A guest post by Carl Diesing.

Effective donor communication requires strategies built on garnering trust, providing personalized content, and emphasizing your organization’s impact. With these factors in mind, nonprofits will often share detailed reports about their initiatives and overall cause area. These messages are informative and can provide supporters with the facts they need to make an informed decision about whether to give.

Facts and statistics might be persuasive to many. However, if your supporters are like most donors, sharing emotional, well-told stories about your cause will likely be the more effective marketing strategy.

Many donations are emotionally driven, with 42% of donors claiming that a personal story from a nonprofit’s beneficiary influenced their decision to give. To ensure your nonprofit is reaching these donors, this article will share four strategies for incorporating storytelling into your marketing campaigns:

  • Collect a variety of stories.
  • Evoke emotion.
  • Use visuals.
  • Choose your marketing channels.

Collect A Variety Of Stories

Who at your nonprofit has a story to tell? Collecting stories from different members of your nonprofit’s community will allow you to represent a wide range of viewpoints, sharing unique insight into your mission.

image of a woman showing something to someone on her laptop with caption: elevate your marketing strategy with nonprofit storytellingWhen selecting who to approach to collect stories, consider your overall marketing goals. For example, organizations using storytelling to earn more donations will likely go to their beneficiaries first, but they may also be able to gather compelling stories from other long-term donors. By contrast, an organization looking to expand their volunteer program may go to their volunteers, beneficiaries, and staff first.

Your nonprofit is ultimately able to approach anyone who has credibility with your organization and likely has a meaningful story to share. However, most organizations will begin with, and likely stick to, the following core groups:

  • Your beneficiaries can provide insight into your organization’s entire process: what their situation was like prior to coming in contact with your nonprofit, how they received help, and how that help has changed their life for the better. First-hand accounts describing the impact of the issues your nonprofit seeks to address can provide strong, compelling stories that encourage action.
  • Many donors give to causes they have a personal relationship with. Reach out to long-term donors and ask if they would be willing to share their stories about what your cause means to them and how they came to support your nonprofit.
  • Volunteers who participate in your initiatives understand the work it takes to fulfill your mission and have seen the end results when a program or project is complete. Get in touch with volunteers for stories about your mission’s impact and the importance of volunteering.
  • Staff members. Staff members have a behind the scenes view of what goes into each project, which can make for memorable stories about your organization’s dedication.
  • Your nonprofit’s founder. Many nonprofits share their origin stories with donors. Doing so can shed light on how the nonprofit chose its mission and why it’s the best organization to fulfill it.

However, keep in mind that not every story you collect will be relevant to your nonprofit’s ongoing goals. Carefully pick and choose which stories to share based on their content, the emotion they create, and their relevance to your marketing strategy. While editing is part of sharing your supporters’ stories, ensure you are ethically portraying them by accurately conveying the core events, intentions, and emotions of each story.

Evoke Emotion

As discussed, storytelling is an effective nonprofit communication strategy due to its ability to evoke emotion. Donors frequently decide to give based on an emotional response. Afterward, they will often conduct research into facts, statistics, and an organization’s background to support their decision.

You can generate this emotional reaction in supporters by leveraging the following best practices in your stories:

  • Use specific details. The most memorable stories contain specific details that paint a picture in a reader’s head. When developing stories, determine what details will help immerse your readers and support your story’s overall message.
  • Evoke emotions that will spur action. Not all emotions drive action equally. Specifically, research shows that emotions such as frustration and inspiration are more likely to result in readers sharing a story than emotions like sadness or contemplativeness. To ensure your messages reach a wide audience, aim to tell stories that are inspiring, surprising, and exciting.
  • Add visuals. Your stories should aim to create a picture in your supporters’ minds. By adding visuals to your stories, you can help your supporters better envision the scenarios your text describes. For example, if your story is focused around a single individual receiving aid from your organization, supporters may appreciate an image of that person to understand who is being helped.

If your nonprofit is still developing your storytelling strategies, there are a variety of resources available from which to draw. For example, nonprofit professionals host webinars, podcasts, blogs, and panel discussions based on core communication practices, such as storytelling. These resources can help you learn from other organizations about what they’ve found to be the most and least successful storytelling approaches.

Use Visuals

As discussed, visuals can be a helpful aid that allows readers to better envision the details shared in your stories. Eye-catching visuals can also help your stories attract more attention than if they were presented with only text.

The most effective visuals for your story will depend on its content, your nonprofit’s brand, the audience you are targeting, and the platform you are sharing your story through. To create the best visuals for your stories, consider how your nonprofit can:

  • Incorporate brand colors. Many photographs your nonprofit collects to represent your stories will likely not directly correspond to your brand colors. You can create cohesive messages by adjusting color levels and adding filters and overlays to each image. Additionally, Getting Attention’s guide to nonprofit graphic design encourages nonprofits to consider how the tone of their messages fits into their brand. For your stories, choose images that support the accompanying text and represent your organization’s overall values.
  • Experiment with video. Short, shareable videos are increasingly popular on social media platforms. To appeal to young audiences, consider how you can translate your storytelling to video. Nonprofits can partner with video production companies to develop high-quality, professional messages.
  • Create infographics. Remember, storytelling as a communication strategy includes more than just written narratives with a beginning, middle, and end. To include storytelling throughout your nonprofit’s website, consider how you can frame your organization’s impact, your mission, and recent accomplishments through visuals such as infographics. Infographics are a useful visual tool for explaining complex processes, ideas, and statistics.

When collecting visuals for your storytelling strategy, ensure you have permission to take and share any photographs you intend to use. Avoid photographs or other visual representations that do not accurately reflect the stories you shared in order to follow ethical communication standards.

Choose Your Marketing Channel

Which marketing channel is best for sharing your stories? Your choice will depend on your story’s medium, your target audience, and your overall marketing strategy.

To help you choose which marketing channels to share your stories, DNL OmniMedia’s guide to nonprofit digital strategy walks through each channel’s place in your greater marketing practices:

nonprofit digital communications channels chart

  • Your organization’s website. Your website is the face of your organization online. Content posted on other channels should aim to direct visitors back to your website. Feature stories on your website that instill trust and emphasize your organization’s overall impact.
  • Digital advertising campaigns. Digital advertising consists of purchasing external ads and ensuring your website is optimized for relevant keywords. If your nonprofit has partnered with another organization to share your marketing messages, have them promote stories that create a sense of urgency and encourage supporters to learn more.
  • Your social media pages. Social media channels can showcase your content and drive traffic back to your website. Attempting to maintain active accounts on multiple platforms at once is a common mistake many nonprofits make. Instead, review your engagement data and focus on sharing optimized content on a few high performing platforms.
  • Email marketing campaigns. Where social media targets a wide audience at once, email marketing is a direct form of communication targeted just to the recipient. Share your stories based on supporters’ past expressed interests. For example, you may develop unique stories based on each of your ongoing initiatives and share them with donors depending on which program they contributed to. Consider investing in an email authoring software.

When conducting external outreach, pay attention to engagement rates and respond quickly to supporters when they reach out. For example, your social media manager should respond to comments on your storytelling posts, encouraging supporters to continue interacting with your content.

Storytelling is a core component of nonprofit communication. While developing your stories, consider what motivates supporters to give. Then, craft your stories to focus on these key elements that will push supporters towards further engagement. Once you’ve written your stories, you can elevate them further with visuals and the right communication channel.

Carl Diesing headshotCarl Diesing, Managing Director – Carl co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with on-going web development projects. Together DNL OmniMedia has worked with over 100 organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their two children Charlie and Evelyn.