How to Start Conversations That Drive Donations
Data plays an important role in educating your audience, but ultimately, donors are motivated to give when they connect emotionally with your mission. That’s why sharing stories is so powerful in fundraising. But if you really want to deepen your connection with your supporters, you can take things to the next level by getting them to share back.
To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA)—an organization that supports people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and thoughts of suicide—is one such nonprofit that doesn’t just tell stories, but starts conversations in which their audience talks back. They’ve achieved major fundraising success as a result.
CFO Lindsay Kolsch spoke at the 2017 Collaborative about how their strategy to give fundraisers space to share their own stories helped TWLOHA surpass their $85,000 goal during National Suicide Prevention Week in 2016, leading to a whopping $100,000 turnout in just four weeks.
Below are just a few of the lessons Kolsch shared at the panel. Use these strategies to start conversations with your supporters and drive campaign momentum.
1. Share Authentic Stories
The first step to starting conversations with supporters is to share meaningful stories that provide value. People are bombarded by ads left and right and thus have become experts at detecting (and ignoring) a sales pitch, so veer away from relying solely on hard asks to gain the attention and trust of your audience.
Whether you educate them about your larger cause, inspire them through an individual beneficiary’s story, or share your own staff’s connections to your mission, pair your asks with content that is valuable for both your supporters and prospective donors.
TWLOHA, for example, uses stories to not just drive donations, but also to educate and speak to their audience on the larger issues of mental health and addiction. As Kolsch describes below, they provide value to their supporters by talking to them about their personal experiences with depression, suicidal thoughts, and addiction, and the organization aims to help move people out of isolation.
2. Track What Your Audience Responds to
In order to reach your audience, you need to know where they hang out. It’s up to you to know where that is and even more importantly, what type of messaging makes them more likely to respond.
Spend some time digging into your online channel analytics to determine where your target audiences are most active. While you’re in data-mode, take note of which posts are the most popular. Does your audience respond to images, videos, or quotes? Does one type of post elicit more shares versus more comments? Use these insights to inform your communications.
Without knowing who your donors are, it’ll be an uphill battle to connect with them and have more than a one-sided conversation.
As you go through these exercises, use this research to further flesh out your donor personas in understanding who and where your audiences are.
3. Give Your Audience a Prompt
If you want to get supporters to talk, give them something to respond to. During your campaign, create an open-ended prompt or question for supporters to answer or finish. For instance, during their National Suicide Prevention Week campaign, TWLOHA gave supporters clear prompts to share the reason why they keep living.
Encourage your supporters to share their story by making it as easy as possible for them to do so. “I first started working with [your organization name] because BLANK.” “I work to [your mission] for BLANK.” Answering a question is easier than writing a narrative, so provide the framework of what you want them to share.
Check out the Instagram post below to see how TWLOHA turned their campaign hashtag into a prompt and encouraged supporters to share “letters” using a provided fill-in-the-blank style asset.
Our #IWasMadeFor campaign may be over, but that doesn't mean we're going to stop asking you to stay. The work remains, and we still need your help. One of the many things we want you to do is write a letter. Why? Because the world needs more love letters! Start by writing one to yourself and one to a stranger, using our stationery at the link in our profile. #moreloveletters
These prompts were critical to TWLOHA’s campaign efforts, but even if the conversation you’re starting is on a smaller scale, you need to put some planning into the strategy behind your prompt.
4. Interact With Your Supporters
While organically flowing conversations are the ideal outcome, it doesn’t just end with throwing a question out into the universe. As Kolsch reminds us, you need to have a holistic view of your campaign and focus on the overall donor experience in order to motivate others to share and create that organic experience.
“We’re mapping out what does our donor experience from the time it sets it up on Classy to the number of times we’re going to touch base with them. Whether it’s a personalized e-mail or milestones from our team … we want it to unfold naturally, but there is some level of ‘What’s our commitment to this conversation?’ because the conversation is not one-sided, so you want to have a team that’s committed to being interactive and I think the Classy platform really lends to that.”
Here are just a few of the ways you can interact with your fundraisers on Classy:
- Send a welcome email using Classy’s email feature so that they have a message waiting when they create their account. This will help them feel like a valued part of your team.
- Set up milestone emails that automatically get sent whenever a fundraiser reaches a certain percentage of their goal. This helps fundraisers feel you’re aware of their progress and cheering them on.
- Update fundraisers on goal progress to keep them in the loop and to keep your overarching goal on top of mind.
- Leave a comment in response to the personal story they share in their about section.
- Thank their donors in the comments of the donation activity section to drive home the notion that your organization is paying attention.
Another way you can support your fundraisers is by responding to shared stories on social media. Show your appreciation with a comment, like, thank you, or share of their post. This is particularly important for organizations centered around sensitive topics, like TWLOHA, because you want your fundraisers to feel safe and supported in sharing their stories with the world.
“We try to come alongside people and interact with our supporters, so that they know that we see them, we’re with them, and we’re in this together. That’s how the conversations start and then it goes from there.”
5. Give Them a Fundraising Toolkit
While creating graphics and writing content may be a part of your day job, many of your fundraisers won’t know where to start in reaching out to their own networks, so in addition to providing a thought-provoking prompt, you should also give them the tools they need to succeed. This can look like templates for social media posts or fill-in-the-blank content that they can plug into their campaign pages, emails, personal blogs, or anywhere else that they are sharing their connection with your organization and soliciting donations.
6. Re-engage Your Fundraisers
Whether your campaign lasts four weeks or four months, you will likely hit the common mid-campaign lull. Engagement and activity may plateau a bit, but you can take steps to reignite conversations and keep supporters engaged.
- Send progress updates on a regular basis to let them know how far you’ve come to reaching your goal. Thank them and remind them how their effort is impacting your cause.
- Share new assets so fundraisers can keep their networks updated and engaged as well. Think: new social templates, photos, quotes, or graphics they can easily add to their campaign pages or share on social media.
- Demonstrate the impact of different donation sizes so fundraisers can share this information with their networks.
Sharing Brings More Than Donations
Fifty-four percent of donors are motivated to give because they believe in the mission of an organization, and there’s no better way to demonstrate the value of your cause than by sharing the stories of your organization, your supporters, and the people you serve.
These stories spread knowledge about the humans behind the mission. And once your fundraisers experience the validation in sharing their stories they’ll likely be more dedicated to act as an advocate for your organization by continuing that conversation long after your campaign ends.