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On June 19, we hosted Story Generation: Launching the Next Generation of Fundraising. During this hour-long online event, we heard from a variety of thought leaders about best practices, success stories, and tips to implement in fundraising programs. 

The content was presented as recordings from our live Fort Collins event, self-recorded presentations, and fun short films that highlighted different characters involved in the fundraising experience. 

All of the presentations fell under one of the three pillars that we believe to be the foundation of a successful fundraising program: Storytelling, Fundraising Initiatives, and the Donor Experience. See what we learned from our thought leaders and check out the full event.


Telling Stories to Build Brands that Last

Presented by: Seth Silvers

The event kicked off with Seth Silvers from Story On, an expert in marketing and telling brand stories. Seth set the stage with a question that drove his approach to marketing: what if brands focused on telling a story instead of simply selling a product? This question has been the foundation of his success. 

Trust and storytelling are inherently connected. Stories help to evoke a feeling of authenticity and build trust with your audience. 87% of consumers report buying based on values, and 82% expect companies to actually show impact over simply promising to make it. It is not enough to state that your organization makes an impact, you have to prove it. This is where storytelling comes in. You are able to bring legitimacy to your claims through the use of stories. 

Stories show authenticity for you as a brand, but also help to create an idea of how consumers can make an impact. By telling great stories, you can take your audience on a journey and allow them to imagine how they could make an impact that aligns with their values, and how your organization is making that possible. 

When you are able to build trust, you build loyalty. Storytelling allows organizations to build brands that last because they are building a community around their brand. 

See the full presentation here ->

Fundraising Initiatives

Being able to tell a compelling story is necessary for successful organizations, but when is there only one story you want to tell? Mia Fill-Diaz and Howard Heevner dove into the topic of organizing and empowering story-tellers, sharing tips and tricks on scaling the effort and bringing hundreds of unique stories to life.

Empowering a Community of Storytellers

Presented by: Mia Fill-Diaz

Mia Fill-Diaz is a fundraising consultant, formerly the Crowdfunding Program Lead at the University of Colorado, Boulder. UC Boulder was an early adopter of the crowdfunding technology, allowing Mia the opportunity to build the program from the ground up. Starting with a cohort of ten projects, the team learned along the way that hand-holding project teams was great for relationship building but made scaling the program difficult. 

Mia created a host of resources to train storytellers in ways that made it possible to support hundreds of different projects. By creating video modules and workbooks, the teams were able to train themselves on their own time. This cut down the administrative time, allowing Mia and team more latitude to focus on strategy and growing the program. 

While she had to create all the training and planning materials at the time, there are plenty of resources at your disposal now. Check out our Fundraising Handbook here. 

Check out Mia’s full presentation ->

5 Lessons Learned from Creating a Robust Giving Day Marketplace

Presented by: Howard Heevener

Howard Heevner is the Associate Vice Chancellor of University Relations, University Development Programs, at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Howard discussed lessons learned from hosting four Giving Days on their campus. 

One of the key takeaways from this presentation was the power of unleashing an army of storytellers. With over 170 project teams engaging on their most recent Giving Day, there were a multitude of options for donors to choose from. This marketplace approach to giving allowed UC Santa Cruz to learn about donor interests like never before. Beyond gaining more information about already connected donors, the project teams were able to tap into their own personal networks and bring a significant amount of new donors into the fold.

By enabling the project teams to own their communications and reach out to their communities, the messages were more authentic and resonated with donors. While it can be challenging for a centralized marketing office to let go of control of the message, it ultimately creates more authentic communications and keeps the content true to the project teams. Checkpoints that can be implemented along the way to ensure general standards are enforced, such as grammar and appropriate content, but the voice should remain with the individual projects. 

See Howard’s full presentation ->

Donor Experience

Donating With Others – The Power of Network Effects

Presented by: Jesse Fagan

Jesse Fagan is a Lecturer of Data Analytics at the University of Exeter. Jesse took a look at crowd dynamics and what it takes to build social proof that leads to action in a community. 

Threshold models are particularly relevant to digital giving efforts such as crowdfunding. This concept focuses on the likelihood of somebody taking action based on what their peers are doing. If one person takes action, it’s much easier for people to follow. So what is the magic number where people feel empowered to act? 25% of the community participating will lead to a cascade of action. This is particularly important in crowdfunding campaigns. If you are able to seed funds and get a baseline of participation, it will help encourage others to participate. The likelihood of participation increases based on the number of your peers that are involved. 

Another interesting research-based finding is that a large initial donation at the outset of a project will help encourage funding and improve the chances of a project reaching its funding goal. The study actually showed that one large gift is more impactful at the beginning of a campaign compared to a large group of small gifts. People are more likely to give if the project is close to the goal, so the initial gift helps kick off momentum for the campaign. 

The key takeaways from Jesse’s presentation were: Social influence is extremely important, and that it’s crucial to have an initial large gift to indicate a surge that leads to a funding cascade. Think about how these ideas can impact the strategy of an early launch period and a larger seed gift for your next campaign. 

See Jesse’s full presentation ->

Why Should We Give To Them Again – Or At All?

Presented by: John Taylor

John Taylor is an Advancement Consultant with over 30 years of experience in the non-profit sector. John focused on the donor experience, specifically focusing on how fundraising professionals are approaching solicitations. One of the concerns he sees in this space is the decreasing donor retention rates. Fundraisers assume that donors will keep giving because they have in the past, or that they should. While there may have been loyalty like this in the past, the donors of today have so many options to give to, so it’s harder work to bring in a new donor, as well as keep them around. 

One of the keys to ensuring donors stick around is accountability for how the money is spent. This needs to happen at the outset of the interaction, and have follow-up. Fundraisers should show constituents how they would hypothetically spend a donor’s gift, then demonstrate that happened. Crowdfunding is a great opportunity for this, but only if it is a priority to steward and follow up with these donors, even for small $10 gifts. The more information we can provide donors, the more likely they are to come back and make another gift. 

In addition to information, donors should be acknowledged immediately, and by someone that matters. Most won’t care to hear from the president or EVC of your organization; rather, they want a thank you from the person or department that will be impacted by their gift. With the decrease in unrestricted gifts, donors want to give to a person, to a story. Keep this in mind when showing gratitude. A note from a student receiving a specific scholarship will be much more meaningful than a general form thank you letter. 

See John’s full presentation ->

In addition to the presentations during the event, we collected a library of other thought leaders willing to share their expertise. Check out the Story Generation website for the full event recording, 4+ hours of additional content, and prizes and promotions. 

Katie Haystead

Katie Haystead

Senior Vice President, Partnerships

With over a decade of experience working with K12 schools and higher education institutions’ fundraising efforts, Katie Haystead now oversees the partnerships team at Community Funded. Her passion for partner success and satisfaction aligns with Community Funded’s priorities and Katie’s unique background is well suited to manage the day to day operations of our partnerships team as well as new market acquisition.

Prior to joining the team at Community Funded, Katie served many roles within the Fundraising Division at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Her experience ranges from working onsite and remotely with clients executing phonathon programs, developing annual giving strategies, onsite consultations and also developing multichannel strategies allowing for strong synergy between annual giving channels and creating strong major and planned gift pipelines.

Katie is based in Metro Detroit and is a graduate of Central Michigan University, where she worked for the phonathon for 3 years while working towards her History Major.

Kim Jennings

Kim Jennings

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Kim Jennings, CFRE is a skilled fundraising leader who believes in the power of Christian education to raise up thoughtful, strong, committed leaders who can make our world a better place for all.

Kim Jennings

Todd Turner

Director of Digital Strategies, Generis

In addition to his 11 years overseeing Chuck Swindoll’s Insight Living Ministries communications department, Todd Turner has worked as a digital strategist for faith based organizations across the globe..

Kim Jennings

Jennifer Perrow

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Jennifer is a skilled fundraising and communications professional who helps ministries articulate vision, communicate mission, and raise abundant funds to advance Kingdom priorities.