Our friends from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference recently stopped by the Bloomerang offices as part of their Nonprofit Story Tour.

Chris Davenport joined our own Steven Shattuck and Jay Love in the VW bus for a discussion on how you can use stories in conjunction with your donor management software for enhanced stewardship.

You can watch the full conversation below:


As the presenting sponsor in 2017, we want to help you go to the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference! Leading up to the event, we are providing 10 scholarships per week that are worth $100 each.

To apply for a scholarship, click here.

Hope to see you there!

Full Transcript:

Chris:It all starts with a story, a story that motivates someone to take action. We are traveling the country, stepping into the heart of non-profit organizations to discover how they’re using storytelling to better connect with their donors, their communities, and have a greater impact. Non-profits make America great, people helping people, one act of kindness, one small triumph, one story at a time.

In today’s episode we’re in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Chris:Jay, Steven, how’s it going?

Jay:Welcome to Indianapolis.

Chris:Thank you.

Jay:Or should I say to Lawrence, Indiana.

Chris:Lawrence, Indiana.


Chris:So this is beautiful, Jay. Where are we?

Jay:We are on what used to be one of the major Army bases in the United States. This used to be Fort Benjamin Harrison. In fact, for Operation Desert Storm, this is where many of the soldiers were staged before they went over. It’s now been turned into a commercial property, part of it residential that we’re driving in right now, and then over where the Bloomerang offices are, it’s now commercial.

Chris:I would love to talk to you guys about databases and what story your database tells, because there are tons of different stories to tell and listen to when you’re working at a non-profit.

Steven:It’s not enough anymore to have any good story or a few good stories. The real key is to know which story is right for which potential donor at which time, and that’s what a good database will do. It’ll tell you, “Hey, here’s a constituent. They should be told this story to produce this desired outcome.”

So many non-profits, they will send one story to everyone on their list or in their database or in their mailing or whatever, and we wonder why it falls flat for all but 2% of the recipients. Well, that’s because we didn’t dig in and understand what stories should we tell this specific type of person or this group of people, versus another group of people who may need to hear something completely different.

Jay:In this day and age, the big difference is the database is accessible anytime and anywhere by anybody. So the days of where it was just a simple database being kept by one record keeper or one administrator, those days are all gone. Now we have the information from the executives of the non-profit, every single fundraiser. And what’s neat about that, we’re now truly capturing the conversations and the thoughts, the wishes and the dreams of the donors for that.

And what I think’s really neat that sort of ties into the storytelling conference, all of those conversations, all of those communications can now be brought back in so that we tell the proper stories that tie right back to what they’re thinking about your organization and your mission.

Chris:It’s so key.

Jay:And so you can look at it on your phone, on tablets, on, you know, small laptops, so there’s really no reason why every person cannot put every single note in the database.

Steven:And when you do all the things that Jay mentioned, that’s when you gather that intelligence and you’re able to pinpoint exactly which story a person or a group of people should hear at the right time, and that’s when you get results.

Chris:Yeah, because I can’t tell you how many times somebody’s come up to me and said, “Chris, what’s the right story I should tell somebody? What is the one story?” I’m like, “There is no one story. Who are you talking to, who are you messaging?”

Jay:Especially when you can tie it in now because the database should also have feeds from social media, so you can see what they’re saying on Twitter and Facebook and etc., and every email communication that they have and maybe even other interactions on your website because we can now tell when a donor or prospective donor is visiting your website and feed that back in, so you know how engaged they are with your organization. And that’s really a lot of fun, Chris, when we can start seeing an engagement meter, much like is there a gas meter in here somewhere?

Chris:Right over here.

Jay:Yeah, yeah, like we can tell how much gas you have in there, we can tell almost the same thing, how engaged a donor or prospective donor is with your organization and with your people.

It almost tells you when that gauge gets to a certain level, that it’s time to talk to them about a larger gift or an estate plan or something else that shows, you know, further involvement with your mission.

Steven:I think it’s really useful in maybe ballooning your stories. So if you see someone’s on your website, they’re on your donation page and they don’t make a donation, that, to me, says maybe we’re not telling the right story on the donation page. Maybe we should change it, maybe we should add something there, remove something, because something caused that donor to show some interest, but ultimately not follow through.

So I think it would be a really good way of maybe auditing or perhaps editing the stories that you are telling to make them resonate more or to make them more effective to phrase that desired outcome.

Jay:I think something else that people forget about is sometime in that first year after someone’s donated, ask their opinion via a very short survey. The two questions I love is, “What form of communication do they like and what part of your mission are they somewhat more partial to?” So you can more focus your stories, your communications and stuff on the part of your mission that they care about most.

Steven:So often we craft great stories, and that’s fine, but if we don’t attach them to a specific audience, if we miss that sort of persona part, those stories can fall flat. So I think it’s important to look at your data when you’re talking about databases. But create segments, right, types of donors. “Here are all the types of donors that have only given one gift. All right, let’s tell a specific story to them to get the second here.”

Here are donors that they’ve given consecutively for multiple years, maybe we want to move them up the donor period, or maybe we want to start to foster major gifts for them. What stories should we tell to create that outcome in our monthly donors? There’s up to 12 opportunities to tell a story for monthly donors, so why not do it?

So I think just separating your donor database into multiple segments based on recency, frequency, even gift size can be valuable in a lot of ways. And then once you’ve defined all those personas, then write the stories. So often we do it backwards here, write these great stories, and even if they are great, we don’t have the correct audience attached to them, they may fall flat.

Jay:I think the other tidbit that I’d like to throw out there is, as much as possible, use any human connectors that are involved. A lot of people complain that they cannot retain special event donors and memorial and tribute donors. Those are the hardest to keep in the fold and they often forget that they could use the person who invited that individual to the event or the family member that set up the memorial and tribute fund. That person could be the one reaching out and introducing the professional fundraiser or introducing the organization so that the message is coming from somebody they’re already familiar with.

So I personally in my own individual fundraising that I’ve engaged in and helped out with on campaigns, those human connectors have made all the difference on those individuals that oftentimes fall through the cracks.

Steven:The storyteller, I think, is just as important as the story itself.

Jay:Can we talk a little bit about the conference itself now?

Steven:Yeah, absolutely.

Jay:When you talk about the storytelling conference, last year was my first time attending when you had it in Chicago. And almost from the minute I walked in, you could tell this was something very different and very special. The people that you met there, and I’m not just talking about you, but the other attendees, they were there for a common goal and a common purpose and it was really, really neat to be part of that.

And I know you’ve worked hard to make that happen. Steven, what do you think, was that your first time going?

Steven:Yeah, and it was also my first time I just felt the energy in the room was totally unique, and we go to hundreds of conferences a year between the two of us.

Jay:Big and small.

Steven:It really felt different. The speakers are great. The information that they’re giving, you know is top notch. You don’t have to, you know, go compare it to some other information being given. It just is a really unique experience that I look forward to every year now, honestly.

Jay:Oh, yeah, especially when the situation where the attendees still bond together and want to discuss things after the conference day is over, and even after dinner. You just don’t see that very many places, Chris.

Chris:So many people last year were so excited about going out and telling their story. They came up to me afterwards and said, “Okay, I’m so excited to use this knowledge but I need more donors. I need a new audience. How do I do that?” So we’ve added half a day this year to really show people, give them a blueprint, almost step by step, actually step by step how to bring more people in. But you know more than anybody that you can get new donors, but if you don’t get that second gift . . .

Steven:Actually, it can be worse in a lot of ways if you don’t get it, because if your cost for acquisition was higher than that only one gift that you got, then you’ve got negative ROI after that, so you absolutely need that second gift from a lot of those people. And we have seen from multiple studies, Adrian Sargeant studies, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, Donor Voice studies, all of them say that one of the best things that you can do for that first time donor is tell them how their dollars will be spent, if you haven’t spent them yet, and after that, how they have been spent.

So sharing these stories of impact of the gifts, how are those being used, what is the outcome, what is the output of the gift that they made. And the donor feels like they’re making a true difference. Not only that, but they feel like the organization they donated to, they were worthwhile investments, so why don’t I keep giving?

So I think one of the most powerful stories you can tell, again, backed by research, is to simply tell people how you plan on using dollars. And you’re not necessarily walking yourself into a fund designation or anything like that, but tell them a story. “By the way, here’s a family that you’re helping. We’re sending this kid to college for the first time in his entire family. Here are some puppies that we recently saved. Here’s an area of the wetlands that didn’t get demolished.”

Those simple impact stories get donors sort of addicted to giving. That’s how you get the second, third, tenth gift.

Jay:Yeah, and I think adding on to what Steven’s saying, the most revolutionary or the most insightful donor retention statistic is if you can get someone to make that second gift, they are retained at three times . . . more than three times the level of a first time donor. So the second gift sort of cements them in as saying, “I have a relationship and I care about your mission,” because it goes from, like, 19 or 20% to above 60% for the retention.

And, wow, if you can get most of your database to be that, you’re in a very elite company as far as all non-profits in our country.

Chris:Well, we want everybody who attends the conference to be in that elite group.

Jay:Well, I think you’re well on your way toward that because those are extremely devoted fundraisers. I mean, they are there to know that they are not going to be able to just sit back and passively listen. I mean, your conference is all about participation, as we were talking about earlier, and I think that’s also very unique and something you never go away from, partner. I think you want to make sure that you keep that active participation and talking and mixing with each other going, because I think it brings out the best of everybody. But more importantly, I think it will seem that it ends so that people will remember what those best practices are and can put them back to use when they go back to the several hundred emails that are waiting for them when they get back home.

Chris:Well, Jay, well, Steven, this has been fun.

Steven:This is great.

Jay:This has absolutely been really nice, even though the air conditioning in this is only working part way. I’m glad Steven’s getting plenty of air back there.

Steven:I’m actually really comfortable. Sorry.

Chris:Well . . .

Jay:See you in San Diego.

Steven:Okay. Drive safe.

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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.