Gathering compelling stories about beneficiaries, donors, or volunteers to share in your nonprofit fundraising campaigns, thank you messages, fundraising appeals and donation pages, and other content gives you powerful complements to your donor data. Together, these insights create a shortcut to engaging hearts, minds, and wallets.
But it’s not always easy to find the strongest stories. A recent Meyer Foundation survey uncovered a damaging disconnect in the ways organizations collect stories. Almost universally, organizations rely on program staff knowledge and relationships to gather stories, although the department overseeing the storytelling process is split between fundraising and development (54%) and marketing and communications (42%).
You’ll get more and stronger stories when you make it easy for the gatherers to identify, collect, and share them. Here’s how:
1. Clarify who does what.
There are five steps in the nonprofit storytelling process. Define who does what in your organization so each step gets done. Assumptions will undermine this process.
The first order of business is to figure out the single person who “owns” organizational storytelling: the “story boss.” Typically, that person is on the fundraising or communications team and assigns these responsibilities:
- Identify stories that will bring donors close and motivate them to give. (The story boss usually takes this on.)
- Collect your stories. Some story bosses ask collectors for basic data, and then follow up themselves to build out the facts and graphics. Others ask colleagues to gather most of the story—a rough draft—and then follow up themselves to fill in as necessary. A vital but often overlooked step: permissions.
- Develop your stories. Whether starting from basic information or a rough draft, someone has to build out and polish your stories and add a compelling photo or graphic. The difference between flat information delivery and a well-crafted story is huge. Typically, the story boss runs this process, polishing the stories herself or assigning the task to a colleague or freelance writer.
- Catalog and store your stories. The story boss usually sets up a story bank to make them accessible to all organizational storytellers. Tag each story with subject, topic or program, collector, date, and place to make it easily searchable. Note: In some cases, you may choose to make your story bank available to the public, like the Corporation for Enterprise Development
- Share your stories. Stories are worthless if they aren’t shared. The story boss typically spearheads asking, training, and helping colleagues, donors, and volunteers to be dazzling storytellers.
2. Guide and remind colleagues to gather the right stories.
Though story gathering and telling may be at the top of your mind, most of your colleagues have other priorities. Make remembering to source stories and knowing what kind of stories work best easier for them with these three tactics.
- Weekly or biweekly, email your story collectors a single prompt that helps them identify strong stories. Here are a few examples:
- Your volunteer brigade gave a huge assist to the Green Team project last month. Is there a volunteer or two who stepped forward in a significant role for the first time? If so, what did she do, and what drives her passion?
- I heard that several clients in the Young Adults with Autism program graduated last week. Is there one new graduate who stands out as entering the program facing significant challenges and making incredible progress in surprising ways?
- Tell me about a long-term donor with whom you had a great conversation or email exchange. What initially drew them to our organization, and what keeps them giving and loyal?
- At least monthly, kick off all-staff or team meetings with the stories you’re using. Highlight why these stories are compelling. Better yet, ask the colleagues who sourced the stories to do so.
- Let your story collectors know what key messages you need to highlight in right-now marketing and fundraising campaigns. Show them examples of existing stories that illustrate each message, and ask for more like those.
3. Make it simple to log and submit stories.
You’ll get more good stories when you simplify how your story gatherers log them and submit details. Try this:
- Create a brief form for gatherers to complete. Here’s a great example from storytelling guru Vanessa Chase.
- Your story form can be a hard copy—best if most of your gatherers aren’t at computers or tablets when they note story details—or a Google form.
- If your gatherers can easily log story data online, it’s far easier for your story boss to check them in to develop and share.
Get your story collection process in place now to start reaping the benefits. Here’s to meaningful, memorable stories and more successful nonprofit fundraising campaigns!