People have been sharing stories of various kinds for centuries. I’m a big reader and always appreciate a good story.
Your nonprofit organization also needs to share stories in order to connect with your donors.
Donors want to hear your stories
I imagine you’re not using stories as much as you should. That’s a mistake because people respond better to stories than a bunch of facts and statistics. Stories bring the work you do to life by using everyday language to create a scene.
You may be reluctant to use stories because it’s more work for your organization, but that shouldn’t stop you. Summer is a good time to come up with some new stories.
Your stories need to be relevant
I don’t need to tell you the world has changed over the last two years. Your stories need to take the everchanging current situations into account. We may be done with COVID, but COVID isn’t done with us. We’re also seeing inflation and a possible recession. Let your donors know how all this is impacting your clients/community right now.
Create a culture of storytelling
If you create a storytelling culture in your organization, you can make storytelling the norm instead of the exception.
Work with your program staff to create stories that will help you connect with your donors. Everyone needs to understand how important this is. Share stories at staff meetings and/or set up regular meetings with program staff to gather stories.
When you put together a story, ask.
- Why is this important?
- Who is affected?
- Why would your donors be interested in this story?
- Are you using clear, everyday language (no jargon) to make sure your donors understand your story?
- How are your donors helping you make a difference or How can your donors help you make a difference?
Client or program recipient stories are best. Remember, donors want to hear how they’re helping you make a difference for your clients/community.
Another way to find stories is to put a Share Your Story page on your website. This could be a good way to get some current, relevant stories.
Language is important
Please stop using jargon such as at-risk and underserved. These terms undermine your clients/community. These aren’t terms your donors use, anyway. Use language they’ll understand.
You also don’t want to give the impression that your organization is coming in to save someone. This is especially important if the majority of your staff and donors are white, but your clients are people of color. This is known as white savior complex. Most likely that’s not intentional on your part, but watching how you tell your stories will help you avoid that. Be respectful of your clients/community.
Your stories aren’t about your organization
Keep in mind that your stories aren’t about your organization. Your organization may have had to make a lot of changes over the last two years to do some of the work you do, but that’s not your story. Your story is why this is important for the people/community you work with.
Maybe you had to change the way you run your food pantry, but what’s most important is that people in your community continue to have access to healthy food.
Make your stories personal
Tell a story of one (person or family). Use people’s names to make your stories more personal. I realize you might run into confidentiality issues, but you can change names to protect someone’s privacy. You could also do a composite story, but don’t make up anything.
Use different stories for different types of communication
Create a story bank to help you organize all your stories. You want to use stories as much as possible. Use them in your appeals, thank you letters, newsletters, updates, annual reports, website, blog, and other types of social media.
While you can come up with some core stories, they’ll be slightly different depending on the type of communication.
In a fundraising appeal, you want to highlight a problem or need. Let’s return to the food pantry example. Here you can tell a story about Lisa, a working single mother with three kids who’s having trouble feeding her family because of rising food costs.
In your thank you letter, you can let your donors know that because of their generous gift, Lisa can get healthy food for her family at the Westside Community Food Bank.
Then in your newsletter, annual report, or update, you can tell a success story that because of your generous donors, Lisa doesn’t have to worry so much about how she’ll be able to put food on the table.
Make connections with your donors by sharing stories. In my next post, I’ll write about sharing visual stories.