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Crash Course: How to Tell Your Nonprofit’s Story Digitally

By Clay Boggess on Apr 2, 2022
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Crash Course: How to Tell Your Nonprofit’s Story Digitally

How to make a strong case for your organization and reach new donors

Some donors will give during a major fundraising campaign because they have a pre-existing connection to your cause. Others will give because they have a friend or family member who has that connection. However, it’s unlikely that these two groups alone will donate enough to reach your nonprofit’s loftiest fundraising goals.

So, how do you connect with and inspire prospective donors outside of your organization’s immediate circle to give to your campaign? The answer is simple: with nonprofit storytelling.

A compelling story about your mission and fundraiser can be the difference between barely reaching your fundraising goals and surpassing them by a long shot. In this crash course on telling your nonprofit’s story digitally, we’re going to cover nonprofit storytelling in two sections:

  • Writing Your Nonprofit’s Story
  • Telling Your Story Using Digital Marketing

Throughout the guide, we’ll use the following example to illustrate digital nonprofit storytelling in action:

A mid-sized public education institution is planning a Fall fundraiser. The fundraiser's goal is to revamp the institution’s technology resources, equipping it with new computers that will further the educational opportunities available to attending students.

With that example in mind, let’s get started.

Writing Your Nonprofit’s Story

DNL OmniMedia’s guide to nonprofit storytelling breaks the process of nonprofit storytelling down into five steps as follows:

1. Map out the arc.

Before you begin writing the story itself, dedicate a few minutes to outlining the story’s arc. A story’s arc is the general plot or path it will follow— the beginning, middle, and end. Roughly, these points translate as follows:

  • The Beginning: The main characters and basic details of the conflict are introduced.
  • The Middle: The main challenge or conflict in the story reaches a peak, and the main characters take action against it.
  • The End: The characters overcome the challenge and reach a happy resolution.

Your arc forms the backbone of your story. As you write your story, you’ll fill in the details of each step in the arc; rather than a rambling narrative, you’ll have a story with a clear progression.

Here’s what this would look like for our earlier example:

  • The Beginning: The educational institution discovers that many students don’t have access to advanced technology tools that are required to complete assignments at home.
  • The Middle: These tools are expensive. The school chooses to host a fundraiser to raise funding to purchase the technology.
  • The End: The school raised enough money to purchase a few technology tools, which have improved students’ lives and grades measurably.

After you’ve mapped out the arc of your story, begin filling in the details.

2. Introduce the main character.

When filling in the details of your story, begin by introducing the protagonist. This is the main character who moves the story forward. It could be a specific person— a teacher, a PTO/PTA board member, an administrator— or a general group of people (such as donors or constituents).

It’s important to center your story around people, rather than your organization itself, as that humanizes your campaign. Donors are more likely to be motivated by “[Donor] Raises X Amount for Child Hunger” than “Nonprofit Raises X Amount for Child Hunger.”

From our education institution example, a specific teacher, administrators, PTO/PTA members, or even students themselves would make good protagonists— depending on the direction they choose to take the story.

3. Reveal the conflict.

The conflict is the challenge or problem you’re trying to solve with your fundraiser. This could be a specific problem (like the educational technology example) or a more general societal problem such as food insecurity or diminishing wildlife habitats.

For our running example, the challenge might be the following:

We discovered that nearly half of the students at our institution didn’t have access to a computer at home. This meant that those students were unable to use a computer to research assignments or complete their work. We soon learned that there was a direct correlation between computer access and grades in each course.

4. Provide a solution.

In the previous step, you introduced a bleak reality. When your audience reads about the challenge, they’re going to instinctively want to help. This is where you tell them how to do so.

You don’t want to linger on the problem and make it feel as though the situation is hopeless. Quickly follow up with a solution to the problem and the steps you’re taking to bring that solution to fruition.

For our example, this could be:

We realized that it was crucial to build a library of technology that students could take home on loan during the school year. Each take-home laptop costs $500; for $50,000, we can purchase 100 laptops to equip students who don’t have computer access at home. This will allow us to ensure every student has equal access to learning technology.

5. Invite donors to join.

Now that you’ve shared the solution, the final step is to invite your donors to join in the effort to bring it to life.

Tell donors that you can’t reach the solution without their help, and discuss specific actions they can take to help. For a fundraising campaign, this would be donating some amount of money toward the cause and inviting their networks to do the same.

Get as granular as possible when discussing the impact that each individual donor has. For our example, you could say “For a $500 dollar donation, you ensure that one student has access to a laptop for the full school year.” Communicating impact is key for any successful fundraising strategy, as it shows donors that their individual contribution makes a difference.

Once you’ve finished writing your story, it’s time to share it using a digital campaign

Telling Your Story Using Digital Marketing

Use a multichannel marketing strategy.

Modern nonprofit professionals understand that a multichannel marketing campaign— a campaign that shares information through numerous marketing channels— is key to reaching the largest audience. Most supporters only use a handful of channels; if you only choose one or two, you could be alienating a significant portion of your audience.

Consider using the following channels in your strategy:

  • Email: In recent years, nonprofit email marketing was responsible for 28% of all online fundraising revenue. It’s a powerful tool to not only share your nonprofit’s story but raise funds while doing so.
  • Social Media: Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok, social media is one of the best ways to reach the next generation of supporters. Your story can also go “viral” on social media, potentially drastically increasing your supporter base and fundraising capabilities.
  • Website: Your nonprofit’s website is the first place that supporters look for information about your organization. It also offers numerous opportunities to tell your story, from images, to blog posts, to videos. Review DNL OmniMedia’s guide to the top nonprofit websites to see a few examples of nonprofits that are excelling at this.

Before diving headfirst into your strategy, do some market research to understand which platforms your audience is most active on. This will prevent you from dedicating significant resources to platforms that your audience doesn’t use.

Adapt your story for the platform.

Even though you’ll technically be sharing the same story on each platform, adapt it to each to create a new, unique experience for audience members. Some people may encounter your story through multiple channels, and the last thing you want to do is create an echo chamber in which they’re seeing the same messaging over and over again.

Consider the following ways to adapt your story for the different platforms:

  • Email: Remember that with email marketing, short and sweet is the way to go. Include a few paragraphs that cover the high points of your story and a call-to-action button that supporters can click on to take the next steps (such as a link to your website’s donation page).
  • Social Media: The interesting thing about social media is that each network allows for a different experience. For example, you could tweet out short pull quotes and phrases from your story on Twitter, share an eye-catching image with a paragraph on Instagram, and share a full video interview on Facebook.
  • Website: On your website, you can tell your story in a more long-form and multimedia manner. For example, write a long blog post that contains your story. Fill it with images, videos, and graphics to further illustrate the importance of your campaign. This is generally the most comprehensive representation of your story.

While you’re adapting your story to each platform, make sure that it still provides a cohesive experience for your audience. The imagery, colors, fonts, logos, and messaging should be the same across each platform— essentially, it’s one large story and you’re just sharing parts of it through different channels.

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To wrap up, remember to track the success of your nonprofit’s story and digital marketing efforts after the fact. By collecting data about which channels supporters interacted with your story the most and which versions they were most drawn to, you can continue optimizing your messaging going forward.

Guest Author Bio Carl Diesing, Author

Carl 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.

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