3 Ways Nonprofits Can Leverage the Power of Stories before December 31st
In this webinar, Vanessa Chase Lockshin will show you three easy ways you can leverage the power of stories to raise more money before December 31.
Steven: All right. Vanessa, is it okay if I go ahead and kick off this party officially here?
Vanessa: Yes. Let’s do it.
Steven: All right. Cool. Welcome everyone. Good afternoon if you’re on the East Coast and good morning you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “3 Ways to Leverage the Power of Stories before December 31st.” 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 housekeeping items real quick before we get going here. Just want to let you all know that we are going to be recording this session. And I’ll send that out this afternoon as well as the slides in case you didn’t already get those. So, if you have to leave early or maybe you want to review the content later on, share it with a colleague, have no fear, I’ll get all that good stuff in your hand later on today.
And as you’re listening today, most importantly, please, please, do feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We love for these things to be as interactive as possible. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A. So, don’t be shy. Send in your questions and comments. Vanessa and I will see those throughout the hour. We’d love to address any specific problems you’re having, maybe with storytelling. You can also do that on Twitter I’ll keep, an eye on the Twitter feed if you’d rather tweet those things in.
And if you have any trouble with the audio by computer, we find that the audio by phone is usually a lot better quality, so if you’ve got a phone nearby and if that’s comfortable for you, if that doesn’t may be annoy a co-worker for the webinar to be on speakerphone or whatever, try that. It’s usually a lot better than the computer speaker audio quality. So, there’s a phone number in the email from ReadyTalk that has a phone that has a number you can dial in for the audio. You can check that out. You should have gotten that when you registered.
And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just want to say an extra special welcome to you folks. If you don’t know Bloomerang, we are more than just a provider of these awesome webinars which is really my favorite thing we do even more than the software in a lot of ways. But if you’re interested in donor management software, maybe you’re thinking of switching next week or just kind of next year, next week would be okay, but I meant next year, 2019.
Check out our website, you can even watch a quick video demo, see the software in action. Don’t do that now, wait at least an hour to do that because you all are in for a real treat. We’ve got a friend of the program here. Nice enough to come back almost every year, I think since we’ve been doing this to do an awesome webinar, and you’re going to see why here in a second. But we’ve got Vanessa Chase Lockshin here on the line. Hey, Vanessa, how’s it going?
Vanessa: Hey, Steven. I’m so excited to be back. You know, I remember when Bloomerang first came out with their software and kind of started entering the sector with this great software that you have.
Steven: Oh, thank you. And yeah, you’ve been a longtime friend, awesome presentations for us. If you guys don’t know Vanessa, you got to follow her for sure. And when someone says storytelling, honestly she’s like one of the top, you know, one or two names that pops into my head and immediately she is synonymous with storytelling. Great person too. A consultant. She helps with storytelling obviously but all aspects of fundraising and communication.
She’s helped her clients raise millions of dollars literally throughout the years. She was helped to get a monthly giving program with just 5,000 donors. That’s really awesome. She is the author of a really great book, one of my favorites. I got it here with me on my shelf. Can you hear me flipping through it. It’s “The Storytelling Non-Profit: A Practical Guide.”
I know. I always say that when I introduce people and I got an email saying that they didn’t actually believe that I had the book. So, I really do have these books and I recommend them. This is great. It’s like a cool, like oversized kind of margin format. It’s got a lot of like workbooky type things in it. Like you can take notes and there’s exercises and templates. So, buy that book for sure. I think you’re going to want to after you hear this presentation but it definitely has my stuff on it.
Vanessa speaks all over the place. If you see her on a conference schedule, definitely pop into that session. Spoken for AFP, The Council for Advancement Donor Relations Professionals, ADRP, spoken at BBcon, all over the place and just puts out a great blog, good Twitter follow for sure as well. A lots of interesting resources and helpful stuff there.
So, I’ve taken up too much your time, Vanessa. I’m going to turn it over to you to tell us how to take advantage of the next three or four weeks here. So, take it away, my friend.
Vanessa: All right. Well, thanks so much for the introduction, Steven. And thanks to all of you for coming and hanging out with us for this hour. I’m really excited about this webinar. You know, we have just gotten Giving Tuesday out of the way. We are here almost at the top of December. And it’s time to like hit the Go button on our year-end campaigns. Am I right?
So, I am really excited to talk about ways that you can leverage the power of stories before the end of the year. And just talk a little bit more about some simple strategies you can use to both do better relationship building with your donors, hopefully retain them. And maybe even get some more donations before the end of the month. So, I’ll be talking about some of those strategies and also talking about some ways that you can find really great stories to tell, if you’re not sure where to start with that.
I’m going to go ahead and skip over this slide since Steven has already introduced me, but just again, a face to put to the voice here today. I’m really excited to be here with all of you. So, I’m going to be talking about three different things here in our webinar today. So, I want to start by just talking very briefly about the benefit and how to strategically use stories for fundraising. Just to kind of give us the baseline to start this conversation.
But the real meat of what we’re going to talk about today are three ways to leverage the power of stories. And so, I want to talk about the strategies and give you some really great examples to really sink your teeth into so that you can figure out how to do this for your organization and how to really take these ideas and make them your own. And we’ll wrap up with some ideas about how to find your best stories of the year so that you can really end the year on a high note and tell some really fantastic stories.
Hopefully that sounds good to all. So let’s go ahead and dive right in and talk about how to strategically use stories for fundraising. So, I want to ask all of you a question and feel free to respond to this in the Q&A box. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. But my question for you is what is the foundation of fundraising? And you can just type in your answer and let me know. So, again, the question is what is the foundation of fundraising?
Yeah, Tara, relationships, exactly. Yeah, lots of you are saying relationships which is exactly right. Relationships are really the foundation of this work that we do. You know, I think it’s really easy to get stuck into thinking that the tactics and strategies are really the foundation of fundraising. Like we have to have a direct mail program to make fundraising successful, or we have to have a really, you know, sophisticated digital strategy to do great fundraising and that should be our foundation.
But really no matter how you fundraise, whether it’s peer-to-peer, major gift, direct mail, annual level donors, any of those things. The foundation of any of them are the relationships. And if the relationships aren’t strong, it’s really hard to grow and scale your fundraising program to something that meets and exceeds your goals year-over-year.
So, yes, so relationship building really is everything in fundraising. And I know it’s obvious how that is the case in major gifts because we’re really building direct relationships with the donors and seeing them face-to-face. And sometimes in annual giving when we talk about, like, how is like, what is relationship building look like? Well, for me, I always think about the relationship building as being all of the touch points we have with our donors. Whether it’s the thank you letters, the impact report, annual reports they get, other types of communication, all of those things are doing the relationship building for us.
And that’s a really important thing to keep in mind because we have to make the most of those opportunities that we have to do the relationship building with the donors. But to me, what I think really helps to take relationship building to the next level and really helps us do relationship building in a strategic and really meaningful way is using stories.
And I really think stories helps nonprofits to become relationship building machines, where you are able to tell stories that show impact and share impact, and you know, from a lot of the research that Penelope Burk has done over the years, we know that one of the things that donors want the most is they want to understand how their gift made a difference. And stories help show that rather than just explain it in kind of a factual way, right? So, of course, we can talk about the effectiveness and impact of our organization. But donors really want to see how that happens and we’re able to tell them stories and help them kind of connect the dots on those things.
The other thing that I think stories are so beneficial for is the connection piece of it, right? You know, I’m sure all of you know from your experience in fundraising that fundraising is not just about if I ever should say philanthropy rather, is not just about getting a tax receipt, right? People give for so many different reasons. They give because they feel like the organization aligns with their values. They give because they believe in the mission. They give because they or someone they know has been personally affected by the cause or the issue. There’s so many reasons why people choose to donate to the organization.
And by telling stories that can touch on those things, that can reinforce shared values or shared beliefs that you and your donors have, you reinforce that connection. And to me, that’s really what helps build a loyal donor community around an organization. And when I think about what I want to do in a fundraising program is kind of like my end goal. What is the real thing I’m trying to do? I always feel like, I’m trying to build community and a movement around the organization. So, there’s a lot of people who really care about what’s going on and are really highly engaged with it. And I personally think that stories are one of the ways to do a lot.
So, let’s tie this together. What does all this mean for your year-end fundraising campaigns? Because here we are, November 29, so let’s talk about that. So, it really, I think comes down to this idea that I mentioned earlier which is that we really need to leverage our relationship building touch points by telling great stories to raise more money. And there are so many opportunities, so many relationship building touch points that you’re about to have in the next 31 days before December 31st. And I want to talk about how you can infuse stories into those touch points and really use them as a way to build those relationships with donors. Whether it’s a new donor, an existing donor, or just something else, like being able to retain those people and build those great relationships is I think how you’re going to keep moving the needle forward in your fundraising program.
The other thing I want to say too is that, you know, of course we want to get one-time donations in December, right? So, we want to retain donors or get new donors which is important. But the other thing and I think about too is what about the repeat donations in December? That’s a real possibility. And in my experience when we provide donors with great experiences, great stewardship that really tells good stories and engages them, there’s a real opportunity to potentially get more than one gift from a donor in December. And so, when you’re strategically looking at leveraging your relationship building touch points in December, you’re setting yourself up to potentially get those repeat gifts even before the end of the year which is a really exciting possibility.
So, all that being said, let’s talk about some ways that you can really leverage the power of story in these different touch points before the end of the year. And I just want to ask all of you before I hop on into this topic. So, let me know in the chat box. How many of you have already have plans to tell stories in the next month? Like you’ve thought about telling stories, maybe you found the story for a direct mail piece. You’re excited to share stories on social media. Let me know, I would be really curious to hear from some of you which ones or if you are planning on telling stories and already thinking about this.
And Karen, oh, hey, Karen, you said yes, which is great. Yeah, Barbie, you always tell stories in your letters. Sarah, direct mail, already in the works. Fantastic. Yeah. All right. Wonderful. So, it looks like some of you have already got stories written which is fantastic. And Kari, said in your semi-annual newsletter which is great. Wonderful.
So, lots of you already have plans to tell stories in direct mail which is great. I’m really excited about that. So, I hope some of the things that I’ll mentioned here today will actually be really complimentary that and help you take that strategy to the next step and use stories beyond just the direct mail which is a really good thing to think about.
Yeah, and Karen, you said stories are part of a growing part of your stewardship as well which is great, and that’s exciting to hear about. All right. So, let’s talk about these things. I’m happy to answer your questions as we go. So, feel free to send those in the Q&A, we can definitely do that as well. All right.
So, my first idea for you in terms of leveraging the power of stories is to rethink your thank you letters. Thank you letters are such an important follow-up part of the donation process as many of you know. Penelope Burk and her research has given a best practice of trying to get a thank you letter out to donors within 48 hours of making a donation which is definitely a little fast. So, if you’re a really small shop and you’re thinking, “Oh, my goodness, we cannot have that kind of turnaround time,” take a breath. It’s fine. You don’t have to get it out quite that fast.
But there is something to be said for sending out an acknowledgement letter quickly just to let people know that not only did you receive their gift, you’re really grateful to have received that gift. And the thank you letter touch point, I think is really an opportunity for organizations to stand out and shine. You know we talk about how, you know, how like saturated and how full of competitions, you know, our space is for donations, right? We feel like we’re constantly competing for donor’s attention. We’re constantly competing to get the donations from people.
And I always think rather than thinking about like how can we out-compete someone in the fund, like in the direct mail space or in the email space. I always think about like, what can they do to stand out in other ways that are not competing and making the best ask? What can I do to really give donors a great experience and make them feel like, “Wow, like I’m really glad I gave to that organization. And I’m excited to see what happens when I give again.” And so, for me a thank you letters and stewardship are definitely a part of that.
So, let’s talk about some things that could go into your thank you letters or things you can just think about and we’ll talk about some examples here as well. So, I would think great thank you letters mean better donor retention, repeat gifts as I said even in December, and long-term donors that really love your nonprofits. So, if you’re skeptical about changing it up and you’re like, “I don’t know if this is really going to work for us,” try it. Just trust me on this. I think it’s worth testing it out and just seeing if you can improve the copy in your thank you letters.
I think it’s really great to figure out how you can tell a story, because again, this is like one of the first touch points people will have after they’ve made the donation whether this is an automated email that goes out to them or you’re sending them a letter in the mail. This is really an opportunity for you to thank them well, help them feel just so appreciated, and showered with gratitude, and help them kind of just a sense as to what that impact is that they’re a part of them by telling the stories. I think you really have that opportunity to connect them to those things.
So, I want to show you two examples that I have here. I just kind of talked through some of the things that work really well in both of these thank you letters. And I’m hoping you’ll be able to see the text on the screen. It might be a little tiny or a little blurry in this case. But we’ll talk through both of these examples and I think as Steven mentioned, you’ll get the slides after this as well. So, you can always take a look at this on your computer screen. It’s a little easier to read.
So, this thank you letter came from Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful which is a conservation organization in Truckee. And there’s a lot of things I like about this thank you letter. But one of the ones that I like the most is the story that it tells in a thank you letter. It talks about the importance and value of the work that they’re doing, cleaning up their local areas. And this is basically the story of what it means for them to have clean beautiful fields and being able to actually enjoy nature without all of this garbage piled up in various places in their area.
So, they do a really interesting thing in the first paragraph of this letter where they paint a picture of what it’s like when the area is not cleaned up when they haven’t been able to get out and, you know, clean up the environment and be able to take care of the environment around them. So, they said, “Imagine you’re out for a hike, a bike ride, or just enjoying nature’s natural beauty that Truckee Meadow has to offer. The afternoon sun shines brightly through shotgun holes in an old television. And a river of plastic chemical bottles snakes away along a ravine. A lump just barely hanging on to its identity as recliner belches pieces of foam into the wind. Thanks to you, these scenes are disappearing.”
So, again, this is not an organization that serves people directly per se. And so, it’s not as obvious for them what kind of stories they would tell. But they’re able to paint a
picture and tell a story about what the environment could be like if they were not able to do their work.
And I think that’s a really powerful picture to paint for people and a really powerful thing to remind donors that they are a part of. They’ve done a really good job highlighting that impact.
Another thing they do really well in this thank you letter is really making it donor centered and really personalized. So, there’s a lot of using the word “You,” and talking about how you’ve made a difference and you’ve helped the organization. And that both creates this kind of like personal connection in the thank you letter, but also helps donors to really see how they’ve made a difference. Not just your organization making a difference.
So, there’s I think a lot of a kind of inspiration you could take from the thank you letter. I think the addition of picture is kind of interesting and some of you might be thinking, like, “Why include those pictures? There are pictures of garbage,” but again, it helps people just to understand like, this is what they’re changing. They’re helping the organization to clean up these things and to really make a difference in their local environment which is super important.
So, let’s look at another example, and talk about some of the things I like about this one. I will say in this next example, because there’s always things we can do to improve thank you letters. This center text or the center paragraphs of the BM, second one down. It’s a little long and I think I would probably break this up so that it’s a little easier to read and it’s not one big block of text.
But this is a thank you letter from an organization called Cancer Care Connection. What they chose to do was tell a story in that second paragraph there about how their donations are making a difference with the people who use their services each year. And so, they talked about the fact that there are cancer patients, cancer survivors, their family and friends. And then they share kind of a short, very quick story from one of their cancer resource coaches named Carol, who was able to help a young mother and her son who’d recently been diagnosed with leukemia. And they talked about a little bit about just the challenges they were facing. How she was able to help them.
So, again, a really great way to just make the work tangible for donors and connect them to that. I would also say, if you are looking to really create an integrated strategy around storytelling for your year-end campaign, one of the things you could do is think about how you could connect the direct mail appeal story you sent out to your thank you letter. So can you continue telling that story in your thank you letter or can you reinforce that story for donors in a thank you letter?
That was something I did when I was working a lot in direct mail a lot more couple years ago. But I really think this is a great strategy to just give donor some continuity in messaging. And also, just to reinforce the story that you’re telling over time about your organization and the program so they’re able to help. So, if you’re not sure what story to tell in your thank you letter, you may just want to use the similar . . . use the one you used in your direct mail or email appeal and tell it slightly differently or tell more of it than you could tell in the letter itself.
And again, it doesn’t have to be long. It can be a really short anecdote just like this. But just being able to connect people to that impact and help them really visualize and see what they’re a part of, is something that’s really great.
One last thing I’ll just say about this thank you letter that I like a lot is the first paragraph. There’s a lot of personality that comes through in the tone of how the language that they used. And I know a lot of you have probably seen advice about how you should never start a thank you letter off with, “On behalf of,” or you know, “On behalf of our organization, thank you for your recent gift,” or something to that nature.
I think it’s generally good advice because that’s something the donors see all the time, right? That’s kind of a standard typical thank you letter language. And I think one of the ways that you can kind of delight them and engage them with your organization and be more memorable is to choose to use language that really engages them. And has a personality to it. And I think this letter has a really interesting way of approaching that which is great.
All right. Let’s talk about the next one here which is post-gift follow up. So, this is my second thought for you which is that, of course the month of December we’re asking, asking, asking. There’s a lots of asking going on for our organization. But one of the things that you can do is think about what other post-gift follow up are you doing that could be relationship building with donors.
So, of course there’s the thank you letter which is great. That’s a really good place to start. If you have an email program, if you’re doing email fundraising or anything like that, could you set up an extra email or two to go out in December to people who have already given just to talk a little bit more about impact and do a little bit more relationship building without asking. There’s a lots of things you could think about there.
Also things like thank you phone calls, is another kind of post-gift follow up that we can do that helps us to build the relationships, right? So, I think again these are really wonderful opportunities for storytelling and for relationship building. And again, they help strengthen our ability to fundraise from the people that were fundraising from, our donors. So, let’s talk a little bit about what you can do in terms of actually executing this idea.
So, a couple of ideas. So, you can absolutely use automated emails to report on impact. So, if you’ve sent out emails to people for fundraising and people have donated in your system, you could probably set up an automated email or two to follow up with donors a week after even two weeks after to tell them a little bit more about the impact and engage in this bit more with what they’ve given to.
You can update your thank you letter, of course and I think I meant to say thank you letter call scripts there or thank you call scripts. So, if you are making calls to donors or you’re having volunteers make calls to donors, which is a great use of volunteers this month, you may want to update it to include a news story or just kind of update it to speak to the impact a little bit more.
The other thing you could do which is a little bit more out in the future but something that’s great to think about now is planning a stewardship touch point for early in the next year that includes a story. I think, you know, people are going to be so fatigued by all the contacts they’ve had from nonprofits this month. I can tell you on Tuesday alone, I think I had something like 42 emails asking me for donations on Giving Tuesday which is a lot of emails from nonprofits in my inbox. And lots of people are on lots of email lists these days, so, they’re getting bombarded with communication, they’re getting bombarded with direct mail letters, all of these things, right?
And I think one of the things you could do to be more strategic and think about how to really build strong relationships after the year-end campaign season has ended is think about a really great stewardship touch point that you could execute in January that will thank donors and make them feel appreciated and remind them that they are so much more than someone who just gives money to the organization. They’re a partner or they’re someone who supports the mission, all of these things that are really, I think really important to remind donors of because all too often they’re treated like ATMs by a lot of organizations and you can do better than that. So, you can think about how to do that in January.
So, I want to give you a couple of examples. One is an email that I got a couple of years ago, maybe two years ago from Invisible Children that I really liked a lot. This actually came to my inbox on Thanksgiving, maybe a day or two before Thanksgiving. And you’ll have to imagine that this was one long email, I posted it side-by-side, so you could actually see the whole thing on this slide. But again, it’s a really nice stewardship touch point where they talked about why they appreciate their supporters. And they have these great photos of their staff who have the signs that say we love our supporters because, and they kind of talk about all these values and reasons why people are so committed and excited about this work.
It doesn’t necessarily tell an explicit story about individuals, but the thing this does do is tell the story of donors. That the donors are committed to peace and justice, they’re passionate, they have a lot of dedication and enthusiasm to the cause that keeps making the mission possible. And so, being able to tell that story, the story about the values and beliefs that kind of motivate people to give and keep giving is another way you can approach this idea of storytelling.
And so, I just wanted to share this with you is like another, just like another approach to it besides just telling a story about one person or one project. There are other kind of bigger picture ways you can think about storytelling and telling the story of your donors in emails or in other kinds of stewardship.
So, just one other one I’ll show you here. And this is just a video example from the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund. I hope this was really great and you can go to this link after the webinar if you want to watch it. A really short video, it’s about a minute and a half that just shares the story of two-women that the organization was able to help. And as all of you know, people are consuming more and more video content these days, so there’s ways for you to integrate video into your stewardship or use video to tell stories. Awesome. That is a great thing that you can think about challenging yourself to do.
And I just want to kind of remind you too that it doesn’t have to be a video that’s like super slick and has really high production value. I want you to think about stuff that
you’re watching every day on social media, on Instagram Stories, on Facebook, how many of those videos are professionally produced. Like just think about that for a second. It’s probably not that many. And so, as consumers of content and this true for your donors as well, we’re used to a very different standard of content than we were like even two or three years ago because so many people are just making their own videos now and we’re used to seeing that kind of production.
So, your organization, where I’m going with this, your organization does not have to spend thousands of dollars on video production these days. You can make your own videos, share behind-the-scenes looks, and really engage people in your organization’s work through video content. So, that’s something that I would certainly think about.
And I actually think this would be a great thing to do in January, just to do kind of like a wrap up like, you know, here’s how last year went, things we were able to do, this is why we’re so excited that you’re still a donor to our organization, or even just kind of doing like a New Year’s reflection of like we’re so grateful for all the donations we had last year, here’s what we were able to do and here’s what we’re excited to do this year. I think it’s a really great way to connect people and just to remind them about kind of what’s possible in the realm of philanthropy and their support of your organization.
And so, this really rolls over really nicely. It’s what we’re going to talk about next, which is to take your stories to social. So, I’m sure lots of you are probably thinking about social media. I feel like there’s constantly conversation about, you know, how social media can help us with fundraising or support our work. And I would be curious to hear from all of you and feel free to put this in the chat box. Are you thinking about how social media supports your year-end campaign? Are you being strategic and maybe posting a little bit more, or posting asks or anything like that? Let me know, I’d be really curious to hear from some of you if that’s part of your plan for this year.
And in the meantime while folks are typing in, I’ll just talk about a couple of ideas. I have them and we’ll look at a few examples here. So, I am a big fan of behind the scenes photos that really speak to donor’s impact. And I’ll share a couple of examples of those. But I think this is a really powerful thing to be able to do. You know, many of your donors follow you on social media more than likely. And even if donors are not following you on social media, there are other people who are potential donors who may want to kind of understand the impact they’re a part of and may want to see this and that might spark their excitement to be able to get engaged with your organization.
I also really like social media as a place to highlight donor stories, because donors are fantastic individuals. They’re giving to our organizations and by sharing their stories, not only are we able to thank and appreciate them in a new way, but we’re also able to provide some social proof as to why other people donate to our organization. So, we’re able to showcase those individuals who support our organizations.
I also think that we’re able to encourage more engagement and engagement to create community through our stories. So, people are able to connect with them, you’re able to have conversations about them. And that’s of course something that you may be thinking about with your social media community.
But I just want to check our chat box here. Vesta, you said not yet, you’re unsure how to balance this and create this and create donor social media fatigue. Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s right, like I mentioned earlier that I think a lot of people are definitely experiencing, you know, both social media fatigue but also I would say asking fatigue this time of year, right? And you can even think about your own experiences outside of the nonprofit world. I mean, how exhausted are you by all of this cyber Monday and cyber week sales. I for one feel very over it right now. So, we’re just kind of being bombarded with all of these messages and all of this communication, absolutely.
Jesse, you said your plan is for every ask post on social media we post a thankful for post. I love that, absolutely. That’s a really great plan. And there’s some really simple ways to do this. You know, if you want to thank donors on social media, a lot of times in your donation forms if you are using Bloomerang or maybe another tool for donations processing, you can add in custom fields on those forms and you could ask something like, we love to thank donors on social media and give them a shout out. Would you be okay with this? And you can have like a yes-or-no checkbox and you could ask them for their social media handle, if there’s a specific channel that you want to do that on which is just another nice way to kind of make it really personal and relationship build with those individuals.
So, let’s look at some examples. This first one I think is a really interesting example. And I shared this before since he’s been on a webinar with me before, you may have seen this one. But this is an example that comes from the UNICEF USA Fund, and there’s several reasons why I like this. So, it is an email to thank donors and thank supporters for their support of UNICEF. But the way that they did it was to actually send donors and supporters over to a Facebook photo album that they had created about one of their projects in the field.
So, I think this is a really interesting and creative way both to drive traffic from your email list over the social media. And sort of leverage the resources you’ve got. And it’s also a really great idea as just another touch point you could have with donors after and after they’ve given kind of that post-gift follow up, right? So, you could send them an email in a couple of weeks or maybe even a week after their donation to say, you know, we’re so grateful for your support and, you know, we put together this really great photo album of a project we’ve recently done. And that way you can kind of showcase it and connect them a little bit more with that. And you can see here there’s a picture from one picture from the photo album.
But the idea is just to, again, like be able to connect people to that impact and photos on social media of course a great way to do this and you can repurpose them as a donor stewardship or donor relationship building touch point. And you can certainly do this other ways too, if you have like let’s say an Instagram post where you’ve uploaded multiple photos to one post, you could send people over to that. There’s so many ways you could use this and kind of leverage the content that you’ve got to help thank donors and also to share with your community a little bit more about your impact.
So, I’ll give you another example here. This one is from SickKids Foundation which is in Toronto. A really large Children’s Hospital Foundation in Canada and they’re in the midst of a very big capital campaign right now which is very well branded and does a lot of really great storytelling so if you’re interested in seeing an example about in action, I would highly recommend checking that out. But I pulled this post from their page because I thought this was a really great example of how you can thank people for participating in campaigns and being a donor. So, this individual, Brennan, was a part of their hard hats crew who is . . . which is like one of their groups that have come together to support their capital campaign.
And so, they told his story, they told and kind of shared some quotes about why he believes in SickKids as a nonprofit and as a hospital in the community. And just did a really good job of like sharing the donor’s story and sharing the values that people have for giving to your organization and why to get involved with it. So, lots of, I think lots of inspiration to be taken here from something like this if you’re interested in telling donors’ stories. This one is certainly like a little bit that I put together, they have a really great photo that I’m guessing they probably had professionally taken. But there’s lots of ways you could do this. You could create graphics if you wanted too. You could also ask people for photos or even ask donors to share videos. If you wanted to do something a little bit more creative, you could ask them to record a little snippet and you could use that as well.
All right. One more example for you here. All right. So, this is from the United Way, and this is just an Instagram post that they had posted a couple weeks ago to share a little bit more about like their partnership or corporate sponsorship or corporate partnership they have with Lyft, the ride-sharing service. And to talk about also how people are making a difference on Giving Tuesday. So, they spent the weeks leading up to Giving Tuesday talking about how donating to the United Way makes the difference in communities, and they did that by telling stories.
And so, this is an example of one of those stories, is Victor who is a homeless disabled veteran who is looking for transportation to and from the Veterans Service Center. And they talked about how this 2-1-1 program that they had was able to help connect Victor with Lyft and ultimately helped him get to where he needed to be.
So, there’s lots of simple ways you can tell these stories. And I think even throughout the month of December, you know, being able to talk about the impact of what your programs are doing in posts like this. Oh, Jim, you’re still seeing SickKids slide. Oh no. Hopefully it’s advanced for everyone else. If not, let me know.
Yeah, and so, being able to just share this impact and let people know what’s going on and how they can help. Making soft asks on social media like this can be another way for you to get your campaign in front of people and to use stories to engage audiences.
So, those are a couple of strategies I have for you. And I want to talk about how to find stories to tell. So, I know this is an issue that a lot of organizations run into is figuring out how do we actually find really good stories to tell and I’d be curious to hear from some of you and you can let me know in the Q&A box.
Do you have an easy fine time finding stories? Was it easy for you to find a story for your direct mail letter? Is this kind of an ongoing challenge that you face? Let me know. I’d be really curious to hear from some of you. Let’s give folks a second to type some things if you want. I know for me historically as a fundraiser, one of the most challenging things I always had to do was find stories to tell and I always found it challenging just because I was a little removed from the front lines of program work at a social service organization I worked in. And that made it a little more challenging for me to find those good stories and to get access to them, and so, I really had to do what I would call busting a lot of silos and then building relationships and trying to foster more collaboration among folks that I needed to work with so that I could find some of those stories.
So, I want to talk about how you can actually find some really great stories here and, Jesse, yeah, he said due to the confidentiality of the children we serve, we’re constantly pulling our hair trying to get real stories. I hear you on that. Yeah, and I’ve worked with a rape crisis center in the past and had similar experiences where we were trying to share stories and of course confidentiality is a big challenge.
But I actually think help with some of the ideas I’ll share with you today are ways that you can navigate around this because it’s I would say . . . there’s so many other stories besides just the stories of the clients and people you serve. And these other types of stories whether it’s from staff members and board members as Karen said, volunteers, even your story, are ones that can help connect donors and can speak to impact and sure they’ll do it in a slightly different way and maybe your preference would be for client stories. But these other stories, I think are also really useful as well.
So, let’s talk about some of these. So, one of my favorite things to do this time of year is to ask staff members for their favorite professional memory of 2018. You know, we’re at the end of the year, it’s a great time for reflection, this is a really fun activity to do in a staff meeting. And just to ask people like, what’s something that’s stood out for you this year? And this is often a way to be able to get leads on really great stories from staff members who may want to share their story or if they have kind of a story that includes someone else, that might be one that you can use for your organization as well.
And you can also think about this for yourself as well. You know, what is one of your favorite memories from this year? Maybe it was being able to, you know, support a program that you were helping or maybe was being able to connect a donor to a really great giving opportunity. Those are all stories that you can share that I can get people excited about what your organization is doing and get them engaged with what’s happening.
And so, another thing you can do is also just use yourself as a really great resource, because you have interactions with donors probably quite a bit. And so, I would encourage you to think about the best interaction you had with a donor this year, and could you tell that donor’s story? That is one of my favorite ways to get stories is to just think about great memorable conversations or meetings I had with donors recently and then to reach back after them and say, “You know, I really enjoyed that conversation we had, you know, a couple weeks ago or a couple of months ago. I’m still thinking about what you shared with me and I wondered if I could share that story with our community. Would you be okay with that?” It’s a really simple, easy way to reach back out to people and to ask them for support or not support, ask them for their stories, and to engage them with a slightly different way with your organization.
All right. And the last one and you can also try out is to ask your volunteers to share a year-end reflection. So, your volunteers are in the trenches. They’re helping out around your organization, doing really good work, really important work. And one of the things you can do is to just ask them to reflect on this year as a volunteer and potentially use those as stories that you can share from around your organization. Much like your program staff members, volunteers are probably pretty privy to the direct impact and work that your organization is doing. And so, they may just have some really great stories or moments that they can share that could be useful to you in direct mail, or email, or any other number of places, right?
So, these are some just easy basic things you can try out if you’re still looking for a story, or if you feel like you need more to share in the month of December. And I have to say, I really liked Shelly’s idea of getting referrals for stories from life change from staff, so you asked them. And she’s also designed an incentive program with email and phone lines for people to share their stories. That’s really exciting and there’s so many ways you can structure this.
I mean, one of the things I’ve done with the organizations in the past is when we’ve done, when they’ve looked at like how their programs or services wrap up like there’s typically an off boarding process. If it’s a program that ends and people are, you know, leaving or moving on to something else. I always think about like in that opportunity or in that kind of touch point with a client, how could we ask them for story or ask if they’d be interested in sharing a story and use that as an opportunity to do some very collecting for the organization.
So, lots of things you can think about. Before we move over to questions, I just wanted to share one final thing with all of you. If you are thinking about really stepping up your storytelling game in 2019, as I’m sure some of you are. I mean, who doesn’t want to tell more great stories and be more engaged with our communities through wonderful stories that we can tell?
I am hosting a training next week on called Leading the Conversation and I’ll just tell you a little bit about it. It’s a budget-friendly training that I host once a month. This is the topic for this month. And we’re going to talking all about how your organization can use storytelling to gain more visibility. And to really be strategic with how you tell stories and how you engage public conversation about your issue and about your organization.
So, if your organization, I would say, is tired of being the best-kept secret in town as I’m sure some of you can relate to, this webinar will be really great. So, come hang out with me next Thursday and we’ll talk about how to build a strategy for your organization to stand out using storytelling. And I will just put such the link here in the chat box, in case you’d like to check that out. So, Steven, let’s head on over and do some questions.
Steven: Yeah. Awesome. That was, Vanessa. First, thanks for being here and sharing all your knowledge and wisdom with us. That was a lot of fun. Great ideas. I love the idea of doing something early January, just as like a stewardship piece or a thank you piece just to, you know, you kick off the year. So, great tips. Great ideas.
So, if you haven’t asked the question yet, please feel free to chat that in. We’ve got probably about maybe nine or ten minutes, we can do questions. So, we should be able to get to quite a bit here. But Vanessa, I’ll start off with a question of my own if you don’t mind. We were talking before we started here which I kind of wish we’d been recording because you were give it off awesome insights then do.
And we’re recording this two days after Giving Tuesday, so, you know, it seems like this, you know, the emergency Giving Tuesday created this like weird bookend, right? Where you’ve got Giving Tuesday in one side, and you’ve got New Year’s Eve on the other, and people don’t really know what to do in this middle period. But you kind of mentioned not letting it become and if I miss characterizing your idea here let me know, but not letting it become this kind of like isolated time period but, you know, doing things throughout the year to kind of set you up for success in these last few weeks. Is that what you would recommend? And if so, what can you do to kind of like prime the pump for all these ideas that you have suggested here over the last hour or so.
Vanessa: Yeah. Yes, we were talking about that. Yeah, I mean, I think one of the challenges a lot of organizations run into here and maybe some of you who are listening in today can relate to this is it feels like come like Thanksgiving time in the U.S. or in November, we just kind of like turn the volume way up on our fundraising programs, right? There is Giving Tuesday. There is year end. And there’s just like lots of stuff to do and we feel like we’ve got to send out all this communication. We’ve got to get all these stuff going. And then the rest of the year feels very uneventful like we’re not hustling, we’re not doing quite as much the rest of the year.
But the thing that I would encourage you to think about is that, how can you have strategically play the long game? Because the success of your fundraising program is not just about what you do in December, it’s about what you do year-round. Whether it’s with stewardship with donor communications with asking the rest of the year, and I would say, one of the things I see and I think this is what you and I were talking about Steven, is that, you know, a lot of organizations get into Giving Tuesday thinking that like sending emails that day is going to be like the magic bullet so that’s just going to like solve problems and help them raise a lot of money.
But the thing is that if you haven’t sent a lot of emails year-round, people are not going to be used to receiving your emails. They’re not going to be used to interacting with them. And so, you’re just not going to get as much leverage from those emails as you otherwise would. And that’s kind of like email specific. But I think that’s true in other platforms as well, where if you’re not engaging with people there, you’re not regularly communicating or have a communication and storytelling strategy to be visible and to be a part of conversations about what’s going on. It’s harder to get people to care once a year when you’re asking them.
Steven: Make sense. I love it. Cool. Here’s one from Bruce. Would you Vanessa, recommend any adjustments and strategy to the ideas you laid out when communicating specifically to big donors? It seems like, you know, the big donors would be just as happy to hear stories as the little ones, but maybe I’m missing something there. Is there anything different you should do with those folks? Maybe stories that only they get. Is that something you would recommend?
Vanessa: Yeah. That’s a really good question, Bruce. I think it’s always good to think about your major donors, you know, just slightly differently because you do have more personal relationships with them and you are asking for a larger gift. So, I always think about, you know, what can I do to kind of create a really personal great experience for that donor? And because I probably know them a little bit better than other donors, I have more information to use to answer that question.
So, I would think about, you know, how do they like to be communicated with? Like would they appreciate receiving a story by email or would it be better for me to just call them on the phone and tell them about it. Or you know, if I text them from time-to-time, should I just like text them a link to something we posted on social media that I think they might like, maybe a video or a photo or something. So, those are little things I would think about, but I think in particular with stewardship I always, I think that’s a really key point where you want to make sure that the stewardship really speaks specifically to what the donor gave to. And because it was probably a designated gift and something that they gave to for specific reason, if you can kind of honor that in your stewardship in the thank you letter and then an impact report, I think that’s a really great way to go.
Steven: Cool. I love it. A couple people asked variations of the same question. So, I’ll kind of make an amalgamation here. And this is probably something you hear a lot, Vanessa, but you know, kind of sensitive topics in terms of cause types. You want to tell stories, you know, they understand the importance of photos. How can you tell those stories when you might want to keep the clients or the service recipients anonymous or not, you know, be exploitative when telling those stories. Maybe there’s children involved, what . . . any tips were kind of getting around that issue?
Vanessa: Yeah. I think those are excellent questions to be thinking about. I mean, I always feel like with storytelling the very last thing I want to do is to make someone feel uncomfortable by telling their story. And so, when I’m trying to figure out what story to tell, one of the things I always look for is who is enthusiastically consenting to participating in this. Like who’s like an absolute, yes, like I definitely want to tell a story. And maybe they have some concerns that they’re like, they feel really good about that decision. That’s something I always think about, like just making sure people are really choosing into this activity.
But in terms of protecting identity, keeping people anonymous, there’s lots of ways you could do this. One of the better emails that I wrote probably two years ago during that year-end campaign cycle, was about a 14-year old girl who was sexually assaulted and she had received service from this rape crisis center. And both because she was so young and because she was a victim of sexual assault, we did not want to share too many personal details about her, like that was something we were always clear about in storytelling.
And so, one of the things we did with her was, we told the story of this girl but we changed a lot of identifying details. So, we wrote the initial draft of the email in the story as it was, like I didn’t make any changes to protect her identity. And then, in the second round of revisions I did, I went through and thought about like what are some things that potentially would identify this girl. And so, I went through and changed those things, so part of her story was about coming in for her first appointment and she asked for a specific type of beverage, like she wanted something really specific. And we decided that, we still wanted to keep that detail in the story, but we were going to change what type of beverage it was. So, I think we won’t like apple juice or something like that.
And again, so, just like thinking about little things like that in the story that might make it identifiable for someone who was reading it or things that I change. We never used her name which was fine. It was still a very impactful story for donors. And we didn’t use a photo either, and it was still a really powerful story for people to read.
I know there’s often an emphasis on visuals to stories whether it’s videos or photos that you don’t always have to have that. And if you are looking for a visual or something like that, you could create your own graphic, you could use a stock photo, you could use another photo from a program or something within your organization that kind of speaks to what you’re talking about.
So, I think there’s lots of ways they’re going to navigate around that, but I think for me is just to boil it down. I always make sure I change the identifiable details. I always give the person whose story it is a chance to read it before it goes out and say, “You have the final veto over anything that’s in here and tell us if you don’t like something or if you just feel uncomfortable full stop with what we’ve shared.” And so, that again helps kind of give them some agency and autonomy over what’s happening.
And I think the other thing I do as well, I would say just something I probably try to avoid but with organizations who are dealing with sensitive topics or causes, I don’t like to create a composite character like what people would call like putting multiple stories together just to create one story. So, it’s very anonymous. I never feel good about doing that because I don’t want someone to come back and say like, “Tell me more about this or question it.” I always want to be able to say like, “Yes, this was one person’s story.” But that’s something that I know some organizations do is they’ll kind of blend together multiple stories to create one. So, if that’s something you feel comfortable, you could also try that.
Steven: Awesome. Boy, that answer might been worth the price of admission. Very good. Yeah, I totally agree with kind of that amalgamation of characters. I got a . . . I’m a monthly donor to a, like a refugee resettlement program here in Indianapolis and they did, they sent out an email that was . . . it was just a photo of artwork that some of the refugee children had made like while they were waiting at their facility to be like processed or whatever the right word is. Then they sent that out. I thought that was a really creative way to still tell a story and show the impact but not actually put up a face, you know, right in front of a lens. So, I think there’s lots of creative ways to do it.
Okay, well, we’re kind of winding down and Vanessa, I want to give you the last word. What’s one thing you think people could do this afternoon even to kind of make a difference here in the last few weeks of the year?
Vanessa: Yeah. I would say if you have even just like 15 minutes this afternoon, pull out your thank you letter and do some updates to that. Tell a story, find a testimonial you can share in it, give that thank you letter a bit of a facelift. I think that can make a really significant difference in your year-end campaign and in the relationships you’re still building with donors.
Steven: Nice. Probably hasn’t been updated in a while if they’re anything like, some of the customers that I have. So, good tip. Definitely use that. Vanessa, where can people find you, get a hold to you, follow you, tell us the best way to get in contact.
Vanessa: You can certainly find me over at thestorytellingnonprofit.com .If you have questions after this webinar, I would love to hear from you. I always say that to people and I’m always surprised how many people actually take me up on this offer but if you have questions or need some help with anything, feel free to send me an email. My email is [email protected]. You can also find me over on Twitter @VanessaEChase. As I mentioned if you would like to join me for another webinar next week, next Thursday, I’ll be teaching another training, so, feel free to come hang out with me for that.
Steven: Yes. This is awesome. This is just what we needed after Giving Tuesday, after the rush of transactional factory fundraising to have you on and get us back to basics. This was just what the doctor ordered. So, thanks Vanessa.
Vanessa: Yeah. Thanks, Steven.
Steven: All right. And thanks to all of you for hanging out. I know it’s a busy time of year, so, it’s always good to see a full crowd in here. Check out Vanessa online, check out some of the Bloomerang resources as well. And we’ve got some great webinars coming up here and I just scheduled one I think in March of next year already. So, there’s a lots of sessions available on our webinar page. Check it out.
But one week from today, so, we’ve got Mandy Pearce coming on to talk about partnerships. So, good time of year for about partnerships. Maybe if you want to get something going in 2019 or maybe reevaluate from the partnerships you have. Check this one out. The topic we haven’t covered ever I don’t think in six years. And I don’t see this covered a lot, so this is definitely one I thought that was needed. So, if you’re interested in that, join us. Totally free, totally educational just like this one, 1:00 p.m. Eastern same time, same place.
If you’re busy or that doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, do check out all the other sessions we’ve got coming up. We’ve got board development, capital campaigns, awesome topics coming up. We love to see you on another Bloomerang session. So, we will call it a day there. I’ll send everyone out the email, an email with the recording and the slides just in case you didn’t already get those this afternoon. So, be on the lookout and hopefully we’ll see you again next week. So, have a good rest to your Thursday, have a safe weekend, stay warm out there. And we’ll talk to you again soon.