaigns that they’re running. And that’s something that they’ve done here in this email.

All right, so just the last example for you. This is a video that I like a lot from Delaware Youth in Government, which is a program run by a local Delaware YMCA chapter. And you can head over to this link if you’d like to check it out after the webinar. But it’s a really great video that just talks about the impact of the youth who are involved in the Youth in Government program, so helping them really understand politics more, feel motivated and engaged as citizens who are going to be eligible to vote soon. And they do a really good job of helping donors understand the value of funding programs like this. I think it’s a really good example of what it can look like to help connect donors directly to the people that they support as a result of their donations.

So those are some examples I have for you. I hope they inspire you, gave you some food for thought. I know we have lots of time for questions, so we’ll probably go to those here in a second. But two things before we head over to questions.

So I always like to ask people just to think about one thing you’re taking away from today’s webinar. So if you’ve been taking notes or just thinking about this, I would encourage you to just jot down in your notebook, you know, one thing that’s kind of struck you or sticking with you that’s something that you’d like to implement after today.

And lastly, if you’re thinking about your stewardship more broadly, one of the things that I offer is the Stewardship Assessment Tool. So if you’d like to kind of evaluate your stewardship and really think about, you know, is it effective, could we be doing things differently, how are we stacking up against other organizations, [I give you 00:39:33] a little assessment tool that you can take to get a custom report back on your stewardship, and I’ll put a link here in the chat box if you’d like to check that out after the webinar. And you’ll get a little report with some recommendations and things that you can do to improve the stewardship experience for your donors.

All right. So Steven, I think we can probably go to some questions.

Steven: Yeah, awesome. Thanks, Vanessa. First, yeah, thank you. That was really awesome. Really great advice. I love what you say about keeping it human. That really resonated with me for sure. So, and thanks to all of you for listening in. We do have a lot of time for questions, and it looks like a lot have already come in, but if you haven’t typed one out, now’s the time. We’ve probably got about 15 minutes, which is awesome. I love this part of the session, so . . .

Vanessa, here’s one from Sue, and I think you have experience with these types of orgs, so it kind of jumped out to me. What do you think of, what kinds of stories resonate for cultural heritage organizations like museums, where maybe, you know, you don’t have a kid or a puppy that was saved, and you can’t necessarily highlight their story. Any advice for storytelling from those types of organizations?

Vanessa: Yeah, definitely. Really good question. Yeah, I have lots of thoughts on how arts and cultural organizations can use storytelling. To me, I think with those types of organizations, one of the fundamental questions I think we have to answer in our stories and in all types of fundraising is why is our arts and cultural service so important to the community? What is the value that we’re bringing to the community? And, you know, what is the service that we’re offering in some ways?

And so I think being able to really tell stories about that and really be able to connect people to that value and that importance is really key. So I would say if you have stories about people who have come through your museum or your cultural association, anything like that, being able to tell those stories about people who have been there and the impact of that is really great.

I saw a story, and I wish I could remember the museum it was from now, where they told a story about a parent who had brought their child to the museum, and the parent had also gone to the museum as a child, and so it was this really, like, lovely story about kind of how generations of people in the community were coming to this museum and what an important experience it was for parents to be able to share that with their kids. So I think that’s a really great type of story that we can tell in this organization.

I would also recommend, just as a separate resource, if you’re in the arts and culture space, Colleen Dilenschneider’s blog, which is Know Your Own Bone, is a blog entirely dedicated to museums and arts and cultural organizations and research, and she has lots of really interesting research around fundraising and communications for those types of organizations.

Steven: Awesome. Yeah, I love Colleen. She shows up in my Facebook feed every once in a while, and I always read and watch her stuff.

Vanessa: Yeah.

Steven: But that’s a really good resource for these museum folks.

Vanessa: Yeah.

Steven: And I sent the link out for there, so check that out.

Vanessa: Great.

Steven: Okay, Vanessa, we’ve got a couple people asking kind of variations of the same question, so I’m going to kind of sum it up this way, if that’s okay. So fostering a culture within your organization where kind of everyone’s on board with it. So usually we have these webinars, and the individual listeners are on board with what you’re saying. How do they, you know, distribute that throughout the entire organization, maybe it be their boss or their board, where there’s not a lot of storytelling happening, you know, organization-wide?

Vanessa: Yeah, absolutely. I can 100% relate to that. So one of the things I would encourage you to do is just start by thinking about, like, what is, like, what are the barriers or kind of objections that you’re facing to bringing this internally into your organization. And I think you could do this with anything, not just storytelling, but, like, any new initiative that you’re trying to bring into your organization.

And just think about, like, what’s coming up in terms of resistance that people may have to it? And I’ll use a very, like, broad example here. So one of the ones I’ve come up against before are things with an organization was that the program staff was very concerned about what storytelling would mean for their clients. They weren’t sure that it was something that was a good idea, that it might, like, put clients, you know, in a precarious situation that maybe, like, violated their privacy or violated their trust in the work that they had done with them, which is a very legitimate, really good concern to consider.

So I always tell people to start just by understanding what are the concerns and sort of resistance to this. Maybe it’s that people think this is going to be just another thing on their to-do list. Well, knowing that that might be a concern that they have, you can address that and think about, you know, how can we talk about this as something that isn’t going to be a giant make-work project for everyone. Maybe it’s something that you’re taking on the lion’s share of.

And there’s small kind of, like, microwaves that people can get involved in that are not maybe super intrusive to their workflow and to everything that’s going on in their day-to-day. So I would say just start by understanding people’s concerns, objections, questions, anything like that, and be able to address those and to really lead change from within your organization.

Another thing you can also do is really look at trying to find, you know, one or two other allies within your organization, or I would say champions of what it is you’re trying to do. You know, so maybe someone else who feels really strongly about these changes as you might and is excited about them and who can kind of rally around you and say, like, “Yes, this is a great idea.” Get really excited about it. You know, and here’s how we’ve already participated in this thing.

And just to give you an example, you know, I was a board member, gosh, about six years, in an organization in Vancouver, and I had a lot of board members who were really resistant to donor stewardship. I just wanted them to make some phone calls, and I knew it was going to be a really simple, easy thing for them to do, and a really fun thing for them to do, too, because it’s always fun to talk to the donors. And, you know, I had faced challenges with them for months. No one wanted to get on the phone except for me and the executive director.

And so what I ended up doing was I talked one-on-one to another board member who I knew was, like, an extrovert, who was really social, who I thought would probably be really good on the phone. And so I asked her, I was like, you know, could you just come maybe, like, 10 minutes early before the next meeting and just make, like, two or three calls with me. Not many calls. We just have a couple of donors to call.

And I asked her to do that, and we talked after we made the calls, and I was like, “How did it go? Did you enjoy this? What was your experience like?” And she said to me it was great. She really enjoyed talking with the donors. And I asked her if she could share that experience at our next board meeting, and she did, and it was a really great way for people to see that someone else was involved in this initiative and had a positive experience. And that was able to kind of start to create this sea change at the board level. And so you can think about kind of using that concept in other ways with staff or board or even volunteers.

Steven: Very cool. Oh, I love this question, Vanessa. This is from Christina. How do you present your donors as heroes without also presenting your clients or your service recipients as people that maybe don’t have any, you know, agency or dignity and, you know, people who are in need of rescuing or saving? It seems like, you know, there’s a lot of talk about donor centricity, but, you know, can we take that too far at the expense of people we serve? What do you think about that?

Vanessa: Yeah, such a great question. I would agree with you, or, and what you said, Steven, that the kind of concept of donor centricity can go too far sometimes. And I’m sure we’ve all seen examples of what that can look like. You know, to me, one of the most important tenets in storytelling is telling stories that are authentic and that reflect someone’s real experience, that we haven’t, you know, manipulated these stories for our own gain and our own benefit, because I think at that point it becomes very problematic and we have entered into some very ethically precarious situations in our storytelling and our fundraising.

So, you know, I think that it’s really helpful just to think about what are your internal guidelines for how are we telling these stories? What feels good for us? What feels right in terms of how we talk about people’s stories, how we position them, how we share them with folks, and where do we start to get into some gray areas that feel uncomfortable, and where are there, like, hard lines around, like, we’re really uncomfortable doing this. We would never tell stories this way.

I think those are all really important questions to ask ourselves. For me, I think one of the best kind of, like, checks and balances that I have in any process where we tell stories is bringing that story back to the person whose story it was. So if it was a client story, bringing that piece back to them and saying, you know, here’s the final shape this is taking. Are you happy with this? Like, would you, do you feel comfortable with us sharing this publicly?

And I really try to make it really clear for people throughout the process that, you know, they have so much agency in the process. Like, at any time, you can hit the emergency stop button and we won’t keep going with it. Like, I want them to feel comfortable and confident, respected, all of those things in the process.

And so I think by making that really clear and making that part of the process that we go through, but also coming back to them at the end with the final story and giving them sort of final approval vote in the whole process I think really gives us that reality check of, like, did we do a good job with this? Is this person going to be proud and, in that example, like, happy with how their story’s been shared?

And I think that that can, I think to the point, Christina, really offset some of the challenges that we may face of trying to balance, you know, presenting donors as a hero and making sure that we tell stories in a totally responsible way.

Steven: Love it. Here’s one from Jamie, another museum person. We love you museum folks. Thanks for doing what you do. She’s having issues keeping the connection with donors who have given to the science museum when they had kids attending the museum, but now those kids have aged out, and maybe they’re no longer members or, you know, maybe children’s programs aren’t really a thing for that contributing family anymore. How do you kind of keep that legacy going when maybe they’re no longer receiving those services or receiving any, you know, direct services and everything? Is it just a matter of, hey, you know, your children benefited from the museum. Now, you know, give that back to other families like yours? Is it something along those lines? Any experience keeping that legacy going there, Vanessa?

Vanessa: That’s a good question. I can’t say that I have direct experience with that, but I could tell you what I would hypothetically do, and Steven, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, too. You know, I think what I would do and how I would come at this is I would try to find parents and donors who have stayed on, who have continued that relationship as donors, and I would talk to them one-on-one, and I would just ask them the question, “Why have you continued to donate?” Like, your child’s no longer someone who’s coming to our museum. You know, maybe you’re not visiting as often. Why has it still been important for you to donate?

And I would just try to understand their motivations and their connection and see if, in those conversations, you can find some common threads and use those in your messaging and in how you position getting people to continue that relationship. What are your thoughts, Steven?

Steven: Yes. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think donor stories are so underutilized. Like, we always look to service recipient stories, which are great and you should do those, and maybe even, you know, employee or board member stories. But, I mean, getting the donor the opportunity to not only kind of brag about their own giving, but talk to the, you know, emotions that go through their mind while supporting you, I think that could create kind of an interesting . . . maybe, like, kind of a fear of missing out among prospective donors? Like, oh, I want to be a part of that. Like, that’s a family of giving that I want to be a part of. So I think that’s a really great idea, for sure.

Vanessa: Uh-huh.

Steven: And, you know, that benefits both ways. You can use it in your marketing materials, but it’s also a way to engage your donors.

Vanessa: Definitely.

Steven: In a way that is, you know, two-way rather than one-way, which I think is cool.

Vanessa: Uh-huh. Yeah, I think there’s . . . my sense is that there’s this real underappreciation of the value in information the donors can give to us when we have one-on-one conversations with them that are really pointed about why they give and about understanding their motivations for giving. And, you know, I have to say, like, when I do storytelling work with organizations, one of the biggest pieces of the work is understanding your audience and understanding how we can resonate with them through stories, through messages, through other types of content, and really laying that groundwork and spending time talking to people and spending time having those conversations is so informative and so valuable for you understanding how people perceive your organization and this brand and the relationship that they have with us.

Steven: Love it. Here is one from Alyssa. Looks like they’re in a volunteer-led organization, and they’re doing well. They have been successful with that. But they’re struggling with telling donors the story of the impact that they’re making because they’ve been pretty efficient without, you know, really raising dollars in the past. So kind of bridging that gap from not being donor-funded to wanting to be, but they don’t have those, you know, stories of what impact those dollars have had. What would you say to an organization like that who’s trying to make that transition?

Vanessa: Yeah, that’s really a good question. Well, so while you may not have stories about the impact of donor dollars, I’m guessing that you probably have stories about your impact, full stop. Like, stories about what you and other volunteers have been able to do as it relates to the mission. And so I would probably just focus on talking about that angle of impact, and then finding the way to connect the dots and saying, you know, with donations, we can continue to do this thing, or, like, we can continue to scale up this impact in the community.

You know, maybe you’ll be able to hire a staff person or, you know, hire someone part-time to continue to run programs, or whatever it might be for you. But being able to, I think, connect those dots and say, like, you know, we’ve made some impact. Like, here are the things we’ve been able to do so far. And, you know, with the partnership of donors like you, we can do even more of this. So that’s, I think that’s how I would approach that.

Steven: Love it. Makes sense to me.

Well, we’re getting close to running out to time, Vanessa. Only got a couple minutes left, and I kind of want to give you the last word. I know you’ve got a lot of really awesome resources on your website. You know, you’re pretty easy to find online. Where can people keep the conversation going? Check out your book. Everyone should buy your book, by the way. It’s really good. I’m not just saying that. Like, it’s here in my office. I actually have it and I’ve read it. Check it out. It’s got a lot of really good, like, checklists and worksheets and exercises. So I don’t mind giving a commercial for it because I’m an owner but, Vanessa, where can people find out more about you?

Vanessa: Yeah, sure. So you can find my book, which is called “The Storytelling Non-Profit,” on Amazon. The best way to find me is over on my website, And if you have questions that, you know, Steven and I didn’t get to that you’d love for me to answer, my email address is here on the slide. I would love to hear from you. Feel free to send me an email today or tomorrow and just let me know what your questions are, and I’d be happy to help you out.

You can also find me over on Twitter @VanessaEChase.

Steven: Yes, good Twitter follower, for sure. If you see Vanessa on a conference schedule, go to her sessions. If you’re in Vancouver, look her up. That’s a little creepy. Maybe don’t do that. But if you see her on the street, say hi.

But man, this is fun. This is a good session. I knew it would be. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. Thanks, Vanessa. Lots of [great info 00:56:56], you didn’t have to do this. You took an hour out of your day, more than that getting the slides ready so thank you. Thank you for doing this. This is fun.

Vanessa: Yeah. Yeah, thank you, Steven, and thanks to all of you for joining us and for sticking around all the way to the end.

Steven: Yes. We have a lot of people, and it was good advice, so I’m not surprised. But yes, thank you to all of you for taking time out of your afternoon to be here. I will get you the slides and the recording in just a little while. I’ll get that to you before the end of the day, I promise, so be on the lookout.

We’ve got some cool resources on our website, as well, so check those out, and we’ve got lots of great webinars coming up. Every Thursday, like I said, we’re going to keep that streak going. We’ve got a really great one coming up next week. If you struggle with asking for donations in person, if that maybe gives you anxiety or breaks you out into hives. I know it would for me. But be here for our next session. We’ve got Kristal Johnson. She’s going to talk about ways that you can kind of get over that fear of asking in person. She’s an expert on that. It’s going to be a really fun presentation. I took a peek at the slides earlier today. It’s going to be fun, for sure.

We’ve got lots of other sessions coming up. We’re scheduled all the way out to September already. It’s hard to believe. Lots of really fun topics. Lots of things we haven’t covered before on the series. So check out that webinar page. We’d love to see you again on another session.

So we’ll call it a day there. Just like I said, look for an email from me with all those resources. I’ll get you the recording today. And hopefully we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday, have a safe weekend, and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.