Nonprofit Storytelling: 4 Ways to Deepen Engagement
In most (if not all) nonprofits, there is a greater emphasis on personalization. With the emergence of new technologies, it’s becoming easier for organizations to segment donors and personalize outreach according to their donors’ experiences, interests, and life stages. This is particularly evident in nonprofit storytelling.
Now, not only do donors want to receive messaging that speaks to their values, but they also want to forge connections with the organization they’re contributing to. As exemplified by Jay Scott, Co-Executive Director of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, donors want to hear stories about and from the people they’re helping. They want to understand those individuals, their stories, and give in ways that are impactful.
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So, let’s explore the four necessary things you should do to tell a story with impact:
4 Ways to Forge Deeper Connections with Donors
1. Dig Into Your Organization’s Backstory
A key step in successful nonprofit storytelling is to discuss your history. The first story that should connect with your audience is your organization’s origin story. How and why was your organization created? And, how are you amplifying your mission today? These intentional tellings of your story can garner a community of loyal followers. So, if they believe in your mission and how you’re attempting to create change, donors and prospects will commit themselves to spread your story.
In Jay Scott’s case, almost all the donors that visit the Alex’s Lemonade Stand site are far more interested in the history of the organization than what is being done with the donations they’ve received. They want to know how they got started and how their organization is inspiring people to do more.
2. Focus on Deep Content in Nonprofit Storytelling, Not Just Personalized Messaging
Deep stories, like Alex’s, do more than encourage people to give for the sake of giving. Jay Scott demonstrates that stories are vessels for empathy. They allow you to create bonds with prospective and existing donors. Stories like Alex’s galvanize people into giving. Not only do they understand what is going on factually, but they also deeply feel the reality of the situation outlined before them.
The most impactful stories exist beyond the written word. They exist beyond the simplistic intention of collecting donations so your foundation can gain traction or attention. A truly salient story is one that digs into and illuminates a greater truth which may ordinarily feel abstract or intangible. That’s what inspires donors to give— not an anecdote illustrating why they should give, but a truth that allows them to connect, empathize, and humanize the individuals in the story.
In nonprofit storytelling, not everyone will connect with the same story. So, it’s important to remain true to the stories you collect. Then, you can determine which donors will connect with which truth. Once you’ve segmented your donors, you can send tailored messages that are relevant to their interests and experiences.
Communication, from then on, is primarily donor-centric. You’re highlighting their wants, needs, and motivations, instead of showing donors why they should give to your organization. At Alex’s Lemonade Stand, they send out personalized messages to hundreds of thousands of donors. Just by subject line alone, donors open these emails 2-5 times more than those on regular distribution lists. But, this isn’t about creating messages that are likely to be opened. It’s about bringing the attention of interested people to stories that speak to them. That’s where all significant change starts.
4. Amplify Your Intention Through Imagery in Nonprofit Storytelling
Imagery is an essential element in impactful nonprofit storytelling. Images can forge connections with readers just as much as written stories. For instance, Jay Scott noticed that when they left out Alex’s picture from their newsletter, his donors had something to say about it. Why? By seeing Alex’s picture, people were able to put a face to the story they were reading.
In that sense, images make nonprofit stories more tangible.
They allow you to humanize the cause and donors are able to see the individuals impacted by the gifts they contribute. So, the retellings no longer seem abstract. They’re real.
Catch a Recap of Using Storytelling to Personalize Your Message and Grow Donors
Watch Jay Scott’s powerful retelling of Alex’s story, presented at WE Prosper Summit 2019.