There are a lot of uses for stories in fundraising programs. We can use stories as a part of fundraising asks, donor communications, and donor stewardship. Using stories in donor stewardship is great for a number of reasons. As we know from the book “Donor Centered Fundraising” from Penelope Burk, donors want to know how their gift was used and what impact that gift had. As I like to say Impact + Accountability = Great Stewardship!
Why would a story-based stewardship work? Because a story focuses on the impact of action that your donors can relate to. Your organization has the opportunity to connect with your donors through storytelling.
In my work as a consultant and copywriter, here are what I consider to be the 4 qualities that every donor stewardship story needs:
- The story must be related to impact
- Make sure there is a conflict
- The conflict must have a resolution
- The donor must be the hero of the story
THE DONOR STEWARDSHIP STORY MUST BE RELATED TO IMPACT
As I mentioned above, when a donor makes a gift they want to know what impact that gift made. A story is a very tangible way to connect them to their impact by showing them exactly what that gift made possible.
The principal reason for donor stewardship is to encourage them to donate again to your cause.
It is important to keep this in mind because there are so many stories that you could tell to your donors. Instead, focus on the stories that best highlight impact.
Stories about donor impact will be related to your mission statement. By that, I mean that the story will show how your organization is making progress toward realizing that mission statement.
If you are a social service organization, your story will be about the people you help. If you are an animal service organization, your story will be about the animals you help. If you are a university, your story will be about a student. Those are just a few examples of what to look for in a mission-focused impact story.
A great example of this is the following video from the organization A Liter of Light. This organization looks to bring renewable energy to communities that don’t have electricity. They began their first project in the Philippines and the results were so successful that they started to replicate the project in other countries in the world.
MAKE SURE THERE IS A CONFLICT
Your donors made a gift because you told them there was a need. They rose to the occasion and said that they wanted to help your organization meet that need with a solution.
In a story, a conflict is what communicates the urgency and importance of a need. So when reporting back to donors in stewardship materials, it is important to reiterate the need that donors’ helped meet.
When you launch into telling your impact story, make sure that you spend some time talking about the character’s conflict. What problem did they face? Why were they not able to solve it on their own? By answering these questions, you will remind donors about the importance of their gift.
As an example of this, I want to share the following story from the organization Mutual Rescue.
This organization believes in the strong bond and positive effect an animal can bring to people who most need it. Mutual Rescue brings together people from a community with rescued animals.
This is the story of Keema and how her encounter with a rescued dog helped her to get the peace and love that she needed in her life. That’s when she decided to foster dogs and she also became a popular dog-walker in New York City.
This touching story of resilience and love tells the conflict that exists between Keema and the dogs. And a great thing about Mutual Rescue stories is that they always portray the people and the animals, both, as main characters, and how their relationship has helped each other.
Feel like your cause doesn’t have “conflict” or that it’s really low stakes? Read this article on how to develop conflict within your stories.
THE CONFLICT MUST HAVE A RESOLUTION
Since your donors made a gift to a need that you told them about, it is important that you tell a story that has a solution. This will indicate that the need has been met and therefore, the donors have made a positive impact.
I will add a warning here to say that the specific story you share will have a resolution (a happy ending, if you will), but that does not mean that your organization’s mission is complete. You can indicate that there is still more work to do, but that you have made progress and have helped at least this one person.
Just as Freewill says, donor stewardship is about the relationship-building process that occurs after a donor makes a gift. You want to inspire your donors to keep giving.
THE DONOR MUST BE THE HERO OF THE STORY
This is where most stewardship stories go wrong. While your organization may have carried out the work, it is not the hero of the story. In a donor-centered world, your donor is the hero of the story. They are the ones that made the work possible, and part of great donor stewardship is making sure that donors know they are our heroes.
End your story with a message of gratitude for their support and a reminder that they are the ones who make stories like this possible.
There are many great places where you can tell stories in donor stewardship such as social media and thank you letters. I encourage you to test different stories in donor stewardship to see how they may influence donors’ giving rates.
Your organization couldn’t have worked on its mission if they wouldn’t of gotten the valuable help from volunteers, donors, and other institutions. A thank you letter or a video dedicated to them is more than necessary.
Donor recognition is key in donor stewardship. Just like the American Red Cross reflects in the video below.
A SUCCESSFUL DONOR STEWARDSHIP
Are you ready to take your donor stewardship to the next level? I am really sure that you will get maximum results once you use all the tips mentioned in this blog.
Building donor relationships is key to fundraising. Add storytelling to the process and get even more results!
Check out this webinar I hosted for Bloomerang on “How Donor Stewardship Tells a Story”.
Let me share with you some more blogs on this topics:
- 21 Ideas to Refresh your Stewardship
- 20+ Examples of Nonprofit Storytelling that Raise Money
- 3 Ways Donor Segmentation Tells More Engaging Narratives