How Nonprofits Can Motivate and Engage Donors Through Storytelling

In the nonprofit community, there is nothing more important than your donors. Your donors are the ones that keep your mission up and running, and you couldn’t do anything to help your cause without them. By this logic, it makes sense that nonprofits spend a lot of time trying to figure out how exactly to entice these donors to give in the first place, and more time still determining how to retain them.

However, despite this concerted effort, the percentage of retained donors was still falling flat. In a 2016 report by Blackbaud entitled the Charitable Giving Report, they point out that first time donor retention is low (29 percent for offline donors and 21 percent for online). However, if you manage to keep them after the first year, that statistic rises dramatically to a 60 percent retention rate. This retention is crucial, as the more invested people are in a cause, the more likely they will be to stay long term.

So, how do you retain these first time donors? What can your nonprofit do to keep them motivated and interested in your cause? Well, there are a few factors that come into play, but one that stands out above the rest.

Two Primary Aspects of Donor Follow Up

There are two main aspects that come into play when nonprofits are looking to keep in touch with their new donors: frequency of communication and content. Most nonprofits know that these are important facets, however it is often hard to determine the correct formula to follow. With regard to quantity, you want to ensure that you’re not overwhelming your new donor, but you also want to make sure they’re getting enough information to stay involved. Generally you should send more than you think. Make a list of what a donor would have received in a certain amount of months, such as three or six months after the donation. Is what you have sent enough to create a lasting relationship?

With respect to content, it’s important to send more than just emails reminding people of upcoming events. You want to ensure that the donor remembers why this cause was so important that they donated in the first place. You want to create an impact. The best way of doing this is through storytelling. Not only does a story create more emotional impact, it also ties the donor directly to the cause by showing them what their money went toward.

How to Write a Good Story

While this may seem like English 101, it is pivotal that nonprofits create a story that speaks to people. If you just send general information about how their donation helped your cause, they likely will not find that relatable or engaging. Instead, you need to create a story that oozes emotion and denotes a personal touch to keep the donor engaged. Here are a few guidelines to follow when making your story.

  • Character: Your main character (or characters) is highly important as this is the person that your donor will be following through the story and rooting for. This person should be affected in some way by your cause. Include a lot of details about the character, such as hobbies, family or friends, in addition to stating their hopes and aspirations. They don’t have to be grandiose, but the idea is to have someone by the end of the story that has achieved or is on their way to achieving their dreams due to your organization.
  • The Problem: Following the description of the character and some more lighthearted details, you must then detail what is standing in the way of them achieving their dreams, the villain as it were. A villain is not limited to a person or an evil mastermind. In this case, it is the conflict that the character needs to resolve in order to move forward.
  • Stepping In: Next, go into how your organization took action to help this character overcome his or her conflict in order to move closer to their dreams. Here is a good time to mention the donor’s help, and how they were a part of that conflict resolution.
  • End with a Call to Arms: At the end of the story, point out how many more people are suffering at the hands of this same villain, and how these continued donations could make the difference for many. This call in conjunction with the emotional story will personalize the whole situation, and make it much more likely to retain these donors long term.

Storytelling can be a powerful tool for nonprofits, and the best part is that it’s free to use. It’s all about spreading the word to these donors that their donations really are making a difference in someone’s life.