McCabe CallahanCommunity Funded Enterprises
McCabe Callahan began Community Funded in 2011 out of his passion to provide a platform for communities to support the things they care about. Community Funded works with fundraising departments of all sizes and levels of sophistication to build sustainable digital fundraising ecosystems.
There are three main components to telling a strong fundraising story in my opinion: authenticity, succinctness, and ongoing communication.
First (and most important) you have to be absolutely authentic. Avoid jargon and “organizational speak” and focus on how you can emphasize the language and emotion the beneficiaries of the effort would use and feel. Authentically explain the impact of the effort when successful. Tell a story about the “flowers, not the seeds” — in other words, promote the outcome.
Second, be succinct. In our busy worlds, nobody has the time or energy to read a novel. Think bullets and distilled information that focus on key areas: who benefits, what is their current situation, what is the resulting impact, and how will different types of support help? It is more effective to be concise and tell an ongoing story over several interactions than trying to capture everything in a single, lengthy narrative.
Which brings me to my last point: communicate over time. Warm up your community of supporters with the idea of the story you are about to share with them. Describe that idea succinctly (as outlined above), then continue to complete the narrative while your effort is live and being funded. An example of ongoing communication could be as creative as interviewing donors halfway through and asking things like ‘Why did you donate?’ or ‘Why should others care about this story?’ and sharing it with your community.
Make updates that reflect your ongoing struggles and successes as you receive funding. If you treat your fundraising story as an organic journey that unfolds, people will be engaged.
In the end, focusing on these three core components of your fundraising story will ensure a much higher probability of success.
Amy Eisenstein, ACFRECommunity Funded Enterprises
Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE is an author, speaker, and trainer. Her published books include: Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops, Raising More with Less, and 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks. Check out her blog and video posts at www.amyeisenstein.com.
People want to make a difference. Facts and figures can be overwhelming and shut you down, but well-told stories make you feel emotional and draw you in. Human beings can imagine helping one person (feeding a hungry child, providing a scholarship to one student, helping a cancer patient). So telling the story of one person they can help is much more compelling than talking generically about feeding the hungry (overwhelming) or curing a disease (seems impossible).
When facilitating board retreats, I ask board members to think about why they joined the board, and why they continue to serve the organization. What about the organization touches them? Why it is important to them personally? This is the beginning of board members being able to tell the story of the organization in a deeply personal and meaningful way.
For more on storytelling, check out Amy’s interview with Tammy Zonker ‘Beyond Storytelling: StoryLIVING.’
Julia CampbellCommunity Funded Enterprises
Julia Campbell is an author, coach, and speaker, and trains nonprofits large and small on the best ways to use digital tools to raise money and awareness for their organizations. She is the author of Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits, and her blog on online fundraising and nonprofit technology is consistently featured in the list of the Top 150 Nonprofit Blogs in the world. Find her blog and contact information at www.jcsocialmarketing.com.
First, you have to know who you are talking to. Who is your audience? Who are the donors you are targeting? How will you know how to speak and what story to tell if you don’t know who you are speaking to?
Second, your story has to grab someone’s attention. Writing in a journalistic style works well – “Last year, Lucas had a remarkable 5-organ transplant. These days, he’s playing T-ball, learning the piano, growing and gaining weight.” That example from Boston Children’s Hospital, immediately draws you in, along with a great photo of Lucas, and makes you want to know more.
Third, you have to elicit an emotion. You have to make me FEEL something if I am going to open up my wallet and pull out that credit card. There are a variety of emotions that work in fundraising – hope, fear, sadness, shame, anger, inspiration, aspiration. Go back to that first step – identifying who you are talking to – and then determine which emotion would entice them to make a donation.
Fourth, you have to ask! So many fabulous nonprofit videos and blogs never actually ASK for the donation! There are fantastic stories out there – but to what end? If you have my attention and my interest, not asking me to donate is a wasted opportunity.
Jennifer HarrisCommunity Funded Enterprises
Jennifer Harris is a seasoned fundraiser, a holistic thinker, and an impact communicator. She is the Founder and President of JH Collective, Inc. (www.jhcollectiveinc.com) and has spent over 15 years building expertise in organizational and communications planning, board design and development, staffing and coaching. Jennifer is drawn to Community Funded’s empowered approach to philanthropy but the views featured here are her own.
I love this question. So many authors talk broadly about storytelling and its healing capacity. Alice Walker, Pat Schneider, Natalie Goldberg to name a few. Some suggest that we are drawn to “story” because it’s in our DNA. Dan Pink. Brene Brown. Robert Bellah. Others proclaim that storytelling is primal. Dani Shapiro. Anne Lamott. Annette Simmons. Almost all of them acknowledge that storytelling is perhaps the oldest, most identifiable form of influence – and I will add – inspiration.
If it is true that we fundraising professionals are leveraging “story” to inspire private support, we have to ask ourselves: “What does it really take to move someone?” “How do we tell a story that sparks the reader to dig inward? To see themselves in the story of the organization that is raising money, in the story of the people the organization serves, in the story of the world today and in the story of our shared future?”
These are pretty philosophical questions for writers and fundraisers and yet, I believe they are among some of the most important to consider – especially if you are tasked with igniting social change. Taken together these questions serve to initiate a storytelling practice and will help the fundraising professional arrive at what I call “the human interest story.”
As humans, we undeniably share some basic interests: freedom, health, happiness, love, safety, and more. We are connected in this way. These ideas run through all nonprofits and can run thematically through just about any fundraising appeal (in person or in print). The questions above help us get there; they help us connect with ourselves, our work, our communities, our donors, and our world. And in my opinion, connection drives investment – and impact.
So, I always tell fundraisers, “Yes, please know the craft – the science of storytelling for example. But even more than that, know your path to creativity and connection – that’s where the magic lies. That is where your story and my story, become a story of us and what we can do together. That is when the story itself becomes a pathway to something significant like an investment in health and humanity. And that’s the point where the “ask” or a “call-to-action” simply becomes a formality.”
Put simply: Practice the 3 C’s. Craft. Creativity. Connection.
Vanessa Chase LockshinCommunity Funded Enterprises
Vanessa Chase Lockshin is an international non-profit consultant, thought leader, speaker, and author of The Storytelling Non-Profit: A practical guide to telling stories that raise money and awareness. She founded The Storytelling Non-Profit in 2012 to help nonprofit organizations articulate their impact to donors in a new way, using narrative techniques to generate greater personal interest and accountability and improve fundraising success.
There is a tendency in non-profit storytelling to focus on the ‘episodic stories,’ meaning those that are about people, projects, and so on. These stories are, of course, very useful because they are specific and tangible. But, one of the aspects of storytelling that nonprofits often glaze over is bigger narrative, the one that is told cumulatively over time as a result of all the stories and communications they put out into the world.
To shift focus, your organization needs to consider the foundational pieces of your organizational narrative and how those show up in each episodic story. For instance, what values do you and your supporters share? What common vision do you and your community hold for the future? Answers to these types of questions will help you identify the underlying messages that make all of your stories coherent.
Matt WassermanCommunity Funded Enterprises
Fundraising storytelling, like personal storytelling, is an art that can be mastered with time and practice. Luckily there are straightforward steps you can take in building your story. The main goal is to captivate and inspire!
Directly address your audience: Know your audience and connect with them. Write in a way that matters to them. For example, if your campaign is to pay for an academic or athletics trip for students your audience is probably friends and family – be upbeat, and describe the personal connection and opportunity that students should have.
Include fear, hope, and a vision: Highlight the problem your solving, explain the pain it causes and how it might get worse if it’s not resolved. Make sure there is hope – explain that there’s a solution on the horizon and the impact it will have. If there’s a great vision you have once the funding is provided, then donors should understand how they can join you in realizing it.
Have a clear goal: You need a clear goal – by raising X amount we will accomplish Y. By having X number of donors participating in this campaign we can demonstrate the power of our cause.
In-list in your cause: Tell your audience why they should join your campaign – how they can make a difference. Will they better or save lives, relieve a pain in our society, right a wrong that has been done to someone or a group, make the world a better place, or provide an opportunity for others that would not exist without their investment? Explain the impact of their investment.
Don’t Argue – Educate: Your fundraising story is not a dissertation, you are not defending your theory. You should educate and inspire on the above – the pain, solution, your ultimate vision post-campaign and how things will be better, and the impact of the donor’s gift or participation.
If you can do the above well in 500 words that’s exceptional, 1,000 words pretty darn good, 2,000 words and you’ve gone over.
Richard SwartCommunity Funded Enterprises
Crowdfunding based fundraising for universities and nonprofits is always about the people – not the institution. The most compelling story you can tell is how the project is a fulfillment of someone’s dream or passion. How does this program or research affect the lives and hopes of your students or members?
It’s tempting to focus on the mission of the organization, its programs, how the research or project will contribute to scholarship, etc. but this does not resonate as well. Connect the passion of your students to the passion of your backers. The most compelling video I’ve ever seen for a university crowdfunding campaign featured a number of Aeronautical Engineering students around a campfire talking about how they fell in love with space as a kid – and they raised more than $260,000 for a satellite research project. The community resonated with their hopes and dreams – this is the key to fundraising in this model.
Ann GreenCommunity Funded Enterprises
Ann Green is a Nonprofit Communication Consultant specializing in writing, editing, planning, and strategy. Read her blog at www.anngreennonprofit.com.
Sharing a story is a much better way to communicate with your donors than bombarding them with a bunch of boring statistics.Telling a story about a client or program recipient is best. Let your donors know how they’re helping you make a difference for the people/community you serve and keep your organization in the background.
When you put together a story, ask.
- Would your donors be interested in this story?
- Why is this important?
- Are you using clear, everyday language (no jargon) to make sure your donors understand your story?
- Who are you helping?
- How are your donors helping you make a difference?
Maeve StrathyCommunity Funded Enterprises
Maeve Strathy is a passionate fundraising professional with Blakely Inc., with an interest in non-profit brand activation and mid-level giving.
A great fundraising story needs to be emotional. You need to draw the reader in through something moving – move the reader to sadness, fear, joy… perhaps all three things – or more – at once. But the story also needs to be rational: giving begins – and sometimes ends – for people with their heart. But for many, their head comes into the decision-making process. What does your organization need? How does the emotional story connect to that, and how can you then move the reader to the feeling of hope? Hope that with their gift, they can impact your need, and bring more moving stories to life? Emotion + problem + solution + impact = philanthropy.
That’s what you need for a great fundraising story.
Shannon PestkaCommunity Funded Enterprises
Shannon Pestka has been managing accounts in various industries for 14 years. Her focus over the last 6 years has been on different facets of higher ed. Currently, she onboards, trains, and coaches development offices at Community Funded.
• Create a character. Even if you’re not raising funds for a person, maybe it’s a team, department, or to build an inanimate thing, tell your story from the perspective of a single character. We’re hard-wired to feel more when we’re thinking about a person rather than a group.
• Don’t be boring! You have a great opportunity for people to get involved in a project that will have impact. Use video, photos, and your description to create an emotional connection and inspire your audience. Don’t be afraid to show excitement, frustration, and joy. Emotions are powerful!|
• Make a video. A campaign video doesn’t have to be professionally captured and edited, but should lend an authentic voice to your story. Think of the video as a short (less than 3 minutes) trailer and your text description as a place to add depth and color with details.
• Spell out the impact. Show the audience exactly how their contribution of $20, $50, etc will impact your character. Will $20 provide meals for a week? Will $50 buy the paint for your artistic installation? Will $100 cover the travel for a team member to the important game? People want to know exactly how their support helps you get closer to the finish line!
• Ask! Make very clear how you want your audience to get involved. Do you want them to contribute financially? Tell them to click “donate.” Do you want them to personally message or text 3 people with the link to the story? Challenge them to think of 3 people that they know would care. Don’t assume that your audience knows how they should help.