Skip to main content
story word in vintage metal type printing blocks over grunge wood

What’s Your Narrative?

By Patrick Coleman

Storytelling

Humans are literally built to learn through stories.  Storytelling is a fundamental way to communicate, one that pre-dates the earliest pre-historic cave paintings. Since the beginning of humankind stories have been used to share knowledge and have been central to handing down history and traditions.  I venture to guess, just about now, you are thinking about the stories of your ancestors you’ve been told along the way.

More than a buzzword for marketers and communicators, storytelling has evolved into one of the most powerful marketing tools for organizations today (both for-profit and non-profit alike). Check out this infographic from OneSpot on the science of storytelling.   

According to OneSpot, Americans consume an average of 100,500 digital words daily and 92% of these consumers want stories.  Storytelling engages the head and the heart and makes the connection personal.

Ensuring your organization has an interesting narrative is essential. Well-crafted stories engage donors, raise awareness, demonstrate a need and illustrate the impact you have on your community.  Compelling stories connect people to your organization and your mission.  Remember these topline content guidelines when crafting your stories:

Elicit Emotions.  

Use emotion to connect on a human level.  Facts and figures are important, but stories are memorable. Your stories need to move the reader — make them feel something and ideally propel them to take action.

Appeal to the Senses.  

Use language that paints a picture and enables the reader to experience the story.  If you were writing about food you’d use descriptors that would make the readers’ mouth water.  Apply that same tactic to your writing.  

Focus on Why not What.  

Tell supporters why you do the work you do.  Dimensionalize “the what” by showcasing the outcomes – or the “why” of your work.

How is your organization using storytelling to enhance your fundraising?  What insights and tips can you share?  We love a good story, so be sure to share!

Ice Bucket Challenge

A Wonderful Success – The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Do you remember the phenomenally successful viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from two years ago?  The viral, crowdsourced fundraising campaign – which, according to the national chapter of the ALS Association, raised an astonishing $115 million during a six week period – is a newsmaker once again.

Researchers – funded by the ALS Association, through ALS Ice Bucket Challenge donations –  have identified a gene that contributes to ALS.  According to the national organization it’s the third research breakthrough made possible from the fundraising success of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

When more than 17 million ALS Ice Challenge Bucket videos flooded Facebook the summer of 2014 participants were not only having fun.  They – along with the 440 million people who viewed the videos 10 billion times – knew participating would make a difference in the important work of the ALS Association (the only national non profit fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease on every front).  How wonderful such positive outcomes came so fast!

This August, the ALS Association is building on the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, seeking to raise awareness and funds to finish what the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge started in 2014: an end to ALS. The new campaign, called Every Drop Adds Up, pays homage to the Ice Bucket Challenge, visually emphasizes the now iconic “bucket,” and builds on the idea that when people come together they can make big, impossible things happen.

It’s a great example of building on fundraising successes and keeping the momentum around and commitment to a cause moving forward!  What lessons can your organization learn?

A political campaign has a few fundraising tricks up his sleeve that you can adapt for nonprofit giving. Ethical, of course!

Campaign Fundraising Like a Politician

Lessons Learned from Campaign 2016

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a political junkie…when it comes to candidates’ campaign fundraising strategies, that is. As nonprofit fundraisers, there is much to learn from these seasoned pros. Their undeniable success at raising tens of millions of dollars to fuel their political campaigns is intriguing, educational and – most importantly – doable.The frontrunners in today’s election season, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, in particular, use varied methods to achieve success. This New York Times article offers an interesting look at the differences between the Clinton and Sanders approaches to fundraising. Using that as a stepping stone, I’ve compiled a few lessons I’ve learned from studying these campaigns that you can apply to your playbook: (more…)

Charitable giving is UP for the second straight year!

Charitable Giving On the Rise for Second Consecutive Year

The numbers are in… 2015 was another record-setting year for charitable giving. According to the recently released Giving USA 2016: The Annual Report of Philanthropy for the Year 2015*charitable giving topped $373.25 billion in 2015, making it the highest single year of giving to date. The annual report is a publication of Giving USA Foundation in partnership with Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.According to the much-anticipated annual report, total giving grew 4 percent in 2015 (when adjusted for inflation) representing an increase of $14.21 billion over 2014. It’s the sixth consecutive year of charitable giving growth. That’s great news for nonprofits.“If you look at total giving by two-year time spans, the combined growth for 2014 and 2015 hit double digits, reaching 10.1 percent when calculated using inflation-adjusted dollars,” said Giving USA Foundation Chair W. Keith Curtis, president of nonprofit consulting firm The Curtis Group, Virginia Beach, Virginia. “But these findings embody more than numbers—they also are a symbol of the American spirit. It’s heartening that people really do want to make a difference, and they’re supporting the causes that matter to them. Americans are embracing philanthropy at a higher level than ever before.”

Charitable Giving: By The Numbers

Here’s a look at some of the other findings from the report:

  • Charitable contributions from all four sources – individual giving, foundation giving, charitable bequests and corporate giving – increased in 2015, with those from individuals once again leading the way in terms of total dollar amount, at $264.58 billion.
  • Not only did individuals give the most; by upping their 2015 gifts 3.8 percent when measured in current dollars (and 3.7 percent when inflation-adjusted), they were responsible for two-thirds of the year’s overall increase in total giving.
  • Of the nine charitable sub-sectors—religion, education, human services, foundations, health, public-society benefit, arts/culture/humanities, international affairs and environment/animals—all but one (foundations) had growth in charitable donations over 2014.
  • Giving to religion still ranks first in terms of total donations received (32%), more than double the next highest sector (education). At $119.30 billion, 2015 religious giving increased 2.7 percent in current dollars.
  • Giving to International Affairs saw the highest percent increase over 2014 (17.5 percent in current dollars). As the report points this significant increase may be due to the growth in the number of active international charitable organizations; use of more strategic fundraising methods; and increased focus on international issues among foundations.

The report details a variety of other interesting findings that are worth the read. You can download the full report or a free highlights report here. *Giving USA 2016: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015, a publication of Giving USA Foundation, 2016, researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Available online at the Giving USA store.

Alumni are ready to become your advocates and supporters. Reach out!

Keeping Grads Connected to Your Mission

Cheers to the Class of 2016!

It’s graduation season. Mortarboard caps are being flung high into the air as graduates embark on a new adventure and the next phase of their life journey. For schools, these newly minted alumni are an important part of your organization and future funders of your mission. Regardless if they are graduating from 8th grade or college, you need to build on your obvious connection and their affinity for their alma mater. Take thoughtful – and creative – actions to develop a long-term relationship – really a friendship – that can pay dividends in the future. Just like the investment parents make in a child’s education, you too need to make investments in your alumni relations efforts. Here are a few pointers to remember to help you build an engaged and committed alumni community. These tips, while geared toward alumni, can certainly be applied no matter what donor group you are courting:

Students first, alumni forever.

Transform your graduates into advocates – and supporters – of your school by engaging them while they are students. It’s the positive memories they build as students that they – and you – draw on when asking them to support your mission. As they transition to graduates, make sure you capture their contact information so you can continuing reinforcing and deepening your relationship. (more…)

When it comes to giving, your first priority should be convenience for your donors.

The Age of Convenience

It’s the age of convenience. Everything – in every category imaginable – is geared toward making things easier and more convenient. We have a need for speed and ease!Today, we rely on the internet for just about everything: news, shopping, banking, socializing, and much, much more. Quick and easy is the name of the game in our increasingly online-focused world. Having instant – and seamless – access has become an ingrained part of our culture. As such, your donors expect the same level of ease and accessibility from your organization that they find elsewhere… and all from the palm of their hand.Regardless of where donors spend their hard-earned money – ordering groceries online, e-shopping, downloading music, paying bills electronically or supporting a worthy cause – donors are primed for and – quite honestly, expect – hassle-free online buying experiences. I know I do!To help ensure your supporters have a great giving experience, try these tips:

Make it mobile friendly.

Donors are on the go. Ensure you are optimized for mobile giving so donors can give anytime, anywhere, from any device. (more…)

Your festive events bring them in, now keep them around with year-round giving.

Tips on Inspiring Year-Round Giving

Spring is (finally) in the air and with the blooming of spring comes the season for marquee nonprofit fundraising events. From grand galas to spring fling festivities, these cornerstone events are an important part of the fundraising mix, often raising significant funds.

While extra emphasis is rightfully put on these annual high-profile and revenue-producing events, don’t take your eye off the eight ball. Year-round giving is critical to your long-term viability and is the engine that drives your mission. Steady, recurring gifts add up and are foundational elements to your fundraising success.

The most successful nonprofit organizations integrate traditional fundraising activities such as annual galas with online giving options and ongoing donor communications. Electronic giving is an effective tool to not only facilitate donations, but also deepen donor engagement which results in increased year-round giving. When adding GiveCentral to their fundraising tool kit, our clients report a growth of up to 50 percent in total donations.

You can inspire year-round giving by deploying the latest fundraising technology and creating meaningful donor touch points throughout the year. Try these proven GiveCentral tips: (more…)

The art of storytelling can improve your fundraising, and make it more fun to boot.

Tips to Perfect the Art of Storytelling

Happy National Tell a Story Day! Do you know someone who is a good storyteller? Someone who can captivate an audience with the tale they are weaving. Someone whose stories you always want to hear because they are engaging and entertaining. For me, that someone is was always my grandfather. We would listen over the dinner table and walk with him through the memories of his youth, his love of the backwoods of northern Minnesota and his passion for Notre Dame football. Nonprofits can learn a valuable lesson for good storytellers. Storytelling is a powerful communications tool that can set you apart from other nonprofit organizations vying for your donors’ time, talent, treasure and attention. As you are well aware, donors give for altruistic reasons, so connecting with them on an emotional level is key to capitalizing on their generosity and desire to give. Storytelling is a great and incredibly effective way to do just that!Donors like (and respond to) the warm and fuzzy that comes from supporting a cause. Make sure you are continually warming their hearts through compelling and inspired storytelling that brings your mission to life. Try these storytelling techniques designed to help you speak to donors’ hearts:

Remember the three C’s.

Be clear, concise and compelling. Verbose, meandering and mundane content will be ignored.

Tell the truth.

Being truthful and transparent are extremely important. Don’t take creative liberties and exaggerate your stories. Donors can separate fact from fiction, so don’t embellish for effect.

Be your authentic self.

Every organization has a personality. It’s the way you express and represent yourself — it’s your heart and soul. Be genuine and let your persona shine through so donors can better relate to you and your mission. Stories without personality fall flat. (more…)

Where will your donors' tax returns go?

Tax Time: Top 10 Reasons Donors Give

The mad dash to file personal income tax returns is on! With the April tax deadline looming, we thought it would be interesting to share insights on what drives donors to give. Hint: tax deduction doesn’t even make the top 10!Knowing the motivating factors behind charitable giving is critically important for successful fundraising. According to the recently released GiveCentral Insights on Nonprofit Giving report, altruistic motivations are the primary drivers for charitable giving. Overwhelmingly, Americans donate out of the goodness of their hearts, not because they have to or should for tax purposes. Faith and the desire to help others trump tax breaks.

Understanding why donors give is one piece of the fundraising puzzle. Armed with insights on donor behaviors, your challenge is to create strategies that tap into donor motivations. Communications should be a cornerstone of your strategic plan. From a compelling content marketing strategy to inspired storytelling, demonstrating how donor contributions make a real and meaningful difference to your mission can have a direct impact on your funding. Knowing how important a comprehensive communications plan is to your success, we will continue to share ideas and tangible tips on how to maximize your communications, so be sure to check back frequently. In the meantime, I’m signing off so I can go finish my taxes!  

Your team's time is money, too.

Time is Money

The words of Benjamin Franklin –“Time is Money” – are particularly apropos for nonprofit organizations. There never seems to be enough time in the day to get it all done, particularly for those organizations running on skeleton staffs. Nonprofit executives often wear many hats, which can keep them from spending enough time developing donors. Wouldn’t it be great to have a mini-me to help get things done and free up time to spend engaging donors and actually fundraising?But how? One way is to put the right fundraising tools in place. Sophisticated tools developed specifically for the nonprofit sector can increase efficiency and productivity. The outcome? You reclaim time for activities that can increase your bottom line.One of the most impactful, must-have fundraising tools is a system in which to track and communicate with donors. Without an effective system you needlessly spend time chasing down information or contacts and likely miss fundraising opportunities as a result. If your system can’t provide informative reports with a push of a button, or provide a easy way to stay in touch, valuable staff time is being wasted. How does your current system compare to the platforms available today?GiveCentral consolidates fundraising, reporting and communications activities in one convenient place. Partnering with GiveCentral is like adding a super-smart, seasoned and productive member to your team to help ease and streamline the workload. Advanced system features put real-time analytics, comprehensive reports and integrated communication templates at your fingertips. GiveCentral saves staff time and hard-earned money on accounting and data management and makes it easier than ever for donors to support your mission.Does your system stack up?