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What’s Your Narrative? Stories worth telling.

By Patrick Coleman

What’s Your Narrative? Powerful Storytelling for Non Profits.

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.  StorytellingI 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.

Storytelling for non profits.

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!

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…)

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…)

Looking to connect with your donors? All it takes is a smile.

Connect with Your Donors: Tell Your Parish Story

Churches are lucky among nonprofits; time to connect with yourcommunity is built into religious life. For Catholics, that means Sunday Mass. And as you know, evoking an emotional connection with your parishioners is the foundation to getting them more involved in the community with their time, talent or treasure.While this is easy when they are sitting in the pew at Mass, how do you carry this connection on throughout their week? They have work concerns, children to care for, obligations with friends and family, and, of course, they have other nonprofits asking them, “donate to our cause.“The fact is, your parishioners’ attention is being pulled at by several other nonprofits, possibly many times each day. Compare this to the fact that they may only hear from you at Mass on Sunday. They might take home the bulletin, but that could just sit under a stack of bills. So how can you make sure your parish stands out?

Why Connect?

According to Giving USA, charitable giving grew 7.1% in 2014, and religious donations still hold the largest piece of that pie. However, that slice has been shrinking in comparison to other types of giving, a trend that has been going on for 30 years. This is due in large part to the influx of nonprofits reaching out to your parishioners, evoking a competing emotional connection for their organizations’ cause.So how can a church keep up? Well the good news is, a parish has an innate emotional connection to its parishioners – spirituality. Your parishioners get a very tangible refresher from hearing your pastor speak, so all you need to do is remind them of that refreshing feeling they get from your masses during the week. This will strengthen your relationship with your parishioners!

What’s Your Story?

Your parish already has a mission, and in it lies your story. Tell your parishioners a little bit about your church, and connect them to the history of your parish.

  • Why did your pastor decide to become a pastor?
  • Is there a message from the homily that could be repeated in a mid-week email?
  • How did you come to work at the parish? What about your colleagues?
  • What happened at your last big parish event, behind the scenes in preparation for the fun?
  • When was your church built? Is there a story of its founding you can share?
  • Can you share a weekly or monthly “Spotlight on a Parishioner” as an email or newsletter article?

Small stories like these are just the thing to help build up the sense of community that’s so crucial to your mission. Connected parishioners are engaged parishioners, and the more they feel like they’re a part of the church the more likely they are to volunteer, donate and participate. To help you share your story, I want to share a favorite, easy resource of mine with you.

Share Your Stories

My story-telling knowledge is inspired by a woman named Vanessa Chase. Her website, The Storytelling Nonprofit, is chock-full of resources, ideas, inspiration and motivation that you can learn from and adapt to fit your parish. I cannot recommend her website enough!Vanessa encourages non-profits to think of their donors as intimate relationships – and what keeps you supporting your friends, families, and loved ones more than the emotional connection you share with one another? It’s that emotional connection with your loved ones that is built so much by the stories you build together and tell one another, so Vanessa teaches us how to begin that conversation with parishioners and donors.Your parishioners come to you for a very intimate reason, and communicating your story with them not only validates their spirituality but also strengthens their desire to support your mission. Connect over stories and watch your community grow!

It's National Volunteer Week! How are you celebrating your volunteers?

Three Cheers For Volunteers

Mark National Volunteer Week with an Appreciation Activity

National Volunteer Week, April 10-16, offers a chance for you to show your volunteers how much you appreciate them and value the work they do for your organization.It’s no surprise, volunteers are the backbone of nonprofit organizations. Volunteers help with fundraising, lend their expertise to your organization and help spread the word about your mission. They fuel your programs and services and help you fulfill your mission.  In short, you wouldn’t be where you are today without them.National Volunteer Week is the perfect time for you to praise your volunteers and show your gratitude.  Here are some simple ideas to help you get your ideas flowing:  

Send a note of gratitude.  

A simple thank you note goes a long way.  Show your appreciation by sending volunteers a handwritten, personal note.  In today’s world of texts and emails, a handwritten note will stand out.   

Host a thank you coffee or cocktail reception.  

Invite volunteers to come together to raise a glass in celebration of their hard work.  But don’t stop there, you may want to consider hosting the gatherings on a quarterly basis.  Consider giving each volunteer in attendance a small token of your appreciation.  

Showcase volunteers.  

Spotlight volunteers and the incredible work they do by including features on them in upcoming newsletters, bulletins and/or on your website.  Show  volunteers some love and let them know how valuable they are to your organization.  Small gestures like these can go a long way to fortifying these important relationships. Want more inspiration?  Points of Light – the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service – is the host of National Volunteer Week.  Visit their website for free National Volunteer Week resources.

Black-and-white painting of a representation of the month of January, the god Janus, a bearded man with two faces in profile pointed in opposite directions, on a plastered section of brick wall

January is Nearly Gone…But Not Forgotten

Can it possibly be the last week in January already?   Did you ever wonder where the month of January got its name?  It’s named in honor of the Roman god Janus:  the god of beginnings and transitions, the guardian of doors and gates. Quite fitting for the first month of the year.

Janus is usually depicted having two heads facing opposite directions.  One looks back and the other looks forward.  As we prepare to “close the gates” on January and step boldly into February, perhaps we can take some of the words most often associated with Janus and apply them to your mission:

Doors/Gates 

Do you offer your donors multiple “gateways” to giving?  Are you meeting them everywhere they are – online, on their phone, at home, in person – so you intersect with their lives when they are ready to give?  To make the most of giving, you have to offer a plethora of ways to give. Provide options and see what door donors choose.   

Beginnings

Before month’s end, why not make a commitment to embark on something new that will enhance your mission.  Look back on something you recently completed and brainstorm ways you can improve it in the future. There’s always a way to put a new spin on something and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the impact a fresh twist can have!

Put your Best Face Forward

Make sure you are clearly communicating your vision and how donor support brings your mission to life.  But it’s more than just words.  Strong visual imagery must be a component of your communications.  Put a face to the story for a stronger emotional link.

As I think about what the Roman god Janus symbolizes, I can’t help but draw a link between Janus and the role of a development director and/or and business manager at many non-profit organizations. In this role, these dedicated professionals are truly the gatekeepers to the success of the organization’s mission.  

But, they can only be as good as the tools they have to support their function.  Does your organization have a state-of-the-art donor management system in place to help power your mission?  One that provides up-to-date metrics for administrators while simultaneously offering donors a simple and intuitive way to support your organization?  

If not, it’s time to think about transitioning to a new system so you can reap the many benefits.  Let GiveCentral show you how we can help you keep moving forward.

a man gesturing to a whiteboard presenting to a mixed group of seated people raising their hands

Storytelling and Transparency Encourage Giving

Consistent, regular donations help fuel your church and its mission, but asking for money can be uncomfortable and even intimidating. Your confidence in making the ask can be boosted by one simple technique: transparency.

Through our experiences and best practices, we have compiled four simple Steps to Success for being transparent with parishioners to help you receive the offertory your church needs to grow and thrive.

1. Tell Them Why

The most important part of transparency is telling your donors how their gifts are being used. People can be hesitant to donate their hard earned money if they don’t know what that gift is going towards.

How can you do this most effectively? There are plenty of ways to demonstrate your need for the money necessary to keep your organization operating, many of which can be tailored to your audience. Examples include:

  1. Putting together a complete list of expenses and make it readily available. Depending on your circumstances, you can keep an updated list on your website, in your bulletin, or anywhere you know your parishioners will see it.
  2. Highlighting one expense per month on which to focus your fundraising efforts.  Tackling expenses one at a time helps keep folks from getting overwhelmed and draws attention to individual, tangible needs.
  3. Placing GiveCentral enrollment forms (or instructions on how to register online) in frequently-used spaces and places where people naturally congregate to chat after Mass.

Through our experience at GiveCentral, we have witnessed a variety of ways to showcase the funds needed to keep church doors open. Check out our list of Giving Ideas for some additional inspiration.

2. Ask for Donations

Now that you have told your donors why you need the money, it’s time to ask for donations. To some this may feel a bit uncomfortable, but by maintaining a level of transparency about what the funds are going towards it will become easier to show parishioners why they want to give. Explain why their donations are so important to your ongoing mission and day-to-day operations, and consider trying some of our Giving Ideas as new ways to ask for donations.

When you are asking for new donations, be sure to share specific details about your initiatives. Who will they help? What support systems will be put in place? How will your efforts make an impact on the community? Research has shown that when you can demonstrate a donor’s personal connection to a cause, the more likely they are to say “yes” to supporting that cause.

One way to make asking for donations easier is to spread out the work.  People say that friends and family hold the most influence over where they donate their time and money, so tap into your community for vocal supporters and ask them if they are willing to help advocate on your behalf. These trustworthy messengers can boost the transparency of your message by speaking authentically and impartially about the good work you do.

3. Say Thank You

Immediately after receiving a donation, sending a letter of thanks is a must that shows them your appreciation and acknowledges their support. GiveCentral’s receipts are automatically sent after each donation is made, and they do say “Thank You,” but a personal message from you makes all the difference.

And of course, the first letter of thanks should not be the only one. Every few months, thank your donors again. Whether it be via email, letter, card or phone call, get in touch with them just to say thanks for their generosity and for their participation in your activities. This is a great opportunity to tell them (perhaps again) how much their donations have helped your organization accomplish. And remember, this shouldn’t be used as a platform to ask them to give again but simply an acknowledgement of your gratitude.

4. Provide Updates

While you’ve already told your donors where the money is going, it’s just as important that they see their gifts put to use. This is truly transparency in action: you asked them for a gift, told them what you would use it for, and are now ready to show them the results.

For example, if they were donating to make repairs to the church, consider how you will send updates on the status of those repairs. If they donated to help fund church groups, have members of the group speak about the impact of donations or write a note to include in your newsletter. Seeing the outcome of their donations will make people feel more comfortable donating again as well as form a connection between your parish, their donation, and the fantastic results.

GiveCentral offers tools and support to help you send email updates, which help keep donors up-to-date on the initiatives they are helping to support. Learn more about our communication portal here, or participate in our discussion community.