If you want money coming in consistently throughout the year, you need a big, loyal donor base of people who love your mission and want to see you win.
Once you build that donor base, your job is to engage and inspire them.
Inspiration is about connecting with them on an emotional level.
In practical terms, it’s about staying in touch with them and sharing about the good work your organization is doing.
The absolute easiest way to do that is to tell a heart-grabbing story.
A heart-grabbing story is the easiest way to illustrate what your programs accomplish and help the donor feel something (compassion, anger, hope, etc.).
The right story will grab the donor by the heart strings and fill them with concern and optimism: concern for the life being changed and optimism that change is possible.
Here are some other reasons why you need good stories:
- Straight facts and details are boring. You ever tried to read a financial statement? Does it make you want to give? Thought not.
- Stories engage people emotionally. A good story hits us right where we feel life most: our heart. Since giving is an emotional act, it makes sense to connect emotionally before asking.
- We’re conditioned for stories. Since we were small, we’ve loved stories, whether they were read to us or shown in a movie. Heck, think about how hard it is to get tickets the first weekend of a great movie. Everyone loves a good story.
Here’s the truth: Your mission statement alone will NEVER inspire someone to make a game-changing gift to your nonprofit. It takes a story to do that.
What makes a story heart-grabbing?
Boring stories don’t move people to give. Neither do stories that ramble and don’t really have a point.
So, your stories need to be concise and easy to read (no jargon).
The best story model to use is the “Before and After.”
It’s pretty simple really: Start the story by telling what life was like before the person/animal came to your nonprofit, and then tell about what their life is like now.
Renee was scared. A thunderstorm was about to roll through town. She sighed and loaded up her kids in the car to drive to Wal Mart.
There wasn’t anything she needed to buy – she just needed a safe place to stay until the storm blew over.
You see, her small trailer didn’t feel safe. Every time the thunder boomed, her windows rattled. The sheets of rain seeped in around the leaky roof, and Renee was scared that the next gust of wind might blow the place down around her. It was like this every time a storm blew in.
She needed a better place to live, but didn’t know how to make it happen on her meager income. Then she heard about Habitat for Humanity.
She immediately signed up and began working toward her own home. She learned how to budget money for home repairs and spent hours putting in “sweat equity.” After many months of waiting and working, the big day finally came, and she couldn’t believe it as she stood on the porch and looked inside. Tears shone in her eyes as they handed her the keys to her new home – safe and solid, able to withstand any storm.
Notice how you feel after reading that story. Do you like the happy ending or the face that she had to work to reach her goals? Is there something else that draws you in?
Note that there’s not much said about the organization or their program. There’s nothing about how many people are served or the staff’s credentials.
You may want to give people more information, but they don’t need it. People want to know about the lives being changed, not how you do it. Focus on impact and outcomes, not programs and process.
Story collection tips
Collecting good stories can take some time. I suggest you set aside a few days to find some good ones, then write them up and put them in a story library so you have them later when you need them. (I used to do this once or twice a year and I always had plenty of good stories.)
Here are a few tips for collecting stories:
- Ask your coworkers what they’ve seen lately that broke their heart. Don’t ask for a story – they don’t think about it the same way you do and won’t give you what you’re looking for. Also, be prepared to write it up yourself. They won’t have time and won’t understand how to put a story into the format you need. I used to go have lunch with the program staff and ask them to update me on the latest thing happening. That was usually enough to get them started talking.
- Have a story contest and see which staff person or volunteer can give you the best story. Give prizes to the winners (Starbucks card, etc.). Again, be prepared to write these up yourself or edit anything you’re given in writing.
- Spend time on the front lines of your organization and get the stories for yourself. Talk to people using your nonprofit’s services and ask them to share with you. Not everyone will be willing, but you’ll find a few who are. Be respectful and gentle as you ask questions – some people may have some strong emotions about using your nonprofit’s services, and like a physician, you should do no harm in this process.
Once you share a story, listen for feedback. Notice if someone mentions the story when you bump into them in the community, or if a donor emails you. I’ve seen donors tuck a note in an envelope with their check with a comment about a story.
When you start getting feedback like that and you see donations go up, you know you’re doing it right, and that you’ve engaged and inspired your donors.