Stories are as old as we are human. Stories in some ways make us human. A story is an account of a series of related events and/or experiences. Stories shape us, influence us, motivate us, inform us, and inspire us. Oral storytelling is the earliest method for sharing narratives.

During most people’s childhoods, narratives are used to guide them on proper behavior, cultural history, the formation of a communal identity, and values. After oral storytelling came paper and ink, then type then print, and now we have digital as the primary source of our stories.

It has been said that non-profits have a unique advantage today over a university because of their focus on a specific mission to cause a specific impact in our world. This allows a non-profit to target a specific segment of people that have an affinity for the work they do. I believe though that universities actually have the upper hand if they are willing to view themselves as a conglomerate of non-profits.

Every university on the planet, large or small, is doing amazing work in multiple areas of impact. While the past has allowed for the opportunity to attract supporters because of affiliation, today the reality is people want to support people and stories of impact. Just because we went to a specific school, does not make us automatically feel compelled to give back. Especially with the increase of student debt in the U.S. today, more and more people are having a harder time feeling compelled to support their alma mater without a compelling reason. This paradigm changes when a school considers taking a Story Marketplace approach. 

People resonate with stories no matter the medium. They especially resonate with well-told stories with subjects they are interested in learning about or that they have an affinity towards.

So how has storytelling for fundraising changed over the past 10-20 years? The story used to be that of the institution. Development officers searched for those who were somehow affiliated or cared about the mission of the institution and there was an assumption that they would want to support.

Today an institution is the sum of all its stories. There is not a single narrative about the institution, but rather many narratives that comprise the institution. It is the concept that an organization is the sum of all its stories not a story by itself. 

A Story Marketplace is a collection of stories both created based on priorities and curated from within the institution representing the collective needs and impact of the whole. By focusing on capturing the stories of need and impact audiences can be specifically targeted based on affinity to foster support.

As proposed in The Fall of the Fundraising Pyramid article published in 2017, our modern paradigm of fundraising is better supported by flipping the pyramid into a funnel and adding the most important layer of engagement. But how do you engage your community in this modern paradigm? To better understand the answer to this question we must understand the evolution of the role of a development officer.

In the beginning, people gave to support organizations based on their mission. As the population of non-profits grew, development officers needed to communicate the impact of an organization through things like an annual impact report to retaining and attracting supporters. Today, we are rapidly moving toward a paradigm where development officers more than fundraisers are becoming more facilitators of fundraising by empowering storytellers and leveraging these authentic passionate stories. Welcome to The Story Marketplace. 

Development officers are increasingly supporting the efforts of fundraisers over actual fundraising. This unleashes the tremendous potential to grow results in working collaboratively with storytellers. It is the power of aggregation that makes this worthwhile.

One story that engages 1,000 people and collects 100 donations for $10,000 is not compelling, but if this happens to 174 stories as was available in UC Santa Cruz’s Giving Day, now you are looking at engaging 174,000 people, collecting 17,400 gifts and $1,740,000. Pretty compelling if you ask me. 

A Story Marketplace yields another powerful result as well. You learn a ton about your individual donors and your community. You are able to see the different stories people are engaging with, what categories they are selecting, what videos are being watched and how long people are spending on pages. All of these analytics offer tremendous insights when it comes to retargeting,  stewardship, and ongoing relationship-building because you can offer more personalized communications.

A Story Marketplace allows the donor to be in control of their experience instead forced through a 4 step form. It empowers the donor with a choice of how they want to engage with content in an easy to navigate donor-centric view. 

Lastly, I will say that a Story Marketplace approach creates additional opportunities never possible before. As an administrator, you now have a Story Bank at your fingertips. An assortment of both created and curated content with the power to leverage that content through a variety of initiatives. Think of an initiative as a container for stories. Initiatives can be either very broad or extremely focused on a particular theme. Broad initiatives may take the shape of an institutional giving day in the spring, while focused initiatives include targeted content link an athletics microsite.

A Story Marketplace allows major gift officers to curate existing content to share with Major Gift Prospects. It allows major gift donors to go above and beyond just giving by creating a peer to peer microsite and selecting specific content they care about most. A Story Marketplace collaborates marketing, alumni offices, units, major gifts and development officers in a way that was never possible before. Stay tuned for the next chapter in this volume, Innovations in Fundraising: Associating Stories to Initiatives.