Non-profit organizations ARE businesses, and they have to employ tried-and-true business principles if they want to stay in business. Non-profits have to create awareness (marketing) about their businesses and raise capital (fundraising) for their businesses just like any other business organization.
The only difference between these two business models is:
- A for-profit business measures its success in monetary gain: how much money it made (above and beyond the costs of doing business) for the business owners or for the stockholders.
- A non-profit organization measures its success in the number of coats it provides to the needy, or percentage of increase in the number of visitors to their exhibition, or number of students who will be able to attend educational seminars, or the amount of money raised to add a new wing to the hospital.
Both quantify their successes. One in dollars… and one in the number of lives that have been changed for the better.
And, both reach their respective objectives using the same marketing and fundraising materials. Written and visual materials that tell the story of …
- who you are as an organization (or charitable cause)
- why you do what you do
- who benefits
- all the justification for why you deserve support (i.e., time, talent, influence and money) from prospective donors
In other words, telling your story. And, not just telling your story but telling it in a way that is motivational and memorable.
Peter Guber, author of Tell to Win, says that in the for-profit business world, stories have the “power” to “connect and persuade.” This is exactly what you want from ALL your marketing and fundraising efforts. To connect and persuade. Connect with your prospective donor and persuade him or her to support your organization (or worthy cause) in some way.
Compelling stories – ones that make emotional and intellectual connections with your prospective donor – are more powerful, make a deeper and more lasting connection, and are more persuasive.
So, what makes a compelling story?
I have a dear friend who used to be a grant reviewer for an arts group in my hometown. I asked her what role stories played in a successful grant proposal and what she looked for in a compelling story.
Renee told me stories played a huge role in writing a successful grant. She referred to stories as the “currency,” the means by which the grant proposal’s ideas are transmitted and sustained. Renee looked for compelling stories that were …
- drew her in
- struck an emotional cord
- caused her to think
To create compelling stories – powerful stories that connect and persuade – you have to know who your target market is. The only way to find that out is to do a little market research.
Be a good listener. Ask questions. Start and engage in conversations with known donors. Find out their interests, demographics, why they like being associated with your organization or cause, how they first came to support your cause (what drew them in), how they have benefited from your services or programs. Conduct surveys. Always ask for comments from your target market.
Record your research data in a donor database or spreadsheet program and analyze your findings. Determine who your target market is based on what you find in your research data.
Well-crafted stories for the non-profit world generally show (or exemplify) how a societal problem was resolved. These stories point out how you provided a much needed service, or enhanced your community in some way, or changed an unjust situation.
Whenever someone relayed a story that touched my heart or exemplified why we were in business and how effective our business was – whether from a program recipient, a volunteer, board member, current donor – I made a note of the story.
I kept all my story ideas in a special file folder, and elaborated on the specific storyline that best fit my marketing or fundraising need. The stories I told in my marketing and fundraising materials illustrated how our organization or cause had resolved or was resolving a social problem.
Easier To Remember
Another reason to use stories in your marketing and non-profit fundraising efforts: stories are easier to remember. Compelling stories even more so.
As non-profit organizations, we sometimes describe what we do and why we do it in purely analytical terms. Statistics and hard facts can be boring. And that which is boring is soon forgotten (or remembered for all the wrong reasons).
Data presented with a compelling story, on the other hand, is inspirational, motivational, and, most of all, memorable. Inspirational and motivational stories compel your prospects to support your cause in some manner. Memorable stories make it easier for supporters to spread the word about you and your cause.
Telling the Story in Different Ways
There are different ways to tell a compelling story. Some stories are best told using the written word. Other stories are best told visually through photographs and videos.
One method is not necessarily better than the other. As a non-profit fundraiser, you want to use the method that reaches the largest number of your target market and is most likely to engage your target audience.