Tracy Chapman Tracy Chapman

Get technology out of the way of storytelling [Part 2]

At RaiseDonors, the big question we ask ourselves is not how we can make our technology cooler. Our big question is, “How do we make our technology so effective that it gets out of the way of your fundraising?”

At RaiseDonors, the big question we ask ourselves is not how we can make our technology cooler. Our big question is, “How do we make our technology so effective that it gets out of the way of your fundraising?”

When technology gets out of your way, you have more time to do the things that will really drive your fundraising success. 

Spending your time re-versioning donation pages from one campaign to fit across different programs simply isn’t the best use of your time (and passion).

If you could get that time back because technology is taking care of those repetitive tasks, you could invest that time in fundraising efforts that actually move donors up the donor mountain.

One of the most important activities for a fundraiser is writing good stories for their donor communications. 

Lately, we’ve released some of the amazing stories of our clients who’ve used RaiseDonors to get technology out of the way of better online fundraising results.

That got us thinking about what makes good stories, and today I’d like to share with you more of what we’ve been learning about the storytelling process.

But for today, let’s address some additional problems that plague nonprofit storytelling.

Problem #3: incomplete stories

The problem with incomplete stories isn’t that they lack information about the program, the challenges, or about the beneficiary. 

Incomplete stories refer to what’s lacking in the story structure. 

While I know you can go deep into the weeds here with Aristotle’s classic three-act structure (I mean, isn’t everything Aristotle did by definition classic?), I like the simple way Jeff Brooks distills the essence of a good story for fundraising.

In this insightful article, Brooks warns against “All-problem fundraising” or “All-solutions fundraising.”

While on the surface these approaches are radically different, they share the same fundamental problem: They only tell half of the story the donor needs to hear.

Because effective fundraising is about a problem and a solution. Both.

—Jeff Brooks

When your story doesn’t tell me the problem, or doesn’t convey it with enough emotion, it makes me think “So what?”

“So what?”

Every good fundraising story must answer this essential question. By including the problem within your story, you’re conveying to your donor why they should care at all.

On the flip side, your story could lack the solution.

Good stories always tell the tale of how the hero comes up with the solution of the great problem of the story. 

There might be twists and turns along the way (Perfect heroes are no fun!), but the hero has to make it to the end of their journey. 

When a nonprofit story only shows the problem, it feels as though someone is putting me into a headlock and trying to shame me into giving.

“These children are starving! Give now or they’ll die.”

“Rainforests are dying from climate change. Give now or they’ll disappear!”

These stories have urgency to them, but they don’t show me the depth of the solution the nonprofit has available. 

The “All-problem” approach may produce first-time gifts that are motivated out of guilt, but it rarely raises recurring, loyal donors.

“All-problem fundraising” fails to show the donor your organization’s innovation, creativity, and passion.

If “All-solution fundraising” fails to show the donor why they should give, “All-problem fundraising” fails to convince the donor why they should give to you

…as opposed to giving to any other nonprofit. 

Problem #4: one-sided stories

One-sided stories are one of the biggest culprits to ineffective fundraising. 

In these stories, the fundraiser telling the story forgets that the donor is an important part of the story and only tells the story from the lens of the nonprofit.

One-sided stories tend to say “we” a lot or mention the name of their organization throughout the entire story.

“We set about to save these needy populations.”

“XYZ organization dug five more wells to bring life-giving water to these villages.”

The big issue here is that in emphasizing the role of the organization, the story misses the fact that the donor is the real hero!

The donor is ultimately the reason why those people have life-giving water.

The donor is ultimately the reason why you can do anything that your nonprofit does.

To raise more donors, impact stories need to emphasize the beautiful part that donors have the play in the process of changing lives.

If you want to dive more into this idea, you should check out Tom Ahern’s work on the power of donor-centric communication. 

In this YouTube interview, he does a great job of showing how this fundraising storytelling technique works in writing case statements, but it applies to any kind of donor communication, including donation page copy.

Donor-centric stories help your donor see their place in the story and feel the urgency of why they should give generously.

Technology is the new pen

You could write your impact stories with a pen, a typewriter, a computer, or any method you prefer.

It’s not the tool that matters as much as the story. 

Yet without the technology, the story wouldn’t be able to arrive at the donor’s desk, inbox, or web browser. 

Your stories need technology to get in front of your donor. 

When technology gets in the way of your stories, you’ll write fewer of them, diminishing your fundraising results. 

Online fundraising technology (for example, donation pages) is the new pen. 

It should be easy-to-use, dependable, and secondary to the real task at hand: writing. 

Is your online fundraising tech getting in the way of getting more impact stories out to your donors?

It’s time to find out how to get technology working for you instead of against you.