Nonprofit Storytelling: How to Share Impact Stories to Make Your Donors’ Hearts Flutter

September 27, 2018
5 minutes

Starting with Nonprofit Storytelling

Three cheers for our donors!

If you take one tip from this article, make sure it’s this one: Make your donors the heroes of your impact story. It's a simple concept... so why do nonprofits miss what could be a golden opportunity to celebrate donors? 

In general, most donor stewardship leaves donors feeling mehhhh. To be memorable in their hearts, minds, and wallets, you've got to remind donors of their exceptional awesomeness—and your gratitude for that radness. As you share impact and success stories, cast donors as the hero to celebrate the results their donations made happen. 

p>In addition to making donors the hero, your impact story could feature the donor and their giving story. We love what The San Francisco Foundation has done for their donors.

An artistic rendering of a white face in profile on a blue-purple gridded background. The face has yellow ears, blue eyes, and dark hair.

Wait, what did I give to again?

Donors don't need you to hire a skywriter to deliver a thank you. Fundraising wizard Penelope Burk’s research has shown time and time again that donors want to know 1) how their gift was used and 2) what impact it had. Stories are a great way to give them what they want. But. It has to be the right story.


​Pop quiz time! Which of the following statements is more meaningful to donors? A. “Your gift was able to feed 500 people in need,” or B. “Your gift made it possible for Karen to have a hot meal this week.” You get a gold star if you answered B! 

Research has shown that donors want to understand the impact of their gift. Understanding becomes easier when you bring specific and tangible details to life. When it comes to your storytelling, what does that mean? Rather than trying to tell a story about a whole program or all the people in it, find a way to make it real. Paint a picture; a visual for donors to see in their mind’s eye. Connect the dots for them. 

It's amazing what Best Friends Animal Society is doing! In one of their videos, they share that donors helped 76,000 animals find furever homes (amazing!), and to complement this, they show pictures of the lucky animals who were adopted.

Use a winning story structure

Every story you’ve ever read or watched has a beginning, middle, and end. In nonprofit storytelling, one of the things we need to emphasize for donors is the conflict and resolution of the story. Why? Conflict shows a need—and remember, donors give because there are needs to be met. Resolution shows how donors were able to make a difference. Keeping this framework in mind will help you tell a better impact story.

Make it multimedia

We’re living in a digital world, so put that pen down! You have countless exciting ways to tell stories through social media channels, videos, photos, audio—the list goes on. As you think about the final presentation for your impact story, look for ways for ways your story can span across multiple medias. 

UNICEF USA does a great job of this on their Facebook page, creating photo albums specifically to showcase impact and success. Not only does this make them shareable within their Facebook community, now UNICEF USA can send their donors a link via email that'll drive traffic directly to the photo album. Add that to your list of smart ideas!

Five Storytelling Elements to Amplify Your Nonprofit's Text-to-Give Strategy

Now that you know how to weave a good yarn, it’s time to get those stories out into the big wide world where they can have an impact. As a savvy nonprofiteer, you already know that you need to tell stories through your website, events, emails, direct mail, social media, and your shoes (just kidding, we wanted to see if you were still with us). Since texting is almost as second nature as breathing these days, it's only natural that nonprofit organizations move towards a text engagement strategy to directly connect to new donors and retain existing ones. It’s time to figure out how to tell your nonprofit's story in 160 haracters or less is the key to the promised land of donations.

According to Twilio, SMS messages have a 95% open rate. Yep, you read that right. And with incredible stats like that, it's a no-brainer to incorporate text engagement into your nonprofit fundraising strategy. But how should you go about that exactly?

We thought it would be fun to share how you can use five basic elements of a story (plot, setting, character, theme, and conflict) taken straight from your high school English class to build an enticing text engagement strategy.

Plot

Every story worth telling has a good plot, which is really just the sequence of events that make up the beginning, middle, and end of your story. If you've been in the business of changing the world for some time, you probably have a few impactful case studies that highlight the impressive transformation of the people, places or things you've helped. Time to put those to good use.

Pro-Tip: Create a mobile donation page and pick one of your most compelling success stories (you know, the one that pulls at the heartstrings). Send a short teaser to your supporters with a link to the site. The text can say something like:

"Nina, it's Madge from Homes for All. Thanks to supporters like you, Ingrid escaped homelessness. See how far a $10 donation can go. bit.ly.nonprofit.com"

When your supporter clinks the link, they'll be taken to a mobile donation page that features a prominent donate button. They'll read a more detailed version of Ingrid's story, telling how homelessness affected her life before your organization intervened, how your organization helped her, what she's doing now, and her plans for the future.

Bonus Tip: Try out this strategy before a fundraising event to build excitement and create a deeper connection to your mission by reminding attendees of the impact that your work has.

Setting

Set the scene to tell your nonprofit's story with maximum sensory inputs, mentally teleporting your supporters to a specific place and time to create a deeper connection.

Pro-Tip: For an upcoming fundraising campaign with a specific goal in place, send a personalized text to your supporters that tells the story of what someone's life will look like when your organization meets their goal. This could look something like:

"Sandra, Free the Forest is close to planting 1000 trees. Decimated Yucatan forests transform into lush green landscapes with yr help. Check it out bitly.org/dfd"

The link takes donors to a mobile donation page showing a video of the forest's devastation, a conceptual video of what the forest would look like if your nonprofit met its goal, or a person whose life has been affected by deforestation. The sky's the limit!

Character

Telling a story is pretty difficult without a star subject or character. This could be one specific refugee your organization helped achieve freedom, an abused dog who's found a new home, the recipient of a new computer who can now do their homework peacefully, or even a historic building with cultural significance that's in danger of getting torn down.

Pro-Tip: Focus on what needs help and paint a picture of how a donation could turn the tides. It could be something like:

"Damon, Fire Relief here. The Migos Fire has devastated a community. Laura Smith, a nurse, lost all her belongings. Want to help? Donate Now: bitly.org/dfd"

Telling personal stories is extremely powerful in an emergency response situation. Using Funraise's Text Engagement tools during a crisis can increase the number of donations you get compared to using emails. Try it out!

Theme

Themes can be considered the overall message your nonprofit wants to convey. When incorporating a theme into your fundraising strategy, the first place to look is your organization's vision. Your vision, separate from your mission, is essentially what your dream world would look like if you achieved your mission. Your vision should create powerful imagery and storytelling opportunities.

Pro-Tip: If you want to take a different approach to storytelling, get people to donate to your overall vision, which is most impactful in year-round or year-end fundraising efforts and not tied to a specific program or event. An example of this would be:

"Luis, imagine a world where every child has access to quality education no matter where they live. That's EduChild's vision & you can help: bitly.org/ldd"

Link to a mobile donation page with photos of all the children who've been afforded quality education, stats with how many people your org has helped, or a video of children saying thank you and sharing with your supporters what they want to be when they grow up. Remind donors of the gratification of contributing to a larger vision and how doing something bigger can be super impactful.

Conflict

Conflict and tension in a story are what keeps you captivated. Imagine watching a movie where everything's just peachy—no villains, no overbearing in-laws, no chance of your secret identity being exposed. Snore. As a nonprofit, though, your biggest conflict is not having enough funds to fulfill your mission, and it's always a dire situation.

Pro-Tip: Text your donors a specific ask to help you reach a fundraising goal and make it urgent; this can be a real or manufactured deadline. For example, #GivingTuesday is a popular event. Although it's not focused on conflict, per se, the urgency is created by dedicating a specific day for your supporters to donate.

Got a program that needs to be funded? Create a fundraising page with a goal and a deadline. As the deadline approaches, text your donors to tell them how close you are to your goal and how a small donation of [insert dollar amount here] will move you closer. It's a tried-and-true tactic that gets people to press that donate button with a quickness. Here's an example:

"Marge, Alpacas for Pastors is close to reaching its goal to help rural pastors get their own emotional support alpaca. Please help. Donate now: bitly.org/234"

Using Storytelling to Boost Donations at Your Next Fundraising Event

Now that you’re an expert at telling your story via text, it’s time to learn how to effectively share your nonprofit’s story at fundraising events. Putting on a successful fundraising event can be costly, and you want to make sure you meet your fundraising goals so that money can go towards mission-critical activities (talk about pressure).

So, how do you use the power of compelling storytelling at your fundraising events to maximize your donations? We've got some actionable suggestions for you so you can make the greatest impact.

Lay the groundwork before the event

Sometimes, you gotta tease 'em! Before your event, one of the best ways to build passion around the work you do is through short, but impactful stories. You can do this by making ticket purchases into an immersive storytelling experience—just add story elements into your events & ticketing form on your own website.

Weaving in impactful quotes or mini-story snippets will create conversation pieces leading up to your event without pressuring anyone to donate (although you can add that option during the ticketing experience!). You can also start an email campaign before the big day that highlights specific impact stories while building excitement for your event.

This is the perfect opportunity to reiterate what makes your nonprofit and the work you're doing so rad, and hopefully, pull at some heartstrings. Think of these as teasers in preparation for the big impact story reveal that will happen at your fundraising event.

Yellow, green, and blue chat bubbles float on top of a spray-painted yellow background


Use the venue as an immersive storytelling space

On event day, if your nonprofit's story isn't interwoven throughout the event venue with impactful visuals and takeaways, then you're missing a major opportunity.

From check-in to dining tables to banners, you can visually tell your story through physical items and conversation pieces. Here're some examples: consider making postcard-sized handouts at check-in with stories and photos of the people you've helped. Have a banner stand next to the refreshments with some of your organization's most impactful stats. Put flyers on tables with a text-to-give number so donors can give with little pressure.

Little details add up to big benefits when it comes to getting donors immersed in your mission and your story.

Have a representative of the story show up at your event

The big reveal at your fundraising event should be storytelling through the people who've been most impacted by your nonprofit. The parents of the child who received medical care. The proud adopters of rescue dogs. The recipient of job training. The architect of your new app. Having someone who's intimate with your services speak to your guests during the program adds powerful layers to your nonprofit's story and expands the reach of your story beyond the limit of your guests' sight.

To get your attendees hyped for your special guest, send out an SMS message through Funraise's Text Engagement feature on the day of the event. Something like, "Guess who's coming to dinner! One of our favorite [program] members will be on hand to talk about their experience." And don't forget to link to your fundraising page in the text!

If all goes well (and we've got our fingers crossed that it will), your event guests will be overjoyed to donate to your cause since they now have a face and a personal story to put to the work you're doing. And you'll want to make sure they have an easy way to donate. If they're not handing over a check, you'll need the Funraise App so you can run their credit cards for maximum donations.

Yellow, blue, and green chat bubbles float on top of a spray-painted blue background

Follow up

After you've thrown a successful event and collected a gajillion donations, all the guest data from the event will already be in the donor CRM. Instead of manually entering donations and updating donor profiles, you can use the time to follow up through Funraise's email automations. Send out an email thanking your guests for their contributions and give them a final story tidbit that leaves them wanting even more.

Let them know that the special guest at your event is going on a job interview next week, or is going into remission, or that the rescue dog finally found a foster family. Then promise to keep them looped into future progress.

Hearing firsthand how the beneficiaries of your services are thriving is one of the most powerful ways to compel donors to contribute. There's no better way to do this than at your next fundraising event. Take our advice, and don't be surprised if your donors lean into that big nonprofit hug. Just embrace it!

Donors are awesome. We know this. Let’s remind them that we know this. Stories are a great way to say, “I see you over there. Yep, you. Being all awesome and human and what not. Go on with your awesome self!” These tips are just a starting point to get your creative juices flowing to tell memorable stories. Most importantly, remember that every impact and success story you share helps your organization leave donors with that mushy-gushy-ahh-I-just-love-that-organization-they're-the-real-deal type feeling.​

Storytelling FAQs

What is nonprofit storytelling?

Simply put, nonprofit storytelling is crafting a narrative to get your message across.

Why should my nonprofit tell stories?

Storytelling is an awesome tool because it establishes an emotional connection with your audience, which raises awareness and funds for your nonprofit. 

What makes a great nonprofit story?

Emotional resonance! If your audience connects with your stories, they’ll want to get involved in your cause. A great story makes your reader feel all the feelings.

Which online platforms work best for nonprofit storytelling?

You can tell stories in your newsletter, on your website, across social media platforms, at virtual or in-person events, and via text.

Start For Free