5 Tips for Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story
As nonprofit fundraising professionals and executives, it is sometimes easy to get caught up in the minutiae of our work. We speak in acronyms, highlight statistics, and pore over spreadsheets as we seek to change the world.
Your nonprofit story, however, is much more than jargon and numbers. Donors and prospects are searching for meaning; they want to get involved in something much bigger than themselves. In order to engage them, you’ll need to speak directly to their hearts and minds.
Here are five ways you can tell your nonprofit’s story in a way that is compelling to donors.
1. Cast a Big Vision
Donors don’t want to invest in a small vision, yet many nonprofits think small in their donor communications. Every organization, no matter how small, is capable of casting a big vision and capturing the attention of donors, volunteers, and other supporters.
Your nonprofit may only be working in one small corner of one small town, but for the people you serve, your work is life-changing. When telling your nonprofit story, show people the lives you have changed, the outcomes you have achieved, and the work that would be possible if you had more resources at your disposal.
Just like any good story, frame yours to have its cast of characters, including the hero and the villain. The villain is the social problem you are addressing, be it sickness, poverty, or hunger. Then, invite your donors to become the heroes of the story by getting involved and making a gift.
2. Appeal to Core Human Values
Before beginning my career in nonprofit fundraising, I worked in politics. One of the biggest lessons I learned about political communications is that there are certain things all people want, which political consultants call “core human values.” They are things like safety, freedom, good health, and a better life for our children. We may argue about how to achieve those things, but nearly everyone wants them.
Successful nonprofits tailor their messages to appeal to these core human values as well. In addition to showcasing the “features” of your work, such as how many research studies you run or the number of hot meals you serve each day, focus on the “benefits” of your work—the core human values you are working towards.
The best way to do this is to make sure donors understand the “big picture” about your work. If your nonprofit is providing home heating assistance, be sure to tell donors that you are keeping families safe from the cold, and allowing them to live healthy, comfortable lives. Yes, you can tell donors about your individual programs, but be sure they understand the big vision behind your work: to keep families warm and healthy.
3. Use Real Examples and Outcomes
Statistics and outcomes do have their place in your nonprofit’s story, but primarily as support for your overall, big picture vision focused on one or more core human values. When using statistics and discussing outcomes, one of the best things you can do is to put a “face” on the numbers by relating them to real-life examples and stories about your work.
For example, if you are telling donors about the number of scholarships you gave out this past year, highlight the story of someone who received your scholarship. Demonstrate how the donor’s gifts allowed Amber to be the first in her family to go to college, or Jim to be able to go to night school while caring for his three children during the day.
The best fundraising communications build an emotional connection with the donor. Real world examples, stories, and outcomes are a great way to show how your work has changed lives.
4. Make It a Conversation
When telling your nonprofit’s story, don’t “talk at” your donors and prospects. The best way to build better donor relationships is to make your fundraising a two-way conversation. This means casting a big vision, and then asking the donor what they think about your work, why they are interested in your mission, and how they would like to get involved.
There are lots of great ways to make your donor communications feel like “two-way” streets. These include sending out donor surveys, inviting readers to send in stories about your work, asking followers to share pictures from your events, and asking your donors for their advice.
Relationship-building is the foundation of great fundraising, and conversation is the basis of great relationships.
5. Be Proud to Fundraise
Finally, never be ashamed of fundraising. In my experience, far too many nonprofit professionals try to hide the fact that they are a fundraising organization, or that their development program is so vital to their success. This is a huge mistake that costs money and hurts your relationship-building efforts.
Your nonprofit does great work. You need to raise money in order to do that work, and for the most part, the more money you raise, the more good you can accomplish in the world. Your donors understand this, and typically are not turned off because your organization needs to raise money.
What donors are turned off by are organizations that try to “slip in” fundraising. When you’re not up-front about your development needs, donors can feel duped. That’s why you should avoid inviting donors to events that are billed as “free,” and then making hard asks. Likewise, don’t use your thank you notes and donor recognition letters as opportunities to ask for more money.
Development is front and center for your nonprofit. Don’t hide that fact. Instead, invite your donors and friends to make an investment in the big-picture vision you have for a better world.
Joe Garecht is a nonprofit fundraising consultant, author, speaker, and founder of The Non-Profit Fundraising Digest. The Digest is updated daily with the best articles on nonprofit development from around the web, and offers a free Weekly Fundraising Round-Up by email.
The Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling
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