The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 53
How Nonprofits Successfully Navigated the Pandemic, with Steven Shattuck
In this Episode:
How can nonprofits fundraise during a crisis without sounding opportunistic or worse, tone-deaf? Whether it’s disease, war or natural disaster, there always seems to be an emergency in the headlines.
One thing is clear: in times of crisis, people become more empathetic and generous—and not just to causes directly related to the emergency. Data from the pandemic now shows that people gave to a wide diversity of nonprofit organizations.
So why were some nonprofits able to expand while others felt sidelined and had to consolidate? A more nuanced look at the data delivered across the board revealed that those that did the best during the pandemic did two things: They asked for donations often, and they contextualized their appeals.
Steven Shattuck, the Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang, looks at the data they and others collected and shares the takeaways that nonprofits can apply to their development strategy.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:05.050] – Intro
Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da Ding!
[00:00:21.350] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited today to talk to Steven Shattuck, the Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. Over the last several episodes, we’ve talked a lot about data. Really, since I started this podcast, I’ve talked about data and especially about the story in the data and how to apply storytelling to data.
[00:00:40.100] – Boris
Today, we’re going to dive deeper into one of the aspects that we’ve been focusing on recently, which is, what is the data saying about giving in the U.S. over the last couple of years? Previously, there have been a lot of studies that have purported to demonstrate that data—that the giving in the U.S. is on the decline, that individual giving is on the decline, and primarily it’s larger scale donors that are making up the difference. Over the last couple of years, through the pandemic, things seem to have shifted quite a bit. We recently had Tim from Neon One on the show talking about this.
[00:01:17.920] – Boris
Today we’re going to dive deeper with Steven Shattuck, who, as I said, is the Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. Steven is also a prolific writer and speaker. He curates Bloomerang’s sector-leading educational content and hosts their weekly webinar series which features the top thought leaders in the nonprofit sector. I am honored to have been one of those. Actually, no, I’m going to be one of those in a couple of months here. He is the author of “Robots Make Bad Fundraisers,” an awesome title, subtitled “How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age,” which was published by Bold and Bright Media in 2020. Steven describes his superpower as helping nonprofits humanize how they use technology to aid in their fundraising efforts. An awesome superpower that I’m excited to bring Steven on to demonstrate and help us all with today. Hey, Steven.
[00:02:06.750] – Steven Shattuck
Hey, Boris. Thanks for having me.
[00:02:08.470] – Boris
It is absolutely my pleasure. We’ve known each other for a little while now, and I’m excited every time I get to chat with you. It’s always a fun conversation. I learn things and we get to share more things with people out there who want to create more heroes for their cause.
[00:02:22.280] – Steven Shattuck
I feel the same way. We’re going to have you on the webinar series. We had you on The Kindful one, and I learned a lot from you. And yeah, this is awesome to be here. So thank you.
[00:02:30.340] – Boris
Awesome, Steven. So I’ve shared your bio and I’ve mentioned your superpower, which I’m excited to utilize today—to harness for all of us today. But I always like to ask people, since I do focus on storytelling so much, what’s your story? Why are you who you are today?
[00:02:44.840] – Steven Shattuck
Well, it’s funny, I was thinking about this because the story always kind of annoys my wife so now that we’re going to record it, she can relive it, I guess. But I met my wife in college, and she always aspired to be a nonprofit person. She wanted to work for nonprofits. She did that when she got out of school. She’s achieved that goal, but I sort of fell into it kind of backwards. I ended up working at a marketing agency that just so happened to serve nonprofits exclusively. So my first kind of gig out of school was producing videos like Gala videos. We were sending DVDs in the mail for Capital Campaign, if that kind of ages myself a little bit. So she’s always kind of annoyed that I get to do things like this. “You never wanted to work for nonprofits. I always did.” So that’s kind of how I fell into it.
[00:03:35.050] – Steven Shattuck
I was an English major, so it was basically work at a marketing agency or write the Great American Novel. And thankfully, I did the former because no one needs that novel from me. I’ve been doing that. And that’s kind of where I got my chops in fundraising and eventually made my way to Bloomerang when that company got started, and I get to talk to fundraisers, find out what’s working, what’s not working. Highlight their stories. Look at the data. That’s what I’ve been doing a lot over the last two years. Like you said, just to kind of help people meander, navigate through this new reality that we find ourselves in.
[00:04:14.930] – Boris
Awesome. Like so many of us, you came into it through the side door, to the nonprofit space, but you got to bring skills that nonprofits desperately need. And I’m sure they’re all grateful, the ones that get to work with you, for what you’ve been able to bring to the table and been able to bring to Bloomerang since then. Let’s go ahead then and dive in and see what is going on out there, Steven, what’s happening in that sector?
[00:04:41.430] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah. I mean, this is what we’ve been looking at. Not only what Bloomerang customers are doing, but all the studies. You talked to Tim last week, they did that great study over at Neon One, The Fundraising Effectiveness Project, Giving USA, the Blackbaud study. All of that seems to point to what you said, which is people really responded during the pandemic. I know we’re not quite out of it yet, but those giving levels have really kind of maintained that increase that occurred in 2020, which surprised a lot of us, right? We figured, dang, that was a tough economy. That was obviously a very severe pandemic and still is in a lot of ways.
[00:05:20.770] – Steven Shattuck
But when you look at what happened in terms of donor response, the generosity was there and the capacity was there, and it was those small dollar donors that led the way, right? It’s exactly what you said. It wasn’t just those billionaires kind of swooping in to save the day. It was people giving under $250 that was the biggest cohort of donors. So we were all surprised by that. Although I wonder if maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. Because if you look back on all of the past crises or difficult times, 2008, 2001, the dot-com bubble, like all the way back to savings and loan, the nonprofit sector really does kind of resist those outside forces. And I know there’s probably people listening and watching who maybe had a really hard couple of years. And I don’t mean to erase that experience. I mean it as an encouragement. The capacity is there. The generosity is there. And in times of crisis, whether it’s a big international pandemic or a tornado in your city, people respond.
[00:06:30.120] – Steven Shattuck
But what we found looking at our customer data was a little more nuanced. The people that asked and contextualized those appeals for how they were experiencing the pandemic specifically, those are the people that had some of their best fundraising years ever. And it wasn’t just things like food banks or the kind of causes that you hear about as being like COVID causes, which I don’t really like. I don’t think such a thing exists. But animal shelters, environmental organizations, other social services, some of those folks had their best years ever. And really what we found is it’s because they kept their foot on the gas. They didn’t put themselves on the sidelines. They didn’t allow themselves to be talked into this myth that we don’t matter or our cause doesn’t matter as much as maybe some other folks’ cause. So that’s really what I’ve been shouting from the rooftops, because there will be another crisis, right? Whether it’s local or global. And don’t decide for donors, because if you don’t ask, you’re not going to get it.
[00:07:37.670] – Boris
And that wraps up our episode for today.
[00:07:39.300] – Steven Shattuck
That’s it. See ya.
[00:07:42.050] – Boris
No, I’m kidding. But I’m also kind of serious because that is really, I think the key takeaway. Let’s dig a little deeper and get a little more out of you as long as we’ve got you here, Steven. So first of all, you say maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. And I don’t know if you saw me shaking my head vehemently. No, we should not have been. People respond to crisis. People respond to whatever gets that oxytocin flowing, whatever gets that empathy going, right? We naturally respond to it. We feel an obligation to our world, to our society, to the people we care about, to the causes we care about. And that realm expands significantly. I talk a lot in my storytelling workshops and online courses and whatever else about the greater the common villain, the more people it’s going to unite against it, the more people are going to understand the pain that that villain inflicts. And so the more people are going to rise up to try to combat it. So, absolutely. In a time of crisis, more people will give because they’re going to feel for their fellow humans suffering.
[00:08:51.300] – Steven Shattuck
Absolutely. And some people feel powerless, too. They want to feel like, Jeez, I’m stuck at home. I can’t do anything. Who knows when this is going to end? Donating to a nonprofit may be the only way that they can exercise some level of control over what’s going on around them. And that’s a real opportunity. That’s an advantage, right? There’s something you don’t hear very often that the nonprofit sector has an advantage over maybe the for-profit sector, for example, to generate that. But you mentioned the underlying data. The thing that I always think of is, we could see our customers that were moving up and to the right versus the ones that were kind of moving down and to the right. And among the people that were increasing, they were asking more, right? We saw people slow down the asks. Maybe they got caught into this trap of, we don’t matter, our cause doesn’t matter as much.
[00:09:48.740] – Steven Shattuck
But even among the people who kept asking, there was a nuanced difference. There were people that were asking but not sort of contextualizing their need or how they were affected by the pandemic like you said, versus the ones who were and the ones who were who sort of addressed that elephant in the room, they did much better. And maybe those people who didn’t truly weren’t impacted, although I kind of find that hard to believe. I think everyone was impacted in some way. But maybe they were concerned about, I don’t know, donor fatigue or talking about something that nobody wanted to think about. So that is a big takeaway, we found, is for sure, keep asking, don’t decide for the donor. But if you’re being impacted by some external force, that’s the rallying cry, that’s that common enemy, like you mentioned. That’s a perfect way of saying it. If that exists, tell people and allow them to rally around it. Because if they don’t know about it, they may not find that appeal to be as urgent or as necessary as the ones who do mention those things.
[00:10:55.590] – Boris
Right. In some cases, the organization is suffering from the very same thing, this pandemic, for example, that donors are suffering from, or that the recipients, the clients of various organizations are suffering from. So you can be in there and assuming you have a strong relationship with your donor base, they’re going to care about your survival, your work. They might think, okay, at the moment, putting on a play is not as relevant as producing more oxygen machines, what do they call them? Respirators in hospitals. But that doesn’t mean that they’re going to switch their identity to now no longer say, “Oh, I don’t support theater. I now only support medical treatment.”
[00:11:47.330] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, you nailed it. It’s a scarcity mindset. It’s like, well, if they care about that cause, they can’t—they don’t have the bandwidth or the capacity to care about ours. And people are diverse, right? People give to multiple causes. But I also think what you said is really important that, hey, you want us to be around when this is over? Don’t you want plays and performances to resume? Don’t you want this YMCA to open back up and be able to have classes and things like that? That was a really strong sort of case for support that we saw work, specifically, this idea of you want us to be around when this is over. You can sort of protect our future by donating now. And the people that cared about those causes pre-pandemic didn’t suddenly stop caring about animals or the performing arts or whatever it is just because there’s a pandemic. There’s room for both, right? And I think we were talking about arts, performing arts before we hit record. Those are the folks that really kind of stood out from the crowd, if that’s the right metaphor, and survived and not only survived but thrived during such a difficult time.
[00:13:02.630] – Boris
I think some of them did and some of them didn’t, to be honest, without revealing any names, if you will. I spoke to a lot of arts organizations over the last couple of years that were really struggling. They didn’t want to appear tone deaf, which I totally understand and respect.
[00:13:18.510] – Steven Shattuck
[00:13:19.490] – Boris
But at the same time, they didn’t know how they could survive. And some of them shut their doors temporarily. Some of them may have shut their doors permanently because they didn’t feel like their cause was as important, as significant. I hate to use the word as sexy as some of the others out there in a time of crisis. Again, you and I were talking earlier. There’s always going to be a crisis.
[00:13:46.140] – Steven Shattuck
[00:13:46.600] – Boris
Right now there is certainly a crisis that’s eating up a lot of my mental capacity and my spare discretionary, giving money, trying to support the folks in Ukraine and trying to help end that situation in a positive way, as positive as possible. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the other causes that I’ve been supporting all this time.
[00:14:08.210] – Steven Shattuck
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. That was the number one question we got over the past two years is should we fundraise right now? Does our cause matter as much? Will it appear tone deaf? And we said yes, and for sure it matters. But you can do that in such a way that it won’t appear tone deaf. Like maybe saying, hey, we want to be around because we want to be able to provide. People need entertainment, people need art, right? What more important time is there to have art in your life than these truly difficult times? So that case is there. And that’s where I think that contextualization is what made those appeals successful, rather than just saying, hey, it’s a pandemic you should give to our orchestra. It’s like, wait, why, do you mean? Go that level deeper and really tug on those heartstrings and unlock what it is those people have always kind of cared about you. But yeah, I can’t think of another cause that matters more in darker times than those performing arts folks. So my heart goes out to them. And I hope that so many of them will be able to stick around because we need you.
[00:15:19.980] – Boris
Absolutely. I’m a fan, of course, of the arts. But on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the arts might not be at the bottom, but they’re on there. They’re self actualization and they are education. They are force for good. I don’t have to sell people, especially those folks in the arts. But I found it honestly a little disheartening how a lot of arts organizations felt about themselves and their work.
[00:15:47.790] – Steven Shattuck
That’s the thing.
[00:15:49.150] – Boris
They didn’t know how to speak to their existing base and to try to grow their base during this time of upheaval.
[00:15:58.530] – Steven Shattuck
That’s the heartbreaking thing for me. You mentioned the webinar series. We were doing a webinar, probably March or April 2020. One of the attendees chatted in like, “Hey, we’re just a library foundation. We’re not saving lives.” And I kind of grabbed the microphone from my guest and I said, “No, my gosh, people need the arts.” They need books, right? I told the story of my kids. We love to go to the library every Saturday morning. It’s one of their favorite activities. We want that to be there when we can finally get back out of the house in a safe way. That’s the situation we find ourselves back in. So that to me is, don’t sell yourself short, right? Because there will be another crisis, like you said, Boris, and you will not only matter, but you may even be more critical, especially to the people that already care and hold that cause near and dear to your heart. So I hope people find this encouraging. That’s kind of how I think you mean it, too. And I definitely mean it because there will be something else that happens.
[00:17:00.710] – Boris
So we teased since the beginning of the episode, we teased that we’ve got data that we’ve got data on what’s going on, what was working, what wasn’t working. And I personally want to hear it because I haven’t gotten it yet. And I’ve read some of the reports out there. But talk to me, Steven. What happened during the pandemic, what’s going on now and what’s not working?
[00:17:24.940] – Steven Shattuck
Well, aside from asking and not putting ourselves on the sidelines, that was definitely a big one. But we also looked at those folks that were doing well and maybe even doing better than in past years. A couple of things stood out. The prevalence of phone calls. So we’re a donor database so we can see what kind of interactions people are making with their donors and in what format. And we saw phone calls not only shoot up, probably because we couldn’t do events and maybe even direct mail was harder, but not only were more phone calls being made to supporters, but we could really see that they were moving the needle on things like revenue and donor retention and things like that.
[00:18:09.700] – Steven Shattuck
And I think it’s because especially in 2020, we were isolated. We were social distanced. That phone call from a nonprofit to a supporter, that may have been one of the only few personal interactions that they encountered and probably the only one from a brand, right? From someone who wasn’t a friend or a family member or a co-worker. That not only made a big difference in 2020, but again, it continued to have efficacy through 2021. And I think for all the reasons I just said, but also because it’s so surprising to get a phone call that’s a pure thank you or is showing curiosity about why you support. And I sound kind of cynical and I hate to be surprised, but that’s kind of rare, right? I can count on maybe one hand how many times that’s happened to me from a nonprofit or anything that I’ve supported.
[00:19:04.490] – Steven Shattuck
Personal emails, same thing. So there’s mass emails where you set up an email blast to all the people in your database, all 2000 of them or whatever. We also saw people reaching out individually, you know, me literally opening up Gmail, writing an email to Boris, like, “Hey, Boris, thanks for having me on the show. You’re awesome. Let’s stay in touch.” The same thing not only increased, but also did have an effect on that year over year kind of revenue increases. So the last two years were this kind of re-emergence, at least from our view, of truly personal outreach. And again, what better time? And maybe that’s what spurred it on, because we couldn’t do things like events or in-person interactions or things like that. So that was the only alternative. But I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes to like, wow, maybe we should make this a normal thing that we do during any kind of climate or crisis, if there is one, because people give to people, right? And fundraising is very relationship driven, you know, this.
[00:20:10.550] – Steven Shattuck
But I feel like because of all this technology available to us, maybe those kind of analog or one to one or old school formats or mediums have kind of gone by the wayside but did come back because of pure necessity, right? Because that’s all there was out there. And I hope that that sticks around because there’s always been evidence that those things are impactful. But we really saw those things be even more impactful over the last two years. So another thing that I’ve been shouting from the rooftop: reach out to people, because it is very personal.
[00:20:45.410] – Boris
So there was a lot of great stuff in there that I want to touch on and really highlight. And I’m really glad that you said people give to people because earlier you had said nonprofits reaching out to individuals. It’s not nonprofits that are on the phone. You’re a person at your nonprofit. And you said how many brands do that. I don’t remember any time. I don’t know. I’m wearing a Banana Republic sweater; Banana Republic has never called me and asked, “Hey, Boris, how are you doing with this pandemic or with this crisis in Ukraine?
[00:21:19.560] – Steven Shattuck
Right. It would be weird.
[00:21:21.260] – Boris
Yeah, exactly. It would be weird. It might be interesting, but they don’t care. They care. “Hey, Boris, here’s a coupon, maybe come back and spend some more money.”
[00:21:30.560] – Steven Shattuck
Get the matching tie.
[00:21:31.940] – Boris
[00:21:33.240] – Boris
Whereas a nonprofit does care, hopefully does care about its constituents, about its supporters, certainly about its clients, has things to say and has questions to ask. You’ve got to ask, you’ve got to be curious. Not just, “Hey, why do you support us,” but also “how are you doing?” Reinforce that connection.
[00:21:53.100] – Steven Shattuck
And I would imagine that was the question behind a lot of that outreach, either by phone or by email. It’s like, “Hey, Boris, you’re a monthly donor. We want to say thanks, but also wanted to say, are you okay? This is a tough time. We just want to make sure you’re okay.” And you’re right. Like buying a shirt is not personal, but donating to a cancer charity because your grandmother passed away from that form of cancer, that’s very personal. So to be able to reach back out, acknowledge it, yeah, but learn that information. I love the word you used, showing curiosity. I think that’s something that we definitely suffer from as a fundraising sector is, why do these people support us? And there is most often than not a story behind that, maybe not as much as during times of crisis where you’re kind of driven by that urgent need and not necessarily care about that cause. And I know you and Tim talked about that, and that kind of giving definitely does happen. But a lot of the gifts, there’s probably a very personal reason behind it. If that can be the conversation starter, that’s a pretty darn powerful conversation.
[00:23:02.030] – Boris
So I do want to ask, though, you mentioned in your CRM you might have 2000 folks on your list. I don’t know which organization has the bandwidth to personally call 2000 people. How do you navigate that? It seems almost cold to prioritize certain people over others. Is there a strategy that you recommend that you’ve seen work or think is a good way to go?
[00:23:28.410] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, I’m glad you asked, because it’s hard. And there’s tons of people like me who are saying, like, you’re not doing enough, and here are 20 things you should be doing. And I get it. It’s hard. And if you’ve got that big data set, I think there are a couple of low hanging fruit. I mentioned first-time donors. That’s one where we have the data and we’ll share and we can link it in the show notes, I suppose. But the phone calls really work. They really do seem to have an effect on not just retention rates, but the speed in which you received a second gift. That window really shortens if they’ve been called and they tend to give more. And I think it comes down again to curiosity, right? So you call them. “Hey, Boris, thanks so much for your first gift. Happy to have you join our community of donors. By the way, why did you give? What spurred that gift today?” And if you can learn or get that story, that will help you subsequently communicate to them, right? And sort of contextualize that reason for giving.
[00:24:30.620] – Steven Shattuck
So I love first-time donors as a priority. If you get a phone number, and you’re not always going to have a phone number and I don’t recommend you go out and try to find their phone number, like call their employer, that would be a little weird. But if you got a first-time gift and they gave you a phone number, if maybe it was not required on the form or they offered it up somehow, that’s almost an invitation. So that’s probably going to take that list of 2000 down to under ten because it may not happen very often. And maybe that’s doable in an hour or so on a Friday afternoon, call those people, say thanks, welcome them, maybe find out a little bit about that motivation. Monthly donors, that’s one that maybe flies a little under the radar because it’s happening automatically. Maybe the dollar amounts are small; $5 a month doesn’t seem like that much. Although over the lifetime, that’s a pretty significant lifetime value. “Hey, Boris, thanks for being a monthly donor. You’re keeping the lights on. Just want to say thanks, check in with you, make sure you’re doing okay. How’s the family?” Whatever it is, that kind of outreach.
[00:25:37.550] – Steven Shattuck
What are those segments? Get out the whiteboard and write down like, who are those people? First-time donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors. People who have been giving for a long time. Everybody will probably have those. But depending on your cause type, volunteers, alumni, former service recipients, people who have adopted animals from us, who are those types of people? And then you can kind of decide, okay, what do we want to say to these people? Can we automate some of these things? Should we ask for different things from these people? Go through that exercise and identify it.
[00:26:11.660] – Steven Shattuck
But to your original question, I think those first-time donors, I would probably start there. The retention rates are only like 20% on those folks. And I think it’s because they just kind of get thrown into whatever ongoing communications are already scheduled, and we don’t take the time to find out who they are, truly welcome them, and then they just kind of become another name in that giant bucket in that database. But I would start there. And, you know, there are other common sense things, dollar amount. If you can only call one donor and someone gave you $500 versus $5, I’d probably call the $500 donor, although I don’t think dollar amount is a great way to segment because you never know someone’s capacity, their true feelings about you.
[00:27:02.330] – Steven Shattuck
But there are some common sense things I think can guide your efforts. Do you have a phone number? That’s going to be part of your call list criteria for sure. But those new people, you really got me going on that curiosity thing. I think that that could be the lowest hanging fruit that I recommend people go to.
[00:27:20.280] – Boris
I’m going to add one more thing that is probably so common sense that it should go without saying. But if within your donor data, you can determine who is most impacted by whatever emergency or crisis is going on, if you’ve got elderly folks within your donor data, you’ve got that kind of segmentation or folks with Eastern European backgrounds right now.
[00:27:44.560] – Steven Shattuck
[00:27:45.270] – Boris
Right? Or whatever the situation might be. Maybe those are also top of the list in terms of whom to reach out to, to really show that you care and you understand their world.
[00:27:56.490] – Steven Shattuck
I love that. Just having that awareness, like, wow, something’s happening, it might be affecting our supporters. We should check in on them. I love that.
[00:28:04.800] – Boris
Yeah. And you could also similarly, assuming the conversation goes in that direction and people are open to it, you can get their stories so that you could share that out to your community and really help people feel like they’re a part of a community. And within that community, there are people that are being impacted, and here’s how they’re dealing and here’s how you’re helping. So not just the clients, but also donors.
[00:28:28.800] – Steven Shattuck
I love that. That’s another… Yet another byproduct of the curiosity is crowdsourcing that content, right? That’s always sort of a log jam for folks. How do we get the stories? Well, let them tell their own, right? Because that’s a goal. [crosstalk 00:28:42]
[00:28:45.990] – Boris
We are coming up real fast here…
[00:28:49.290] – Steven Shattuck
That went fast.
[00:28:49.600] – Boris
to the mark that I shoot for. But I do want to ask you a couple more questions. We are, of course, coming out of the pandemic, I hope. I say. Of course.
[00:28:57.660] – Steven Shattuck
[00:28:58.260] – Boris
I’m really hoping that whatever next wave of Omicron or Deltacron or whatever they are does not come out of the woodwork and bite us in the collective butt, assuming for a minute that we are coming out of the pandemic, events are returning, people’s lives are getting back to some new normal. Can we make any sort of predictions as to what donor behavior is going to be like going forward?
[00:29:23.020] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, I think that the generosity is always there, right? That’s not the challenge, the capacity, because we live in a capitalistic society. It’s there. I think what’s going to change is how we sort of tap into it. But things are a lot better right now than certainly they were two years ago. But confidence is still kind of low. AFP puts out a confidence survey every quarter, and the last one came out, and people are still worried about things like donor fatigue and the pandemic uncertainty and all those things. And I would just tell people, be bold. You matter. Whatever happens in the world, we still do live in a pretty generous society where there is a lot of capacity, which is kind of a negative in a lot of ways, but that at least we can funnel that into the nonprofit sector and do some good. So I think that that will always be consistent, no matter what sort of changes we go through. Certainly the technology landscape has really changed and evolved. There are so many amazing tools out there that are available to nonprofits that two years ago, five years ago, certainly did not even exist or were not very affordable.
[00:30:44.370] – Steven Shattuck
But I would say, stay confident, don’t allow yourself to—you know, don’t put yourself on the sideline. That’s the real killer, right? And no matter what’s going to happen, there will be another crisis, whether it’s localized, a natural disaster, hopefully not another pandemic. But stay confident and you can weather whatever happens. If you just say we matter, our cause matters, what we do matters, and people care about it, even if they also may be temporarily care about something else that is very timely. They still want to come back to us.
[00:31:19.710] – Boris
You mentioned technology, and we were talking about talking to donors and prioritizing, and it actually occurred to me then. But I just remembered now something that technology can do is the folks that you can’t reach out to personally, directly, maybe offer them a way to reach back out to you. Say that your lines are open for them to talk to you, because not everybody is going to want to, might be a very small percentage, but even just putting that out there makes people feel like they matter, that you care about them and you’re there for them.
[00:31:49.400] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, put the invitation out there. And even that small percentage, those are people that are kind of self selecting into a really engaged group. And you might want to know who that small group is of true believers, for lack of a better phrase. You can go back to those people during times of crisis. Certainly capital campaigns, planned giving. Don’t be discouraged by the small response rate because those small groups of people, those are your people and you want to hold them close and know who they are.
[00:32:20.860] – Boris
That’s your most inner circle in your community.
[00:32:23.640] – Steven Shattuck
[00:32:24.290] – Boris
Your truest fans and supporters and heroes.
[00:32:27.050] – Steven Shattuck
Those are your buds.
[00:32:29.790] – Boris
Awesome. Steven, thank you so much for delivering all of this valuable information and insights and suggestions to us. Do you have any tools or resources that you recommend the nonprofit heroes that are listening to this or watching this go check out?
[00:32:47.040] – Steven Shattuck
Well, if this is the first episode that you’ve heard, go back and listen to others because you’ve had some really awesome conversations with people, probably way more insightful than me. So I hope that they’ll do that. This is episode 50 something. So there’s a ton of great conversations they can listen to. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project. We kind of mentioned that. I’m sure Tim talked about that. Check that out. There is a lot of really good free reports there, free research. And then on Bloomerang’s website, we’ve got the webinar series that you mentioned. All kinds of templates and resources and guides and case studies there. Totally free. You don’t have to be a customer. In fact, more non customers consume those than customers. So that’s all there @bloomerang.com. And yeah, we’d love to keep the conversation going. Connect with me on LinkedIn, because I’m always putting stuff out that I find that I think is interesting or cool trying to uncover those things. And you’ll get those if we’re connected.
[00:33:45.270] – Boris
Awesome. And you did mention during the episode a couple of different things that we’ll also link to, including the fundraising confidence survey and some other nuggets that you shared with us. And we’re looking forward to getting a link from you for some of that data that you were talking about so folks can go check it out for themselves and explore with that. And I do want to tell everybody that Steven did write a book, and I’m totally envious of him for getting a great book together, putting it out there. It’s “Robots Make Bad Fundraisers.” Of course, it’s available on Amazon, and I’m sure all fine booksellers, but we’ll point to that as well.
[00:34:19.660] – Steven Shattuck
[00:34:20.400] – Boris
And we’ll have Steven’s LinkedIn profile Linked up as well, so you could quickly and easily find him and connect with him, which I suggest you do. He’s a really great guy. And as I’m sure anyone who listened to this episode or watched this episode will know for themselves, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s got a lot of great value to share. So thank you for sharing that, Steven.
[00:34:38.410] – Steven Shattuck
Thanks for having me. And thanks for doing this. This is a really good service to the sector. So thanks for having these conversations.
[00:34:44.680] – Boris
Anytime. And we will have to have you back another time. And I’m looking forward to being on your webinar series really soon, just in a couple of months now.
[00:34:52.570] – Steven Shattuck
[00:34:53.290] – Boris
So that’s going to be fun and exciting. And I’m sure that folks on my email list, they’re going to hear all about that. So if you’re not on it, maybe get on it. I don’t know. But thank you all so much for joining us today, for listening to me and Steven talk about this topic. Hopefully you got a lot of great insights and ideas on how to create more heroes for your cause, because we need you to do that. We need you to activate the inner hero in every individual on this planet if we ever have a chance of making this world what it can and really deserves to be. So thank you for doing that work. Thank you for tuning in. And we’ll see you again next time on The Nonprofit Hero Factory.
[00:35:33.810] – Intro
Thank you all for watching and listening to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- People really responded to appeals for money during the pandemic, with small dollar donors leading the way. (4:58)
- People giving under $250 was the largest cohort of donors.
- Historically, data shows that the nonprofit sector resists outside crises. (5:48)
- Organizations that contextualized their appeals and addressed the crisis did better than those who didn’t. (6:30)
- Organizations that got caught in the trap of thinking that during a crisis their cause didn’t matter as much (a scarcity mindset) lost out on the generosity of donors and were left behind. (7:09)
- People who care about animals or the theater don’t stop caring about them because there is a need for more respirators in hospitals.
- If an organization didn’t ask for money, they didn’t receive as much of it as those who did.
- Don’t sell yourself short.
- Once basic needs are fulfilled, humans need to belong to something, to feel important, to feel valued. (8:59)
- We feel an obligation to our world, to our society, to the people we care about, to the causes we care about.
- Donating to a nonprofit may be the only way that people can exercise some level of control over what’s going on around them.
- Nonprofits with the best fundraising results placed the way that they were experiencing the pandemic into context in their messaging to donors. (9:48)
- Conveying that a resource is at risk is seen as a strong case for giving, to protect the future with a donation today. (12:00)
- The number one question Bloomerang received over the last two years was, “Should I fundraise now?” It may seem tone-deaf to do so, but it isn’t when you’re sensitive to context, taking a humanistic approach. (14:08)
- Personal, human interaction is part of a humanistic approach to fundraising, and during a time of isolation, such as during the pandemic, this proved to be a key. (15:58)
- An analysis of Bloomerang’s donor database showed phone calls to donors increased during the pandemic
- It also showed that phone calls to supporters increased revenue and donor retention.
- Personal emails also increased in number with beneficial results.
- It is important to be curious about why people support the cause, as this curiosity will lead your personalized outreach. (21:33)
- More often than not, there is a story behind their support.
- Balancing the need to personalize outreach with time and resource constraints is difficult, but strong demographic data that allows for segmentation is a good place to start. (23:28)
- There are a number of ways to decide whom to reach out to personally. At the top of the list should be those people who are being affected by the current crisis, if you have that segment identified. (27:20)
- If a supporter voluntarily provides their phone number, this is an invitation to call them. You can only call a supporter if you have their phone number.
- You could use dollar amounts, reaching out, say, to the $500 donor before the $5 donor, which is pretty common. But you never know someone’s capacity to give.
- If you are curious about, say, what motivates someone to give $2 a month, these are the people you should communicate with.
- Technology is making fundraising easier. (30:30)
- By offering people a way to reach out to you, you will give supporters the opportunity to self-select into the most engaged group of your truest fans. The number of people who do so may be small, but they are the people you can rely on—and you must give this inner circle attention. (31:19)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Steven ShattuckChief Engagement Officer, Bloomerang
A prolific writer and speaker, he curates Bloomerang’s sector-leading educational content, and hosts our weekly webinar series which features the top thought-leaders in the nonprofit sector. He is the author of Robots Make Bad Fundraisers – How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age, published by Bold and Bright Media (2020).
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 52
Nonprofit Supporter Communities with ROI for All, with Louis Diez
In this Episode:
The word “community” is frequently thrown around in nonprofit communications. But what does it actually mean, and what does it take to form a true community that provides value and drives increased repeat giving?
At a time when nonprofits struggle with donor retention, efforts to tap into identity, increase value to donors, make them feel more invested, and retain them year after year, have to be a top priority for every nonprofit development, marketing and communications professional.
Louis Diez, Director of the Annual Fund at Muhlenberg College believes describes
his superpower as building communities of purpose that energize donors and raise donor participation and major gifts—and he has the numbers to prove it.
Louis joins The Nonprofit Hero Factory to share how he builds communities that deliver ROI both to donors and to the organization, and how other nonprofits can do the same.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:05.110] – Intro
Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da Ding!
[00:00:21.470] – Boris
Welcome, everybody, to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited to have a new type of guest on the show, someone talking about an issue that I think is totally important, absolutely relevant to the work that we do, but hasn’t really been discussed enough. And it’s something I’m passionate about. So I’m really excited to learn from our guest today.
[00:00:41.700] – Boris
He is Louis Diez. He is the Executive Director of The Muhlenberg Fund at Muhlenberg College and is the host of the Donor Participation Project, which we’re going to learn from today. He’s an expert in annual fund development, digital fundraising, and engagement strategies. Prior to Muhlenberg, Louis was leading Annual Fund development at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, at Johns Hopkins SAIS and at Maryville College in Tennessee. Of varied interests, Louis holds an MBA from CUNEF, a PhD in Business Administration from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, both in Spain, and an MM in Music Performance from the University of Tennessee. Louis describes his superpower as building communities of purpose that energize donors and raise both donor participation and major gifts. Topics that are incredibly important, I think, to every organization out there today. And I’m excited to bring Louis onto the show to talk about that. Hey, Louis.
[00:01:40.070] – Louis Diez
Hi, Boris. Thanks so much for having me here.
[00:01:42.960] – Boris
Thanks so much for being here. As I said, I’m really excited to have you on. I am a huge proponent, advocate, if you will, on the topic of building communities. I think they are absolutely critical. Social media is often thought of as a community, but rarely used as one. People throw that term around and then don’t really know what that means or how to back it up or much less activate it. So I’m excited to learn from you today. But before we dive into all that, I read your bio. Love your superpower. Give me a bit of your story. Why do you do the things that you do today?
[00:02:18.290] – Louis Diez
So it’s so funny. I was graduating from my masters. I was thinking I was going to be a musician, and I worked as that for a little while. But I was doing a really interesting internship in New York at the Lincoln Center. You know I was actually putting stands… You can’t put stands on stage, but preparing coffee for the orchestra. There are lots of rules.
[00:02:43.810] – Louis Diez
And I discovered our CEO at the time was a fantastic fundraiser. And I kind of discovered the fundraising development, advancement, whatever you call it, as kind of a wonderful place because it’s mission oriented. It can be very technical if you want it to. It can be very humanistic or it should be humanistic. It kind of just has everything. If you’re a people person, then there’s a place for you. If you’re a data person, there’s a place for you. So I felt really like it all came together for me in this work. So the mission and the data and the people, it’s kind of beautiful.
[00:03:23.130] – Boris
Awesome. Like so many of us, you kind of came into the nonprofit space through a side door, if you will, hoping to do something else—I think arts are absolutely necessary for humanity and do a lot of good for humanity. And I think a lot of artists do find their way to nonprofit because it’s a different way to serve humanity and also maybe not necessarily starve.
[00:03:49.150] – Louis Diez
It’s really tough being a musician. Yes. So I was playing with the Knoxville Symphony for a while and had a day job in fundraising at Maryville College, as you mentioned, and having a son. And it’s tough, especially classical musicians.
[00:04:08.290] – Boris
I can only imagine, coming from the world of theater and acting and film. I have friends who are on TV shows. You would recognize them, and they’re still working in restaurants.
[00:04:23.440] – Louis Diez
[00:04:24.290] – Boris
Yeah. It’s a tough, tough thing. So I’m glad you found your way to nonprofit, though. And I’m glad that you were able to combine your various interests, as you said, into doing the things that you do. So let’s talk about that. What is it that you’re doing out there? Tell me about the work that you do today.
[00:04:44.170] – Louis Diez
So right now, I’m the Director of the Annual Fund at Muhlenberg College, which is a fantastic institution in Eastern Pennsylvania. I manage a team of seven fantastic professionals, and we raise money for unrestricted accounts at the college. So basically, donations that go to work right away have an impact immediately.
[00:05:15.430] – Louis Diez
On the side, about a year and a half ago, I started getting together with a group of fundraisers in what has turned into a kind of a community. And maybe we can talk about what that even means, right? As you pointed out, Boris. But essentially, we just started getting together to discuss how we could support each other and how we could learn about increasing donor participation, which, as I’m sure you’ve talked about, and folks that listen to your show know there are less and less donors every year giving to nonprofits. Definitely doesn’t mean that people are less generous in any way or that giving through Facebook is a bad thing, right? But giving to nonprofits itself has been on the decline for the last decade or two decades. And we were thinking, well, nobody can solve this. And maybe it’s up to us now.
[00:06:09.070] – Boris
So it definitely is up to nonprofits and up to nonprofit development and communications staff, people passionate about the subject to solve this problem. I will say there’s a new report out. Last week I had a guest on, Tim from Neon One, and they just released a report that actually says that during the pandemic, individual giving did go back up. And so it’s a positive trend. The issue is and I think today’s episode is going to play right into that. So for those of you at home, go back and listen to the previous one right after you listen to this one.
[00:06:41.600] – Boris
But the issue is that communications is not capable—or not currently, effectively maintaining relationships, establishing strong relationships and tying into identity in order to keep donors donating after they’ve given the first time, which is often in response to a particular cause, like right now, Ukraine or the pandemic over the last couple of years. So people will give and then they’ll disappear. And from an individual nonprofit’s perspective, there’s going to be a lot of decline. So community, I think, can definitely help solve that problem. If not 100%, then get us a lot of the way there. Let’s talk about that. What does that mean, community when it comes to donors?
[00:07:25.550] – Louis Diez
Absolutely. So I’ll give you a little bit more background about how I came into this philosophy. At Muhlenberg I was working a lot with folks that maybe are more familiar with academic fundraising classes and looking at other schools who are doing well. And then at the same time, in the donor participation project, we were having people like a Harvard researcher from the Harvard Divinity School talk to us about how communities, how millennials were flocking to some types of organizations. And it wasn’t necessarily nonprofits: things like CrossFit, Peloton, just organizations that were really capitalizing on this community. Some churches. So even though overall religious participation is also on the decline, there are really successful cases out there.
[00:08:23.670] – Louis Diez
And a quote that she shared with us that really stuck with me was “I came for the whatever—workout, dinner, conversation—but I stayed for the community.” So community is one of those things that’s kind of a stickiness factor, right? It’s what makes people stick around. And that’s the whole problem is what probably Tim was sharing with you. And the research that he’s involved with is amazing. But it’s keeping people around that we struggle with, right?
[00:08:52.000] – Louis Diez
And I started to develop a theory and started to also read a lot. And I have a book here. I don’t know if I’m supposed to do this on the show, but Get Together, really good book for people and kind of came on the definition. It’s a working definition. So if folks, if you Boris you even have improvements, I’d love to talk about it. But it’s community is when people get together in ways that are participatory. So it’s two-ways, right? Purposeful. So it’s about a purpose. So sometimes there are communities that kind of get together.
[00:09:23.550] – Louis Diez
There’s a very famous book, The Influencers, something about people getting together just to make dinner. And that’s cool. But what’s the purpose, especially for nonprofits. Recurring. So that’s a really big one. So it’s these people that get together on a recurring basis in a way that creates an expectation and a habit. So I’m a part of this. And I get together every month, every week, every time I open my phone and I scroll through my Facebook feed. So that’s an element.
[00:09:53.380] – Louis Diez
And then the fourth one is it identifies leaders. So no nonprofit staff, no community host is going to be able to do all the work that needs to get done. So they’re going to have to ask for help and support others in achieving those goals. So I turned that into an acronym, which is PPRI, it’s not great, but what we have.
[00:10:15.070] – Boris
We’ll work on some fancy backronym for it where we’ll first pick a word and then we’ll reverse engineer it to match what you’re trying to say. Because I really like everything you just laid out there, starting with this concept of CrossFit, which— CrossFit really is community. It thrives on that. I’ve never been part of a CrossFit, but I do know a lot of people who were, at least for a while, I don’t know how it is right now through and post pandemic. They were fanatical about it, right? It becomes a part of your identity. You are someone who does CrossFit. You belong to a chapter in CrossFit. And I know that I have friends who told me about this. They would sign up, and then if they didn’t show up for a couple of days, somebody would call them and say, “Hey, we haven’t seen you, where are you?” And then they might even take it to the next level and reach out to you other ways to get you back in the door, keep you going. And it works, despite the fact that a lot of people get injured doing CrossFit. But I’m not going to….
[00:11:17.810] – Louis Diez
I don’t know about that. So definitely not endorsing injuries. But it’s a very weird thing where I started to apply some of this that we were finding to our little group, the Donor Participation Project. And it started those same things you’re talking about. I never kind of reflected on them, but it started to happen to me. So we had sessions. And when I forgot to schedule a session, people would say, “Hey, I thought we were doing this this coming Wednesday.” Because it’s like what we always do and they were calling me to task. So it’s something like human. It’s based on human nature. It does work.
[00:11:49.400] – Boris
So I’m kind of going to flip the script a little bit here. Usually I want to know, all right, well, how do we make this work? And then what are the results? But in this case, I want to flip it around. I want to say, all right, what results have you seen from building these types of communities? Because I really want people to understand. I’m sure my audience is pretty intelligent in the first place, but I just want to highlight what is the benefit of doing this. And then let’s talk about what’s the work involved to get it done.
[00:12:15.710] – Louis Diez
Okay. And in development, sometimes we get stuck on what’s the ROI of this specific thing, right? I’m going to send this one letter; how many dollars came out of it? I’ll give you the big picture. At Muhlenberg, last year in the ranking of alumni participation, so as a percentage, how many students alumni gave to the school, we climbed into the top 100 for the first time. So we’ve been climbing and we’ve been able to reverse that declining trend. So that’s really good. Was it 100% this? Did we not solicit people? No. I mean, yes, we did solicit people. So don’t think that… Sometimes people say, “Louis, does that mean that we just stop asking people for money?” No, absolutely. As I can see Boris, they know… [crosstalk 00:13:04]
[00:13:04.370] – Boris
It’s not a panacea. Nobody should expect that this actually replaces everything else that you do. But there are benefits to it, right?
[00:13:12.560] – Louis Diez
Exactly. I’m just kind of sharing things I noticed. Did we have the largest fundraising year for our annual fund in the history of the organization? Yes. Was that, again, 100%? No. Was there a pandemic and lots of people were making big gifts? Yes. Was the largest donor in the history of the college part of one of the communities that is just the best one we have? When we talk about this in a bit, I’ll share that we organize these communities by classes, right? And that’s the best one that we have and kind of the model for the others. Well, that’s also true. Is there a one-to-one of what exactly caused that gift? I think it’s kind of like a preponderance of evidence thing. It looks like a duck. Smells like a duck. Sounds like a duck. It feels like that’s the right direction.
[00:14:02.710] – Boris
Okay. So it helped the school get to its highest participation, highest donation levels so far in its history. We don’t have a direct causal connection, but there is a lot of corollary evidence is basically what you’re saying, right?
[00:14:23.070] – Louis Diez
Yes. And especially if you’re working it. So what I love about it is that it also really kind of changed a little bit of the dynamic. And we did tie it in with switching our model to asking for monthly gifts first. But when you’re in that model, kind of the feedback that you get is so totally different because you’re not always just the face that shows up to ask for a gift and then get the angry kind of response. It feels more like you’re a part of something. So that was an added benefit as well. We applied all of this to our fundraiser community, and that has been growing very well. And again, the qualitative feedback is fantastic. People post love messages on LinkedIn about what we are and what we mean, which is great.
[00:15:13.010] – Boris
Why do you think that works? Why do you think building community… I mean, you talked about, of course, the CrossFit and the kind of elements of community. But what are the benefits of community? Why do people want to be part of your alumni network for their given class or something, what do they get out of it?
[00:15:30.670] – Louis Diez
So there’s the benefits for the person that’s in the community, and then there are benefits for the organization. For the person that’s in the community, well, I would say that we have a very deep need for that. There used to be civic organizations. There used to be… And there’s this book, right? Bowling Alone, I think, that talks about how all of that, like, social fabric has gone away. People still need it. It speaks to kind of like a very basic human need, essentially it just feels good for people.
[00:16:02.570] – Louis Diez
For the organization, it makes people retain so they stay around, which means that more of them stay around giving. It reduces your—I call them, like donor service, the customer service costs. So instead of having to be staff always one-on-one being the interface with the donor, you have a group of people, and they can answer their own questions or create their own content and support each other in that way and stay connected in that way. And then, if you’re aligned with the purpose and it’s clear that this group is there to support each other but also support the cause, it creates an environment that’s very helpful for kind of major gift conversation. That sort of thing just starts to kind of surface.
[00:16:55.530] – Boris
I really appreciate and I like how you think that you broke down what’s good for the actual members of the community and what’s good for the organization as a whole. Because when it comes to marketing, when it comes to promoting anything that you’re doing, I go through this with students, with organizations that I’m working with all the time. They focus on what it’s going to do for them rather than what it’s going to do for the actual people involved. And you can’t sell it on the features, and you can’t sell it on what it’s going to do for you. You have to basically sell it on what it’s going to do for them. And they can network. They can maintain some sort of connection to their past. They can maintain some sort of connection to the work. They could do more for you in other ways, right? So I would imagine that it’s easier to get volunteers out of the community than it is out of an email list that you just blast out to because they’re already connected and you keep at top of mind for them. So they are regularly thinking of you, not just once a year when you reach out to them at the end of the year or something.
[00:18:02.770] – Louis Diez
Yeah. Even if you look at… There was somebody posting on LinkedIn the other day who said, well, we probably… Somebody said, “I’m going to venture to say that we don’t send enough emails as a nonprofit.” And then I was thinking, well, what’s the quality and what type of email? I mean, it’s like the devil is in the details. So if you see the number of communications and emails that a community generates, and it’s all well received. It’s useful. People find it helpful, it’s value providing, but it does help you increase that very organically.
[00:18:33.750] – Boris
Awesome. So let’s get into it then. What does it take to build a community? First of all, what does the community even look like? I’m assuming at this point we’re talking technology, right? Digital platforms, although community should if it can bleed over into the real life IRL, as the kids call it. How do you define community and the systems that support it?
[00:19:01.430] – Louis Diez
That’s a really interesting question, Boris. I think for folks that have been involved in fundraising for a while, this isn’t really so new. I think of it more as taking that model of the experience that we provided to board members to maybe very small groups, to campaign advisory group, things like that, and extending that to more people. So as you said, it can be in real life. It can be digital, but people do need a place to get together. Can that be in an auditorium? Can that be a Discord channel? Can that be a Facebook chat? A LinkedIn group? I think you get the gist. It can really be anywhere. And that’s why I always sometimes feel a little bit—it’s not hesitant to recommend, but it’s like, well, it’s more of how you do it than exactly what it is. You just need a place for people to get together.
[00:20:00.070] – Boris
But how do you choose that place then? Because there are all those different channels that you just talked about with the Slack and Discord and Facebook and all kinds of groups out there that exist, right? And then there’s the independent platforms that you could spin up yourself, right?
[00:20:17.260] – Louis Diez
That’s really good. I would definitely call Boris and ask him for advice on this matter, because I’m not an expert. I would say I’ve been opportunistic. So I kind of went with what was either available or where I saw people were already. So some of our younger groups said we live in LinkedIn because we’re in that age in life where our career is everything. So I said, okay, let’s do a group. It gets really hard to manage, and maybe we can talk about it where you need to kind of think through, are you going to do one big community like your donor community, or are you going to have different groups, especially in larger nonprofits or more established nonprofits, will have people that are interested in sports or in this type of biomedical research, you know, so it can get hard to manage.
[00:21:05.370] – Boris
Yeah. All donors are not the same. They all have different interests, and they have different interests related to your cause. They have different reasons for supporting you in the first place. They might have different motivations. And so if you could give them a community of fairly like minded folks rather than you have a community around sports and a bunch of people talking bowling and I just want to talk about basketball. I’m not really going to want to stick around, right?
[00:21:28.230] – Louis Diez
Exactly. So that’s where we talk about kind of having a content. Well, the content strategy, content-first approach to building these things is really important and ties into the purpose, right? But just having a clear area that you have a group that’s large enough to make this worthwhile, but also that’s united by enough of a common theme. And it could be I mean, you can think very creatively. It can be according to things people do, like playing a sport. It can be according to their age if that works. But if they’re all interested in something like, I don’t know, providing scholarships to first generation students or something like that.
[00:22:13.650] – Boris
So we’re talking basically bucketing or segmenting based on either psychographics and interests or on demographics like age and other aspects like that, geography, perhaps, whatever is most natural, I guess, to the groups that you’re working with. I appreciate you said go ahead and call Boris and ask him which platform to use. But you kind of answered it yourself already. It is a much more extensive exercise to really go through it.
[00:22:39.360] – Boris
But the question is. Where are the majority of your people already congregating? Don’t make them adopt a new tool, think of checking in at a new place. That’s a very high barrier, high friction point for people to overcome. If they’re already mostly on Facebook, then maybe that’s the answer. If they’re mostly on LinkedIn or it feels more natural because it’s a professional kind of group to be on LinkedIn, great. Wherever they’re going to associate it, or if they’re younger kids and they’ve got a bunch of Discords already up, let’s throw them into another one. Let’s give them a new one to play in, if you will.
[00:23:13.580] – Louis Diez
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And then the next step is kind of, know that once you have that town hall platform or the place, that you’re going to have to feed the community with content. And I saw this with the Donor Participation Project. I would take the content from our sessions and from everything that we were learning. But then somebody has to be feeding that constantly back to the group out in the world. It’s also kind of your recruiting tool. And that’s something that I find that lots of nonprofits, maybe they start with a platform and then they think that’s going to magically create community. But it does take work.
[00:23:51.180] – Boris
Yeah. If you build it, they will come is not real or at least they won’t stick around, right? So there is this role that I know a lot of organizations have, nonprofits, for-profits, which is this community manager, and it’s their job to maintain this community. And it does take resources, right? It’s either somebody’s time or it’s a new person that you bring on just for that role. So there’s definitely some investment in there. But what should they be doing? What are the types of content that work when it comes to keeping a group interested and active?
[00:24:25.090] – Louis Diez
I guess there’s a lot of per group nuance here and lots of cultural—the culture of each specific group. I can speak from experience. You don’t think that this is something that has to go through your marketing department and be finessed to death, something as simple as photos of back in the day, and then that starts a thread and they start sharing photos and it goes on for 20 emails, just asking questions, surveys, letting everybody see the answers to the questions. So it’s a little bit of… Lots of the nonprofits that I’ve been at or worked with have this kind of marketing approach where everything has to be perfect on brand and 100% ready to go out in the world. This is more of kind of like a family chat feeling, and that tends to work, I found.
[00:25:21.070] – Boris
And you’re saying things like, let people see the results of surveys that they’re taking, make it a two-way conversation, but also make it feel like everybody’s getting to know everybody. It’s not just they’re giving your organization information about themselves that you could later use for marketing, right? It’s actually which, by the way, you could be doing that at the same time. But it’s actually them getting to know each other and feeling more comfortable and confident with each other and getting value from each other at the same time, right?
[00:25:52.300] – Louis Diez
So another of the great benefits, and this is for both the people who participate and the organization, is that communities build trust. And I’ve read some research that it’s actually one of the better ways to do it. It’s really hard to get somebody to trust you based on ads or brochures or letters that you’re sending them. But when people get together to do something around the common purpose, it’s much easier to turn minds and hearts around.
[00:26:17.470] – Boris
They get emotionally invested. They get financially invested. They get—what do you call it when they invest their own time into it, right? They feel like they’re getting more value and they’re investing more of themselves into it. So they have more ownership, more stake at the table when it comes to your organization’s work and success.
[00:26:35.790] – Louis Diez
That’s totally it, Boris. And you described it. That sounds like your ideal donor. I mean, doesn’t it? Somebody who’s invested. So you’re kind of like creating the environment, too. So that doesn’t mean that you don’t need major gift officers. In fact, your content leaders and your thought lead, internal thought leaders and your gift officers ideally should be a part of these communities kind of embedded in them.
[00:26:59.170] – Boris
So there’s one particular aspect, and we’re coming up on time here, but I really want to get into and see what you have to share, which is, is there a way to actually solicit donations without feeling like you’re just asking for money within a community?
[00:27:15.740] – Louis Diez
Okay, I’m going to tell you a secret. Everybody hates to be solicited, but everybody loves to be recognized. So just do that. When I work with volunteers and they say, “I never want to ask somebody for money.” I said, “I promise you won’t have to.” But you can elevate people. You can publish lists of donors. I mean, what is Facebook but one long list of who liked what you know or who did what, and it works. So that’s an easy kind of evolution, right?
[00:27:51.010] – Boris
So what does that do? Do you put out let’s say you’re a community on Facebook? Do you put a post up that says, “Hey, thank you so and so for the amazing donation. And here’s what it will help us do.”
[00:28:01.680] – Louis Diez
So one of our most successful efforts was (our fiscal year closes on June 30) our communities are organized—and we didn’t cover this, Boris—on Google Groups, so which is kind of low tech, really; it’s basically listservs. We shared the honor role, which is what we call the donor list for each specific community for each class on it and the gifts. And then we said, “Well, thank you so much to all of those.” This was a thank you message. If you haven’t given no, you still have time, head over here and we’ll update this. And they did, in droves. So that was really powerful. And then people say, well, you put out this donor list and it doesn’t work in this way. Well, sometimes I find that they do this in the annual. The premise is that people recognize each other, that they feel part of the same group, not some random list of 500 names.
[00:28:56.710] – Boris
That is so important and powerful. If you are part of a community, you want to do what everyone else in the community is doing. There is a social contract of sorts that you feel you need to uphold your end of it, and you want to compete or match what others are doing, match the expectations upon you. So if you see this role, this honor role, this donor list of people in your class, and you see, oh, wait, most people or a lot of people in my class are giving. Well, I mean, I should, too. I can. It’s clearly important. I’ll do it.
[00:29:34.730] – Louis Diez
You hit it on the nail, Boris. I’d be interested to hear from you. Do you see applications for this model to other… of course, my background is in maybe the arts, is in one type of or a couple of types of nonprofits. Do you see this as applicable to other types of nonprofits?
[00:29:53.250] – Boris
Oh, absolutely. I mean, every organization should cultivate some sort of community for their clients, their donors, their volunteers, and crossing over between them, depending on how you define your segments, if you will. But even without the community, I mean, I always teach you want to be sharing stories, you want to be sharing success stories. You want to be sharing stories of donors. Hey, I did this and now I see this out in the world and I feel so much better. I can sleep better at night because I gave to this and I saw that it had some sort of an impact, right? What you’re doing when it’s inside of a community is really amplifying that within an echo chamber. An echo chamber for good, as opposed to so many of the ones that are currently happening right now online. So, yeah, every organization could be doing this.
[00:30:39.070] – Louis Diez
Totally. Yeah. Maybe a last point kind of for thought is and I haven’t figured this out, right, is: what is the metric for success? We look at our donor retention, obviously. But also, as you mentioned, there’s a community manager that does this. Please do give them ownership on a metric, on something, not just have it be kind of a random expendable role that you have in the shop.
[00:31:05.810] – Boris
Yeah. I do always like to focus on metrics. And I think donor retention would be a great one to measure and see how well is it working of the people who are in the community? How many of them are staying and giving regularly? Because again, it’s that identity thing, which is key. And then some of the other KPIs would be how many people per month or per whatever cycle you want to measure are actually adding content, how many people are checking in and reading content? That is an engagement metric that’s pretty straightforward to download from whatever app that you’re currently using, I think would be great to measure and track and give your community manager some goals. Hey, can we increase this? Can we bring in more people and have them engaging around more things? Hey, surveys seem to be doing really well. Or, hey, we put out a quiz and everybody shared it, right? Those are dynamite when they work.
[00:31:57.790] – Louis Diez
Exactly. Very helpful. Thanks, Boris.
[00:32:00.140] – Boris
I love all that. So I don’t want to take too much more of your time, but I do want to ask: You did say you’re on Google Groups, and I do like to ask everybody for some tools and resources. You also held up the book Get Together earlier. Who’s that by? How do we find that?
[00:32:17.480] – Louis Diez
Let’s find this out. It’s a group of folks. It’s published by Stripe Press, and I’m opening it right here. Okay. The authors are Bailey Richardson, Kevin Huynh, and Kai Elmer Sotto.
[00:32:31.310] – Boris
Awesome. We will definitely find that book and link to it in the show notes. We’ll also link to Google Groups so people can get started easily like you do. What’s your call to action for the folks that are listening, watching, or reading the transcript of this at home?
[00:32:46.630] – Louis Diez
So if you want to join a community of fundraisers who is really nice, smart, and we get together to solve a really big issue in our industry, head over to joindpp.org. So one word joindpp.org. And we’d love to have you and kind of if you bring even just a lot of what you learn here with Boris to these conversations, I think people will be thrilled and you’ll gain a lot too from that back and forth.
[00:33:21.590] – Boris
As you should in the community. Awesome. So we’re going to link to that, of course, too. If people want to follow up with you, where should they find you? What’s your preferred community?
[00:33:32.330] – Louis Diez
LinkedIn, for sure. And just look me up by name and title.
[00:33:37.850] – Boris
Fantastic. And we always link to guests’ LinkedIn profiles anyway. So that’s going to happen and when we publish this post on LinkedIn we’re going to tag you as well. So hopefully a lot of people are going to connect with you. I think this is really important and also really accessible content that people should be thinking about and tactics that people hopefully will start to implement if they haven’t or take the next step and level up if they’re already doing it.
[00:34:05.590] – Louis Diez
And it really works, which also helps.
[00:34:08.000] – Boris
That definitely also helps. Louis, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate having you on. You came on. You dropped a whole lot of value on us today. I think that will hopefully get people thinking and working and I hope that people do go and check out the Donor Participation Project because the more you can contribute, the more you can learn, the more the rising tide lifts all boats.
[00:34:33.910] – Louis Diez
Well, thanks, Boris. Thank you for having me. I look forward to learning from you even more.
[00:34:38.350] – Boris
Awesome. And thank you, everybody for joining us at home. If you like this interview, do go ahead and share it with your friends. Leave us a review on iTunes on Spotify wherever you enjoy your content and we look forward to seeing you again next time on The Nonprofit Hero Factory.
[00:34:56.150] – Intro
Thank you all for watching and listening to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- Community is not simply “social media.” (1:55)
- Engagement is more than “likes” and “shares.”
- The Donor Participation Project convenes fundraising professionals to explore strategies, combine knowledge, and support each other in their mission to increase donor participation. (5:15)
- Giving to nonprofits has been on the decline for the last two decades. This is a problem that nonprofit development and communications staff have to solve. (5:43)
- A recent report found this trend has been reversing since March 2020, but it’s not guaranteed to last. (We explored this in episode 51).
- Establishing and maintaining communication and relationships with donors is particularly challenging. (6:41)
- Organizations, like CrossFit, Peloton, and some churches, have people (particularly millennials) flocking to them. (8:00)
- People come to a group for one thing, but they stay for the community. The community is what is “sticky.”
- Nonprofits struggle to retain donors that come in response to an emergency (like a pandemic or a war) after a cause is no longer “hot.” (8:48)
- Louis shares four keys for successful communities. (9:11)
- Community must be participatory, a two-way relationship.
- Community must be purposeful and bring people together to achieve a certain goal.
- Community must be recurring—maintain the expectation of activity and be regular enough to become a habit.
- Community must identify leaders. Community managers have a mission: to make connections, to persist with outreach, but the members themselves build on the infrastructure and create their own content.
- It is human nature to want to find a place where we belong. If we do this thing, then we belong in this thing, then this thing is part of who we are. (10:30)
- What results can be seen through building these super-committed communities that connect people on a self-identity level? (12:16)
- At Muhlenberg College, they had the largest fundraising year for the annual fund in the history of the organization.
- The largest single donor in the history of the college was a member of the strongest community.
- Though there may not be a direct causal connection between the new structured communities and fundraising successes, there is ample corollary evidence. (14:05)
- Community creates an infrastructure, and like any infrastructure it works best when it is designed thoughtfully and maintained regularly. Working a community model creates the most successful fundraising. (14:23)
- People want to be part of the community because they get something out of it.
- When connection is maintained, supporters are regularly thinking of you.
- Always provide value to the members.
- There is a deep need for a connection in the social fabric. People need a place to get together, whether in real life (IRL) or virtually. There are many options, platforms and channels for that meeting. (20:03)
- Communities can be most-easily started where people are already congregating.
- Don’t make them adopt a new tool, because that is a very high barrier to participation.
- Approach a community with a content strategy that ties into the purpose. (22:13)
- All donors are not the same. Segment based on the aspect that is most natural to the group, whether it is demographics and geography, or psychographics and interests. Feed the community with content, as this is the recruiting tool.
- Content that works to keep a group interested and active includes things like polls or surveys where everybody sees all responses, things that build trust and comfort. (25:03)
- Content doesn’t need to be formal and built by the marketing department.
- Acknowledging gifts and recognizing donors frequently, and inside their small groups is an effective way to encourage other members of the community to give. (28:29)
- A social contract comes into play when success stories are amplified inside a community—when people see their peers doing something, they feel like they have to do it, too. (30:00)
- Give the Community Manager a metric, a key performance indicator (KPI) for success, such as donor retention, how many people are staying and giving regularly, how many people add content in the community, or how many people are engaging with content. (31:05)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Louis DiezExec. Director, The Muhlenberg Fund
Louis Diez is an expert in annual fund development, digital fundraising, and engagement strategies.
He currently serves as the Executive Director of Annual Giving at Muhlenberg College and hosts the Donor Participation Project (joindpp.org).
Previously, he was Director of the Annual Fund and Development Business Operations at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Associate Director of Development at Johns Hopkins SAIS. In this last role, he led annual giving efforts and worked closely with the Latin-American Studies Program to fund major priorities. Prior to Hopkins, he was the annual fund director at a liberal arts college in TN.
Of varied interests, Louis holds an MBA from CUNEF, a PhD in Business Administration from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (both in Spain), and an MM in Music Performance from the University of TN. His thesis applied neural networks to predict economic performance indicators. He has also published articles on the investment value of musical instruments, edited peer-reviewed papers exploring applications for economic theories of legitimacy, and been featured in the music business section of the College Music Society’s journal.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 47
Evaluating and Optimizing Your Nonprofit Programs, with Allison Shurilla
In this Episode:
Which is a better way to serve your nonprofit’s program participants: Experience and knowledge-based assumptions, or regular input from the participants themselves?
The answer is, of course, combining both. After all, how do you know how to apply your knowledge if you’re not regularly asking your beneficiaries what they need and how it’s working?
That’s where evaluation comes in, to collect the feedback and input from your constituents and provide insights (and stories) to how you’re doing and how you can serve them better.
Allison Shurilla is the founder of AS Community Consulting. In this interview, she lays out how evaluations can help nonprofits by first clarifying what they want to achieve, then establishing the evaluative processes that they can use, and finally incorporating them into their regular processes.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:05.030] – Intro Video
Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da Ding!
[00:00:21.670] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Nonprofit Hero Factory. We talk a lot about storytelling. We talk a lot about donor engagement, and we talk a lot about technology. And today’s guest is actually at the intersection of all three of those I think, in that she helps organizations figure out what is working and what is not working within their programs so that they can then apply it to their storytelling, their technology and their programs in general and create better connections with donors, but also deliver more value.
[00:00:52.730] – Allison Shurilla
So I’m going to bring her on in a second, but let me tell you a little bit about Allison Shurilla. She is the founder and lead consultant of AS Community Consulting, where she helps community organizations build a culture of evaluation and integrate evaluation into their organizations so they can learn about their work, to do it better, and have the greatest impact. AS Community Consulting supports community organizations in building evaluation culture through consulting, coaching, and leading trainings and workshops. And that’s kind of what I’m going to have her do today. Her superpower Allison describes is connection, both in terms of connecting people and ideas.
[00:01:26.660] – Boris
And with that, let’s connect with Allison and bring her onto the show. Hi, Allison.
[00:01:31.760] – Allison Shurilla
Hi, Boris. Thank you for having me here.
[00:01:34.470] – Boris
It is absolutely my pleasure. We’ve been talking about having you on for a while now. So I’m excited that you are finally here, and I’m ready to pull as much information as I can out of you for all our nonprofit heroes at home or at work or in their cars, wherever they’re watching or listening to this show. Don’t watch and drive, it’s bad. But before I do, before we dive in, Allison, tell us a little bit more. What is your story? Why do you do what you do today?
[00:02:00.310] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. So my background is actually in education and youth work. I started out as a nonprofit professional, and I decided that I wanted to do something at not the ground level. I originally thought I wanted to be doing policy work, and I got a Master’s in Public Policy, and I thought I wanted to be doing research. And I ended up finding evaluation while I was in policy school and while I was kind of pursuing learning about research. And evaluation really struck me as the thing that could have a really huge impact by helping people and organizations use the information that they have to make decisions to improve their program, to have the impact that they ultimately want to have. And ever since I learned what evaluation was, I have been running with it and trying to find the best ways to do it and to find the best way that it can be helpful for organizations and really help them do what they are here to do.
[00:03:00.550] – Boris
Awesome. So many of us started out in the nonprofit space on the inside and then realized that we could hopefully have a bigger impact and help more organizations do more. It’s a common transition. And I appreciate that you have taken on because it’s not easy going out and suddenly opening up your own shop, if you will, trying to get your message out there. But you know that it’s important. You know that it’s helping organizations. So I, for one, appreciate what you’re doing, and I’m sure your clients do, too.
[00:03:30.930] – Boris
But let’s talk about what is the problem that you’re solving. And let me start by asking you what’s happening right now? Maybe things have changed since the pandemic began. Maybe not. But what’s happening right now in the nonprofit space, from your point of view?
[00:03:45.970] – Allison Shurilla
I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty and there’s still a lot of questions. Like uncertainty is a word that we still hear every day. People are still talking about whether or not they’re going to do programs online or in person or how they’re going to navigate changing or what’s going on with the populations that they’re working with and what’s going on in their communities. And there’s just a lot of questioning. And evaluation ultimately helps to answer those questions. That’s why I’m here to do what I do. So I’m finding that everywhere from what’s going on with the participants in our program, what’s going on with their lives, how can we help them? How do we optimize our program so that we’re serving them the best way? To what is the impact we’re having anyway? We can’t tell because things don’t look the same way they used to.
[00:04:34.270] – Boris
I definitely can see that. And especially since the move to digital, the great jump into digital that everybody had to take, I feel like a lot of organizations did things based on instinct or reactionary, which was necessary, and I’m not judging any of them for doing it. But they may not then realize what the effects have been or they’re not sure how to look at it. Is that the kind of thing that evaluation is really there to help them with?
[00:05:02.230] – Allison Shurilla
Absolutely. I think that evaluation sometimes gets put in this box of surveys or reporting or just looking at your numbers. But it’s really there to help you answer those questions. And when things change or you know things are going good and you want to figure out what exactly is working, evaluation is here to help you dig into that and really answer those questions.
[00:05:25.390] – Boris
So what’s the problem with the way that, let’s say most or the organizations that don’t incorporate evaluation into their lives, into their work lives? What’s the problem with the way that they’re making decisions today?
[00:05:38.470] – Allison Shurilla
I think that it is lacking a specificity and the type of information they’re getting in real time. So program developers, executive directors, whoever they may be, they’re making their decisions based on a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience. Maybe they went to school for something. Maybe they’ve been living in the community they’re working in, and they have this really in-depth knowledge about what goes on or how to design a program. But they’re not necessarily getting regular feedback about what’s happening at this moment or what’s happening in real time or if something like a pandemic comes along, what you do now, because everything you know, it’s not the way that things have become. And so the problem is that if you don’t have an evaluation system that’s helping you look at things as they change or even just look at things in general, you’re kind of just running on guesses based on maybe previous knowledge, based on academic knowledge or community knowledge, which are all important. But evaluation gives you that extra real-time piece.
[00:06:42.910] – Boris
I find that that happens a lot in organizations. I work with their storytelling all the time, obviously, with their communications and marketing. And I’ll check out their websites. And there’s a lot of inside the bubble speak, right? We’re inside our organizations. We’ve been in them sometimes for 20, 30 years. So we know everything so well. And we assume that all of that gets communicated. Similarly, we know everything so well we assume that we’re doing the right thing. We’re doing the best thing without necessarily having that evaluation or testing our hypotheses or to see whether or not there’s a better way or something else that we can optimize.
[00:07:23.110] – Boris
So then I guess what’s the solution to that? You mentioned surveys, and that’s what a lot of people think when it comes to evaluations. Maybe we should start with what does it mean? What does evaluations mean in the sense that you’re using it? And what does it mean for nonprofits in general?
[00:07:40.810] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. So kind of along the previous conversation that we were having, I was having a conversation with a group of evaluators recently, and we find that we’ll come into an organization and they’ll ask us for the answer. They want to know what the best way is to develop a program and they want to know what the best practices or they’re using what is known as the best practice. And we as evaluators are in real time creating the best practice.
[00:08:06.090] – Allison Shurilla
So in the organization, we will come in and help you look at talk to people in your community or talk to your staff to harness that knowledge. So all of those things that we just talked about, the best practices, the going to school, the knowledge of the community, evaluation kind of takes that and puts it together and looks at it to answer very specific questions so that you can use that information to make changes or to increase efficiency in your organization; to find out what it is about your program that’s really having the biggest impact; to find out what your community really needs so that you can be serving them to the best of your ability.
[00:08:47.890] – Allison Shurilla
And then it also gives you tools to communicate that, so you can communicate that to your funders, to your donors, to the community itself. If you want to get more people coming to your program, you can use that as evidence of saying, “Hey, come here, look at this great time all these people are having.” Or, “This is how it’s influencing people and impacting people.”
[00:09:07.690] – Boris
So it definitely sounds like a very powerful tool to use in our processes, in our systems. I know you talk about this all the time. Is it something that we should be doing on an as-needed basis, or is it something that organizations should be doing on a continual basis hand-in-hand with whatever program they’re delivering or whatever services they’re working on?
[00:09:31.810] – Allison Shurilla
It should be done along with the program. It should be something that’s continuously done as part of the work that you’re doing. So evaluation, in my opinion, is most powerful when it is part of what you’re doing and not a separate add-on. So a traditional evaluation or a way that is very commonly done is that I, as an evaluator, might come in, do a big research-looking study. I might design some surveys, or I might do some interviews or focus groups with people. Then I would write you a nice report that tells you what I think and what I found out.
[00:10:04.570] – Allison Shurilla
I think it can be much more powerful for an organization to be able to build in processes so that they’re looking at data, they’re looking at the information, they’re talking to people and gathering feedback from people in a way. And then using that to make their decisions as they’re trying to develop program changes or applying for a grant or trying to decide what to do for their big event that they’re doing, right? Evaluation is the thing that can give them these little pieces of information that can help them make those decisions with real-time information that’s happening in the community.
[00:10:41.050] – Boris
So then, you mentioned surveys early, and it sounded like you were saying that’s what people associate with evaluation, but that’s not necessarily the heart of it, which I totally understand. But then are surveys then… How do you do ongoing real-time evaluation unless it’s something like a survey? Are there other tools that you put in?
[00:11:03.370] – Allison Shurilla
I talk about surveys a lot because they’re still very common in evaluation. And that’s the thing that I get asked about a lot. And so it comes up a lot, and I witness it happening. Most organizations have familiarity with it in some way. But they can be busy work. They can be giving you information that’s not that valuable. They could be not giving you the right information that you need. And so I deal a lot with conversations and talking to people. A way that I really like to work with organizations is, say that you have something like a youth program, like my background is in working with youth in education.
[00:11:43.810] – Allison Shurilla
We have a youth program that we meet every Tuesday, and so we have this population of kids, right? That we’re talking to our students or young people, whatever language that you want to use for them. And we give them a survey once a quarter. They give their answers. It feels like a test. It doesn’t necessarily feel like something where they can feel like they can authentically engage with the organization or with the program.
[00:12:07.750] – Allison Shurilla
Another option might be to have a conversation that’s integrated with the program, an activity that you design to gather feedback from the students to find out what they think and how they’re responding to the program and what they think would make it work better, how they can get their friends there, maybe how it’s impacting their grades and their relationship to school or to their families or to community.
[00:12:29.000] – Allison Shurilla
Whatever your goal is or your focus of that program, instead of just handing over a piece of paper or an online survey to students, you can have a real conversation with them. And that can be extrapolated to your staff or to parents or to other community members you’re working with. I also work a lot in public health. And if you’re working with patients, how can you really get some authentic, real information from them? That’s not… The survey can be a little dry and a little removed.
[00:13:07.410] – Boris
I see. So whereas a survey feels more designed to collect data, you’re actually trying to be more interactive conversational and almost extract stories from them, but really let them guide some of the conversation as well, rather than just a one-directional or I guess two-directional, but an exchange. It is an actual kind of interactive conversation about the subject. Is that right?
[00:13:37.060] – Allison Shurilla
Yes. And a little bit more about my background is that the methodology that I use is based in story collecting and qualitative methods is what we call them, as opposed to quantitative methods, which are like statistics. And a survey is actually considered a quantitative method. And in community-based participatory research methods, which is a little bit of a big word. But basically the essence of it is that the people that we’re gathering information from have a lot more to give than just a data point. They have a lot more to give than just a one to five on a survey. I’m sorry I’m hating on surveys so much. I don’t hate surveys. I use them. I think they’re very valuable. Please, nobody come for me for hating on surveys, but they can be overused and they can be improperly used. And I see that happen a lot, which is why it’s such a common example that I give.
[00:14:32.670] – Allison Shurilla
And so the type of evaluation that I do and the way that I work with organizations tries to move them beyond that so that evaluation isn’t just a piece of information, but it’s a process, and it is a relationship, and it is something that harnesses both the expertise and knowledge and talents of the people working in the organization as much as the people that are receiving services from the organization or interacting with the organization.
[00:15:06.510] – Boris
So if I’m a nonprofit professional right now, listening to this episode, I’m thinking, okay, that sounds nice, but it sounds super resource intensive. It’s going to take a lot of my time or my staff time. How do you answer that? Is it worth it, first of all? I’m sure you’re going to say yes, but how do you justify all of that time and expense in terms of staff power, to do this kind of work?
[00:15:37.170] – Allison Shurilla
I mean, certainly it can be resource intensive, and it can turn into a very big, comprehensive thing if that’s what you want to do. But it can also be very simple. One of my passions is to work with organizations to make it simpler and to make it integrated into what they’re doing. I don’t want to create extra work. I don’t want to create busy work. We have enough to do. Nonprofit professionals, we’re doing everything, right? And so how can evaluation be something that is a part of all of that? So with the youth program example, we’re already using the program that we have. We’re not developing anything new. We might take that information that we get and use it in a staff meeting to talk to our staff, or we might integrate a couple of minutes of a staff meeting every time to talk about… To go over maybe a dashboard or to talk about evaluation.
[00:16:30.390] – Allison Shurilla
And the way that I also work is in looking at the information that’s actually going to be the most valuable to help you do what you need to do, to have the impact that you want to have, to have the processes that are efficient. Evaluation can actually create efficiencies by finding the things that are working well and the things that aren’t working as well; and using the things that you’re doing every day and just putting a different lens on it. Like, looking at it a little bit differently so that you’re using it as an evaluative process or an evaluative culture so that you can learn from that way and you don’t necessarily need to do a big extra thing.
[00:17:15.450] – Boris
So in the case of your youth example, your youth group, are you talking about at the end of each… I don’t know. Let’s say they do ongoing meetings. At the end of each meeting, they spend five minutes asking for feedback.
[00:17:29.010] – Allison Shurilla
It could look like that, or it could be a dedicated session that you work with them on it. I’ve also worked with youth programs to do what’s called youth participatory evaluation. So they’re actually involved in the whole process and helping you make those decisions and answer questions. And it’s a program in itself. It can be… So it can be a very generative thing for those students as they learn how to look at data and process data and talk to people and writing skills, and they can learn all kinds of things. That’s a very robust example, but … I think in my work, I find that it works different ways with different programs and whatever is going to work for you, it could be as simple as doing something every once in a while, or it could be a lot more comprehensive. I hope that answers your question.
[00:18:23.030] – Boris
It does, it does. I’m still just trying to figure out exactly how much extra resource it might take up. It sounds like what you’re saying is that’s really up to you. It could be as little as you want or as much as you want. And you can make an entire program out of just your evaluation—or at least an event out of your evaluation—where you might discover what it is that you should be evaluating in the first place because you’re going to get input from your constituents.
[00:18:51.710] – Allison Shurilla
One of my goals as a consultant is to help organizations find the sweet spot about how much they want to invest in this and in what way they want to invest in it, right? So do you want to do a big extra project? Those are really valuable and really important sometimes. But do you want to develop a system within your organization so that it’s so seamless you don’t even know that you’re doing it? It’s hard to answer that question because they’re just limitless options, right? It could be very simple or it could be very, very comprehensive. And I think even when it’s simple, it can be very powerful because you’re just starting to look at information a different way that can help you do your work a little bit differently.
[00:19:39.930] – Boris
Okay. So how do you know that your evaluation program is working? Let’s assume that we’ve signed on for this concept of continual integrated evaluation. How do we know that it is working, that we’re asking the right questions? What are some of the results we might see from the process and the work?
[00:20:07.570] – Allison Shurilla
The results that you’ll see is that you will have more confidence. I think is one of them could be that you are making the right decisions instead of being like you’re guessing. I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want to say that. I don’t want to say that people aren’t confident in the decisions that they make. But what you’ll see is that when you are talking to your community or you are working with your community, you know the way that you’re affecting them, you know the way that you’re impacting them—is really powerful, and it’s something that is your unique way of working with them. As opposed to, like, they couldn’t just get it from anywhere else. Because they know that your organization is the one that’s making the difference. Your organization is the one that’s affecting them that way because you have the data to back that up. You have the stories, you have the numbers, you have whatever it is, those things are going to tell you what exactly is happening.
[00:21:02.110] – Allison Shurilla
Another thing you might see that I witnessed in my work is that you can find out what it is about your work that is having the biggest impact, so that you can be dedicating your time and resources to those things that are really having the impact instead of the things that may not be.
[00:21:18.500] – Allison Shurilla
So you might know that you’re having a great impact on your students or on your community. You might know that their grades are doing really well or they’re having great conversations about health with their peers. But you don’t know which part of your program is doing it, right? You don’t know if it’s because they have the one class or if it’s the entire program or if it’s the frequency of the program or if it’s the guest speakers you have in. So you might be dedicating all these time and resources to developing these programs. Evaluation can help you understand what about them is working, and it can help you poke the holes in the gaps that might be not working so well so that you can change those and not be wasting your time doing something that’s not so effective. And you can take that and extrapolate it to anything in the organization: your staff, your work processes, whatever you might have a question about evaluation is going to help you kind of boil it down into what’s working really well, what’s not working, what’s missing so that you can fill in those holes, all those pieces.
[00:22:26.350] – Boris
That sounds pretty great and I think really important. Again, for organizations that… like most organizations that I’ve worked with, for example, go on instinct, they go on experience and they might start a new program. It may or may not work. Then they’ll try something else, which is totally fine and fair. But really knowing why something is working, what parts of it are working, what parts that are not working will definitely help you optimize and decide what to double down on, what to pull back from, so that you can better serve your community ultimately and so that you can empower them better with the tools and the things that they really crave or are responding to in your particular situation.
[00:23:08.230] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. I mean, nonprofits, the organizations I work with, ultimately, they’re mission driven, right? They have a purpose. They have something they’re trying to achieve. And evaluation helps you know whether or not you’re achieving that, how you’re achieving it, and what you can do to achieve it better, what you can do to do it better.
[00:23:29.130] – Boris
Or as we say on the show, how to create more heroes for your cause.
[00:23:32.210] – Allison Shurilla
[00:23:33.430] – Boris
So if an organization is not currently doing evaluations, if it’s not currently in a culture of evaluation, within the organization. Where should they get started? How do they start approaching this or thinking about this concept of evaluation?
[00:23:50.290] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. So my recommendation is always just to start with a question. And when I say that, I mean a really simple question. What is something… If you’re talking to someone in the hallway, you’re talking to a family member or a friend, you say, “I wish I knew this.” Or, “I wonder…” The kind of thing that you’re like, “I wonder about this because I think knowing the answer to that would have an impact on my work.” It would help me be more confident in my work or make changes or be able to do my work to the best of all.
[00:24:20.100] – Allison Shurilla
You just start with a question and then you look at how you’re answering it. And when I lead workshops on this and when I lead people through this process, I encourage them not to think about evaluation. I’m already there as an evaluator. But I’m like, don’t think about it right now. Think about the really organic ways that you’re answering that question. Right? So we talk to people. I talk to the staff member, I talk to people in my community, I talk to my students or my patients or Joan at the front desk. And she told me, right, like, what’s going on? Those are the things that you can take.
[00:24:57.700] – Allison Shurilla
And then once you think about it that way, you can start to drill it down into something that looks a little bit more strategic. So how can you turn that into a more robust conversation, like a focus group or develop a survey? This is when we decide whether or not we need a survey, right? This is when we say, you know what? It actually would be really helpful if we send out a survey to every single person we talk to to ask this question or whatever it might be. That could give you some really great information. And so it can be very simple. And you can start with one question or one issue or one topic and put those little pieces in so that it doesn’t feel like a lot and it’s integrated into what you’re doing.
[00:25:43.810] – Boris
You just brought to mind the known unknown matrix. You’re familiar with that one? Where you’ve got four quadrants of known knowns. What is it? Actually, I’m going to look at it. Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns, and unknown unknowns.
[00:25:59.180] – Allison Shurilla
[00:25:59.790] – Boris
Right? And it sounds like and maybe this is where the whole survey thing comes in is a survey can measure the unknown knowns, right? Or the known unknowns. But it can’t measure the unknown unknowns, whereas an evaluation process is going to help you discover the things you don’t even realize you don’t know. And some things that you might know that you didn’t realize you knew.
[00:26:23.770] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. That’s actually a really good framing. That’s absolutely correct.
[00:26:28.990] – Boris
Free of charge. You can incorporate that into your next workshop. So then it looks like we start from what you’re saying. We start with first, evaluating or no, just is it brainstorming and writing out what is it that we wish we knew? So what are our known unknowns things that we know we don’t really know yet, and then start going deeper and deeper from there?
[00:26:53.300] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah, I think that would be a good way to put it. And if you want to start real small, I have a tool that you can use that you just take like 10, 15 minutes, like just a few minutes, and just sit down and kind of brainstorm some ideas and kind of work through this in your head what it might look like. And it can start with baby steps like that, and eventually it can become something a little bit deeper.
[00:27:19.630] – Allison Shurilla
So you start with, what do I wish I knew? If I could know anything, what would be the answer? What would be the information that I would have? And then you drill it down into very simple things like, what do I know now? And how do I know that? And then you learn how to make it more specific. And ultimately, at the end of all of this, you will have a process where this is so seamless that you’re just, like asking questions. You’re bringing out ways to answer them. You’re answering them. You’re making your program changes based on what it is, and then your senior community flourish because you are such an amazing, efficient nonprofit that you’re doing all your work the best you can.
[00:28:04.330] – Boris
That’s awesome. And I think that’s a great point to wrap up the conversation. But I do want to ask you, if people are interested in learning more about evaluations in general or maybe an example of evaluations done well. Are there any tools or resources, books even that you recommend people might go check out?
[00:28:21.010] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. So I have my own resources on my website that talk a little bit about evaluation that do help you walk through the process that I just described. I have a workbook and like a one pager that kind of helps you start to think about it.
[00:28:34.810] – Allison Shurilla
One of the resources that I always point people to is called, I believe the title of it is like, “Why Am I Always Being Researched?” And it’s from an organization called Chicago Beyond based in Chicago. And it’s basically like this tool that talks about research, which evaluation is kind of a type of research, and relates it to the human side of it and the person side of it, instead of just seeing people as ways to get data or ways to get information or to extract information from. It’s a very long kind of comprehensive thing. But if you look at it on a very basic level, it does help you put into perspective what evaluation can look like that isn’t just a data point. And I just love the resource because it’s one of the bases for kind of how I do my work.
[00:29:27.430] – Boris
Fantastic. We’re going to link to that and to the resources you have on your website, because I have checked them out. I like them. They’re a great, very simple framework to just start thinking and brainstorming around these topics and then to hopefully take some actions to implement things. So we’re definitely going to link to all that. Do you have any other calls to action for our audience? How should they connect with you? What should they do once they’ve finished listening to this episode and wanted to follow up with Allison Shurilla?
[00:29:55.450] – Allison Shurilla
Yeah. So you can go to my website, you can send me an email, get in touch with me that way. I do free consultations. And there is also a link in my website that you can go ahead and just schedule that directly with me. And I have a newsletter that you can sign up for and a blog. And so you could sign up for my newsletter, keep in touch with the kind of things I’m working on, what I talk about. If some of these ideas are interesting to you, but you want to hear a little bit more about them, that’s a great way to just kind of follow me. So that you know what I’m doing and what I’m talking about and what I think about some of these things.
[00:30:32.290] – Boris
Awesome. And I do encourage people to go and do that. Check out Allison’s site, get those resources, and then book a call, spend some time picking her brain for free to figure out what it is that you could be getting from evaluations and how you can conduct evaluations to better optimize all your processes and ultimately your impact on the world.
[00:30:55.690] – Boris
Thank you, Allison, so much for joining us today and breaking down what is really a difficult topic to just wrap around. But I think we’ve really gotten to a point where hopefully if people don’t fully understand it, didn’t fully understand it before, that they get a really good idea of it now and all the benefits that it can provide them. And I appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to share that knowledge with us and how to start implementing a culture of evaluation or thinking about evaluation within our own programs.
[00:31:22.990] – Allison Shurilla
Alright. And thank you for having me. It’s been great to talk to you today.
[00:31:26.540] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you, everybody who is watching, listening or reading the transcript of this episode, be sure to check out our show notes at nphf.show for all of the takeaways from this episode and all of the resources that Allison has shared with us. We’re going to, of course, link to them right there on our site. And if you like this episode, please do share it with your friends. And please leave us a review on iTunes, Spotify, or whatever your favorite platform is, YouTube as well. We do, of course, have the show live there every time too. Thank you everybody. Have a great week. We’ll see you soon.
[00:32:00.250] – Intro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes Spotify or your favorite podcast chat platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- Evaluation helps people and organizations use the information that they have to make decisions that increase impact. (2:23)
- Two years into the pandemic, there is still uncertainty today around the most effective ways to deliver programs, online or in person. At the same time, the lives of program participants have often dramatically changed. (3:45)
- Most organizations run on experience, accumulated knowledge, instinct and assumptions. But they’re not testing those assumptions and getting regular feedback. (5:38)
- Evaluation helps organizations harness their knowledge and resources and understand how to best apply them in service of their community’s needs at a given point in time. It also gives you the tools to communicate your impact to funders and the community itself. (8:07)
- Evaluation is most powerful when done continuously, not as an ad-hoc tool. (9:32)
- Traditionally, evaluation is done as a big research effort, but it’s more powerful to build in evaluation to their processes and programs to get continual feedback.
- Surveys are what most people think of when it comes to evaluation, but surveys are limited because they only collect the data you ask for, like a test. Evaluation should engage with the participants in a more authentic way that allows them to lead the conversation and give their input rather than just feedback. (11:03)
- Community-based participatory research methods are based in the idea that people have more to offer than just a quantitative data point. (13:37)
- “Evaluation isn’t just a piece of information, but it’s a process, and it is a relationship, and it is something that harnesses both the expertise and knowledge and talents of the people working in the organization as much as the people that are receiving services from the organization or interacting with the organization.”
- Evaluation can be integrated into processes without adding a lot of additional burden. It can actually also create efficiencies in your existing processes. (16:43)
- Both types of efforts—dedicated evaluation programs and incorporated evaluation in your regular programs—can be valuable, depending on your goals and resources.
- Data and input from evaluations helps organizations make the case for the unique value they offer their communities, because they have the data and the stories to back up those statements. (20:24)
- It also helps you see what aspects of your work are having the greatest impact, so that you can better channel your resources to what’s working.
- Alli recommends starting with a really simple question, like what do you wish you new, which, knowing the answer would have an impact on your work. (23:50)
- Don’t think of it at first in terms of evaluation. Start by looking at the ways that you’re already answering the question.
- Then you can start to boil it down into something strategic, whether that’s a conversation or a survey.
- Within the known-unknown matrix, surveys can help you with your known-unknowns and unknown knowns, whereas qualitative evals can help you discover things you didn’t realize you didn’t know (unknown unknowns) and some of the things you didn’t realize you knew (unknown knowns). (25:43)
- Once you incorporate evaluations into your programs, you should have a seamless process in which you’re asking questions, collecting answers in different ways, and evolving your programs in response to better and more efficiently serve your community. (27:38)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Allison ShurillaFounder, AS Community Consulting
Allison Shurilla is the Founder and Lead Consultant of AS Community Consulting where she helps community organizations build a culture of evaluation and integrate evaluation into their organizations so that they can learn about their work to do it better and have their greatest impact. AS Community Consulting supports community organizations in building evaluation culture through consulting, coaching, and leading trainings and workshops.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 46
Raise Your Nonprofit’s Profile with an Effective Media Strategy, with Sean Kosofsky
In this Episode:
Getting media attention for your nonprofit’s work is a powerful way to reach new people, build your authority, and shape the narrative around your mission. It’s not enough to put out a press release and hope it gets picked up by some new source. Today, nonprofits of all sizes need a media strategy built on relationships and the ability to provide value to both the reporter and their audience.
For better and worse, news media itself has been undergoing rapid change over the last 20 years. With newsrooms shrinking, news cycles accelerating, and news sources multiplying, the competition for attention presents both a challenge and an opportunity for media-savvy nonprofits to step in and make their voices heard.
Sean Kosofsky, founder and CEO of Mind The Gap Consulting has been working with nonprofits to develop their media strategy. He joins us this week to break down how any org can develop relationships with news media and to be part of the public conversation versus simply reacting to it.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:04.610] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast, where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da Ding!
[00:00:21.910] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. As always, I am your host Boris Kievsky, and I am here today with a friend of mine whom I’ve known for a few years now. I don’t know how many we go back. Maybe he can remember, but his name is Sean Kosofsky. Let me pronounce that right. And I love his moniker of the nonprofit fixer it says a lot right there. But he is a coach, consultant, trainer and strategic advisor to nonprofits. For the past 28 years, he has helped causes, campaigns and candidates, raise millions of dollars and transform nonprofit organizations and leaders.
[00:00:57.690] – Boris
Sean has served in a wide variety of roles in nonprofits from policy, communications, development, organizer, direct service, boards, and five stints as an executive director. He has worked on a wide range of issues including LGBTQ equality, reproductive justice, voting access, bullying prevention, climate change, and more. All really great, important issues. Sean’s work has been covered in media outlets—really relevant to today—internationally, and he has received numerous awards for his work. He’s an author and the owner of Mind The Gap Consulting. Sean is currently the Executive Director of Climate Advocacy Lab. He is a proud Detroit native, but lives in New York with his husband and their dog, Harry.
[00:01:39.790] – Boris
Before I bring Sean on, let me just tell you that his superpower is pitching. He says that he’s very good at breaking things down and explaining them simply in a way that is easy for people to understand and I’m guessing very effective for hooking media attention, because that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. We’re going to be talking about your PR and media strategy and training. With that, let’s bring Sean on to tell us more. Hey, Sean.
[00:02:03.190] – Sean Kosofsky
Hey. How are you?
[00:02:04.410] – Boris
I’m doing great today. I’m really happy to have you on the show. We, as I said, have known each other for a few years now. We’ve done a few things together. And finally, I get to have you on the Nonprofit Hero Factory.
[00:02:16.510] – Sean Kosofsky
Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here to talk about all things nonprofits.
[00:02:21.550] – Boris
Awesome. And I know you can talk about all things nonprofits, but we’re going to zone in and hone in, I should say, on one particular strength of yours, which you have several, and that is the media training thing. But before we dive into that, I read your bio and your superpower here. Clearly an impressive dude. 28 years. Hats off to you off of my bald head here. But real quick, why don’t you give the folks at home a little introduction? What’s your story? Why do you do what you do today?
[00:02:48.130] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think that for me, nonprofit work has been a lifelong journey, as you said 28 years. I got my start at age 16, really stayed in the sector, had no idea in college what I wanted to do when I grew up. But when I fell into a really great job at a civil rights organization in that state at age 20, I was hooked and realized I could make a career out of doing this. And I have just been in the nonprofit space ever since. But I really think the experience as a gay man of being in the closet when I was a teenager, the painful experience of being in the closet and what that felt like has really driven so much of my advocacy and so much of my activism during my life because I really want to make sure that I can end suffering wherever I see suffering happening. And if I can get paid doing that, that’s amazing. So my journey has always taken me to organizations where I can specifically tackle people suffering or struggling or the world in some ways with climate organizations that I’m with now, the world sort of struggling.
[00:03:46.870] – Boris
That’s awesome. It’s interesting because a lot of nonprofit founders, I feel, get into the work because they personally have their own mission. Obviously, they have to be mission driven in some way or other. And a lot of it stems from what in the for-profit space might be called scratching your own itch, right? You have a problem and you want to solve it. I think most of us can resonate with that. And I really appreciate that you shared that bit with us today. So let’s then dive into what’s going on in the nonprofit sector, particularly when it comes to PR and media? What’s happening in terms of COVID? How is the world happening? How is the world working or not working these days for organizations?
[00:04:33.460] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think for a lot of people, they’ve realized that the news environment and the media environment has really, really changed. And especially for nonprofit organizations, it’s changing a lot because it’s getting harder and harder to break through. So some of the things we’ve noticed that are happening out there in the past 10 or 15 years is that newsrooms are shrinking. Not only… I mean, most of the newsrooms, the daily and local print and radio and broadcast publications across the country are getting smaller. It has to do with the fact that more and more news is available more and more freely for folks. And whether Huffington Post or all these different trends really started this idea or Facebook or whatever it is that people can get lots of their information now for free, that we are seeing a lot of individuals out there sharing news and sharing news around the country more freely. But it is causing news sources to kind of shrink. And that means that people’s sources of information are actually shrinking, too.
[00:05:34.430] – Sean Kosofsky
So many people around the country are getting more and more of their trusted news locally and that really can be a good thing for nonprofits since most nonprofits are small. But it also does mean that there’s more polarization. So this is one of the other problems that exist out there is that increasingly people are being pushed to one side or the other based on where their new source is from. You can look at this through a lot of demographic data, more than partisanship, more than almost anything else. Where you get your information from has a big indication of where you fall politically. And that has a lot to do with the fact that some news is getting shared and repeated across the country that is not being fact checked because newsrooms are shrinking and fact checkers are shrinking, right? So the problem in the news media for nonprofits, especially advocacy organizations or anyone trying to dispel myths or rumors or bad information, whether you’re working on mental health or you’re working on advocacy or civil rights, it’s really a problem that we are seeing across the media environment.
[00:06:33.970] – Boris
So that’s absolutely all spot on. And there’s a lot to unpack in there in terms of what’s happening in the world. Yeah, absolutely. Newsrooms are shrinking because anyone now has access to become their own media channel. Anyone can now become a news source in one way or another now, whether or not they are biased. I mean, it’s hard for any human being to not be biased in some way or another, but there are trained professionals who try to limit their bias when it comes to their reporting. And then there’s the rest of us who just want to present our point of view, our perspective. And now that anyone could be their own media network, right? Look, right now we’re on our own show. Even 15, 20 years ago, this was near impossible for us to do. Pre dotcom boom. It was completely impossible. So that’s definitely having a positive and negative effect. There’s more news to find and more individual personal stories that you could access. And at the same time, there’s less of what you’re referring to as fact checking and more of that echo chamber effect that when you get into it, the world looks one way as opposed to what everyone might be seeing on the other side.
[00:07:50.860] – Sean Kosofsky
[00:07:52.030] – Boris
So then how do we manage that? How do we navigate that as organizations? I guess we want to get our point of view out there. Hopefully, it’s a fairly accurate and neutral point of view. But of course, organizations have opinions, too, right? If you didn’t think… have an opinion that there’s something wrong with the world, you wouldn’t be starting an organization. So how do you differentiate and then let’s talk about how you get your point of view out there.
[00:08:21.140] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think one of the most important things is to not sit idly by and let the media or news environment happen to you. It has to be proactive engagement with newsrooms. It has to be actively putting out there to your email list, your website, social media and to your media list, your point of view, your perspective and the facts. I think that for a lot of organizations, this really does mean holding truth to power and making sure that when you see articles that come out, that you contact that reporter and say, “Hey, here’s this thing you just ran, or here’s this thing that’s actually problematic or wrong.” So we need to be correcting a lot of the things we see in the media. And that’s one of the ways you can get press attention. It’s simply watchdogging and policing it and making sure that it’s actually accurate.
[00:09:06.430] – Sean Kosofsky
And then you can do your own sort of work where it is packaging the work you do, the accomplishments you’ve had and pitching newsrooms or building relationships with reporters or publishers or in some cases influencers to get a larger audience for your organization.
[00:09:21.930] – Sean Kosofsky
But I do think one of the biggest things out there is getting the discipline down for organizations to understand what is my key message? What is the thing that I want to say and that I’m talking to the reader and to the viewer, not to the reporter, right? You’re trying to reach the actual public, not some conduit, not some journalists. They are helpful. They are important. But they are a means to getting the truth out to the public. That’s what journalism does, and that’s what the news media does. And successful organizations will know how to harness the media to get out its point of view and its perspective.
[00:09:54.250] – Boris
Okay, awesome. Let’s break all of that down. So first of all, you mentioned holding truth to power and watchdogging. Does that mean whenever you see something that you disagree with out in the media, it’s about putting out a statement? Is it trying to get in touch with the publication source, or is it just putting out your own thing somewhere else? How do you define watchdogging? What does that kind of look like for an organization?
[00:10:20.950] – Sean Kosofsky
I think if you… Let’s say you’re an organization in Metro Detroit, my hometown. And the Detroit News or the Detroit Free Press is deciding to cover something in the news, like the recent shooting in Oxford Township, Michigan. There was this shooting there, right? If you’re an organization working on public safety or gun issues or gun safety, or if you’re a gun advocate, whatever the issue is. If there is an article or a series of articles covering something that is untrue or is based on a premise that you believe is untrue, you can contact that reporter and contact the different media outlets and use the coverage of what you’re seeing as part of what story it is you want to cover, right?
[00:10:59.500] – Sean Kosofsky
Simply pointing out the bias or pointing out the lack of information included in news articles can be newsworthy. So when I say watchdog, I don’t mean being a pain in the butt, right? I just mean that folks can absolutely reach out to journalists or to the editorial page or to broadcasters or to independent journalists and bloggers and say, “Hey, here’s something I’m noticing happening and this needs to be corrected.” This is part of the whole issue environment that we’re traveling in right now that people keep referring to with this word or this term or with the wrong angle. And those are things you can do as a watchdog.
[00:11:33.750] – Sean Kosofsky
Or you can also put out your own statement, right? Responding to the events of the day with your own written statement through email, through press statements, through social media. All of that can have an echo effect for your followers to be saying the same thing that you are and elevating that perspective.
[00:11:50.050] – Boris
I love that because it’s empowering your supporters to really get your message out there more and feel like they are helping the cause at the same time. Like it’s an easy action that they could take to share your message in response to something to get more people looking at it from your point of view.
[00:12:07.010] – Sean Kosofsky
[00:12:08.110] – Boris
So then it seems like you’re talking about major news outlets, right? In this case, like the Detroit Free Press. What about these smaller or more independent outlets that you’re talking about, these smaller local news outlets or even some of these folks you mentioned influencers earlier. You’ve got… Right now, as we’re talking, there’s an ongoing I don’t know if it’s a scandal or debate about Joe Rogan and his influence on Spotify. I don’t think a lot of nonprofits are going to be able to reach out to Joe Rogan and say, “No, I want airtime on your show.” Right? So what is it that we can do when it’s not a major news outlet, but yet we want to respond to something or change the conversation around something?
[00:12:59.890] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, a lot of people are getting their news more locally. So obviously a ton of people are tuning into Rogan and they’re getting information from huge influencers, Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow. They’re getting their information from huge sources, right? But I think the most important thing for most nonprofits is to focus locally, right? So if you notice… again, newsrooms are shrinking, so there’s fewer and fewer journalists. So these newspapers are subscribing to content around the country.
[00:13:26.790] – Sean Kosofsky
So if your company owns the Washington Post and like 30 other newspapers around the country, you’re going to recycle the same articles around the country to save money. So if you’re a local paper in the thumb of Michigan—folks from Michigan know there’s like a thumb in the shape there—there’s local papers there that might be just syndicating or copying or subscribing to the same misinformation that’s happening around the country.
[00:13:47.780] – Sean Kosofsky
A year ago, for example, a year ago maybe this week was the big freeze in Texas where they had this giant storm that froze the entire state or for vast swaths of the state. And there was a huge disinformation campaign about what was to blame, right? Was it the windmills which people were circulating images of windmills that were not in Texas and saying that this is the reason why this happened. So as someone who works on climate and clean energy, I know that that is a perfect moment to reach out to your local paper and say, “Look, we all know locally where our energy is actually coming from, especially in Texas.” It is gas and oil, right? So we know that it’s not the windmills causing this problem. So there are opportunities locally to have an impact. And then when people are doing fact checking or their Google searching, as they are right now around the one year anniversary of that thing that happened in Texas, they can see the truth, right?
[00:14:35.480] – Sean Kosofsky
So you might not be able to break through with the large folks who might have a commercial interest in actually spreading disinformation or misinformation. But locally you can have an impact. National nonprofits typically are a lot more sophisticated and have a larger press list and can actually go after a Joe Rogan or someone else and say, “You need to stop this.” And there’s a lot of advocacy right now around what’s happening with Spotify, misinformation about COVID-19 and artists pulling back their content from Spotify. So that’s an activism thing.
[00:15:03.800] – Sean Kosofsky
We’re seeing this opportunity of how do we confront misinformation and disinformation? And one of the creative tactics emerging is getting artists to take a stand in this area, not just on Spotify, pulling back their content until they correct things on the Joe Rogan show about these vaccines, but also in many, many other ways where we’re seeing people use artists to tackle these large platforms because the little guy might not be able to do that.
[00:15:29.510] – Boris
Right. So it’s leveraging someone else’s power who might believe in you and is hopefully already part of your community in one way or another to get them to draw attention to something because they have that bigger platform to speak from.
[00:15:43.670] – Sean Kosofsky
Right. Absolutely. Depending on your issue, depending on your locality, depending on the demographics you serve, you’re going to have different tactics available to you.
[00:15:51.860] – Boris
Very cool. And I like the statement you made about larger nonprofits will have a more national reach and have larger distribution lists, whereas local nonprofits, smaller nonprofits, whatever it might be, can still have an impact on a smaller or more local scale, but still a dramatic impact. I also think that it’s sometimes an opportunity for a smaller nonprofit to break out and get its voice heard on a much larger scale, sort of go viral, if you will, if they do take a great stance in opposition to something that’s going on and make their voice heard.
[00:16:28.270] – Sean Kosofsky
[00:16:29.830] – Boris
So then how do we develop these relationships with newsrooms? You mentioned that earlier. And when I think of developing a relationship, it’s communication, it’s getting on phone calls or going out to dinner with somebody, before COVID you’d take a client out to dinner or something like that. I don’t imagine that that’s how it happens necessarily with newsrooms. But what do you do? How do you get that going?
[00:16:56.770] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think that the first and most important thing, if you’re a local organization, which most nonprofits are or even regional or statewide, the most important thing you need to do is create a media list. A media list can be really simple. It can be a one-page piece of paper or a spreadsheet or someplace or in your donor database, wherever you’re keeping track of contact information, to create a list of all of the outlets that you want to have a relationship with. These can be daily papers. These can be weekly alternative news magazines that tell you about concerts coming to town, all that stuff. If you’re in a rural area, it might be the local register that talks about like purse snatching or the price of agricultural products. I don’t mean to be dismissive of that, but like those smaller town rags, people gobble that information up, right? And the information is hyper, hyper local typically, right?
[00:17:47.490] – Sean Kosofsky
So if you’re working in a rural environment or a local environment, make a list of all of the outlets that you want to be in, including digital. So don’t just think of broadcast in print. Think about, does someone have a great blog? Does someone have an important Substack or Medium channel that they can, or even a Facebook following or Instagram following that you want to make sure that that person is on your list of people to build a relationship with. And then over time, if you have anyone focused on communications in your organization, have that person or the executive director be the main point of contact with that person. You want to be familiar with these folks. You want to be helpful to these folks.
[00:18:28.230] – Sean Kosofsky
Most journalists and writers, they have deadlines, they have facts, they have things they need to do. And if you can be a resource to them and make their job easier, they’re going to call you every single time. One of the most important things with media is to make it easy for the media to cover your issue. I send out a press release that has three quotes in it already from experts. I’ve made their job so much easier as a reporter, right? So they’re going to call me every single time an issue comes up on my topic because I make it easy for them.
[00:18:56.480] – Sean Kosofsky
So build a list of your outlets. Who’s the person there? Get their Twitter handle, all that different stuff, and then begin building that relationship regularly with them and make it easy. Then they start calling you. You don’t even have to do the pitching.
[00:19:10.930] – Boris
How does that work, though? How do you start building that relationship? Is there just a cold outreach that you do, a campaign where you just start either tweeting at them or you send them an email somehow. How do you begin that relationship?
[00:19:25.760] – Sean Kosofsky
Yes, it’s totally cold. If you have a warm connection, great. But unlike fundraising, where it’s a little trickier, right? You want to make sure you come in as a fundraiser in a way that warms them up or doesn’t look too salesy or whatever. But for a reporter, you want to help them do their job better. They want resources. They want people who are sources. They want people giving them information. So it’s actually a lot easier with journalists.
[00:19:47.840] – Sean Kosofsky
I would just reach right out to them with a phone call. People don’t make phone calls anymore. They text or they email. But I really strongly recommend when it comes to a reporter because they deal in facts and they deal with clarity. And sometimes getting a conversation on the phone is so much better than something over email or text. I would definitely reach out, even if it’s cold, and say, “Hi, this is my name. This is the organization I work with. We are experts in this. And whenever you cover this issue, we’d love to be considered as an expert source.”
[00:20:15.350] – Sean Kosofsky
And we do this all the time. My clients, we do this. We reach out to daily and regional outlets and say, “Please make sure we are on your short list of sources when you’re covering gun violence or when you’re covering climate.” So that you start getting calls. But yeah, it does start as a cold outreach. And it could be again, text, social media. But I always recommend a phone call if you can find their phone number.
[00:20:37.090] – Boris
So I’m really glad you said that you should just do a cold outreach and just introduce yourself and try to get on their list. I was wondering, should you wait until there’s an opportunity, until they’re actually talking about something that you can give input to and respond to?
[00:20:55.370] – Sean Kosofsky
No, I would say be a resource before your subject pops, right? When a reporter has… Reporters have deadlines, sometimes multiple per day. They have several stories that they need to get this topic or this 500 words or whatever it is to their editor by 01:00 p.m., right? They have very little time. It is like a very, very deadline-driven career. And so you want to be top of mind that they have things like on their desk or in their phone. They immediately can know who they can pull up, right? They do keyword searches and figure out who do I go call. And so you don’t want to wait until something breaks or something explodes or some topic erupts for you to get in front of them. Obviously, that’s a good time to start if you’re late. But you don’t want to wait for that moment, right? You definitely want to be an expert in their mind before they need a resource.
[00:21:44.290] – Boris
Really cool. And I just wanted to add, because you were saying earlier about local and regional publications for the smaller nonprofits. I think there’s another opportunity that today, because anyone can start their own media channel, there are certainly specialized media channels as well. So it might not be a publication or a news outlet of some sort that covers many different topics, but it might be a specialized blog or like you said, Substack or Medium that’s talking about something very specific that you really are an expert in.
[00:22:16.830] – Boris
And one of the things that I love about media outreach in general and the types of strategies that you’re outlining is, it really establishes your organization and individuals within it as thought leaders in the space. And every brand wants to be a thought leader. So this is an opportunity to put your nonprofit brand out there as one as well, right?
[00:22:39.790] – Sean Kosofsky
Absolutely. I think that there are many, many places now where people are basically publishing. So in addition to blogs, in addition to social media, there are now Substacks and Medium. Medium was launched five or six years ago to be a new publishing platform for creators or anyone to help them to develop their own audience. Substack is the same way. I can create a newsletter and get paid for that newsletter for my own individual content. Individuals are now publishers, and increasingly people who are experts or just really opinionated are publishing their own stuff. And if it strikes a chord or it’s accurate or they uncover something really interesting, it just takes off or it goes viral.
[00:23:19.550] – Sean Kosofsky
I can’t tell you the power that is in that, simply being local makes you an expert. Someone nationally could just need a local take on something going on. For example, simply being a local person in a battleground state heading into a presidential election could make your voice really matter about what you’re seeing on the ads on TV, what you’re seeing about whether politicians are talking about your issue or not.
[00:23:41.550] – Sean Kosofsky
So lots of folks can use social media. You can begin just tweeting what you’re seeing happening live with police violence or something, anything at all, right? And people are going to start gravitating toward your platform, whether it’s your Twitter feed or whether it’s your Substack or whether it’s your Facebook group. You can start publishing anywhere where you can develop an audience.
[00:24:00.170] – Sean Kosofsky
So nonprofits have access to all of these platforms for free. Substack is free. All these things are free. Social media is largely free. Tik-Tok, all of these things. So don’t hesitate to use your platform and your topic as a reason for creating expertise. If you want to be a thought leader, begin putting out not just newsletters to your own members, but commentary and comment out to the public through a different channel. It’s an additional way to get noticed by the press.
[00:24:28.510] – Boris
One more channel I’d add to that is, well, it’s a combined channel of shows like this one where people are doing either video or podcasts, exclusively audio and they build up an audience, they build up a following. And like me, for example, they’re always looking for great guests. They’re always looking for people who can speak to something that may be topical or at least relevant to their audience. So it’s another opportunity to put yourself out there and to develop your thought leadership and branding out in the world.
[00:24:57.220] – Boris
I do want to ask if, let’s say your organization, a nonprofit, has the resources to have multiple people in these roles where they have a marketing—a dedicated marketing person, dedicated press person, or maybe they’re the same person, but whom should they be pitching? Should it just be anyone in the organization, or should they be trying to develop a relationship with, for example, the executive director or the head of a particular program that the organization is sponsoring?
[00:25:27.910] – Sean Kosofsky
So to make sure I understand your question correctly, who would be doing the pitching in this situation?
[00:25:33.320] – Boris
It’s not necessarily who would be doing the pitching, but you talked earlier about establishing relationships and saying, “Hey, we are in authority on this.” When it comes to a reporter calling for some sort of input or quoting someone, I would imagine usually it would go to someone who is on a senior level at the organization. Do you try to say, feel free to reach out to so and so at any time, or how do you structure that relationship?
[00:26:03.130] – Sean Kosofsky
So for the nonprofit itself, you usually have dedicated people who are the actual spokespeople for the organization. Usually it’s the executive director or senior level staff that have been given clearance to talk to reporters. So for the reporters out there to know who to talk to usually start with the executive director. They’re usually the biggest conduit, right?
[00:26:20.690] – Sean Kosofsky
And then internally in a nonprofit, you could dedicate someone on an issue to being a spokesperson based on their seniority or based on their closeness to the issue, right? So you could say, I have a frontline organizer who is involved in this local community where this horrible thing happened. And simply by being from that community makes them an expert. I deputized them sort of to become our reporter, to become our media spokesperson. So I’m not sure if that really answers your question, but I definitely think within organizations you should have a strategy for who can speak. And people should definitely get trained. You don’t want to put folks out there in front of a reporter without getting some kind of media training. It can go bad. And then for reporters and journalists out there, definitely they have a beat.
[00:27:01.420] – Sean Kosofsky
Normally, with newsroom shrinking, it’s harder to have just one beat. Sometimes one reporter is covering four beats now, so they need to know who inside an organization is their first point of contact because they are in a hurry. Reporters definitely want someone who can respond on the spot. A lot of folks are like, “Oh, let me think about this and get back with you.” Well, reporters aren’t going to call you back again if you constantly have to make them wait. If you’re able to get on the phone and immediately give comment because you are practiced, they’re going to call you way more frequently in the future. So that’s the person you want in your nonprofit basically taking these calls.
[00:27:33.170] – Boris
That’s exactly what I was trying to find out from you is, do you have within your organization folks who are deputized, as you just said, or really authorized to speak on behalf of the organization, to speak to media and hopefully are trained in doing so? That’s exactly on point. Thank you.
[00:27:51.250] – Boris
So then we’ve developed this relationship. We know who in our organization can speak to certain topics when they are called upon to do so. But there is this other angle of pitching, pitching your stories. I know that reporters are constantly and publications are constantly looking for content. And if you could give them something worth publishing that works for them, they’ll be happy to take it a lot of times. But what goes into a pitch and this is part of your superpower, so I’m going to really put you on the spot here. How do you structure a pitch? What goes into a pitch to a potential publication?
[00:28:33.280] – Sean Kosofsky
So different than fundraising, when you’re pitching a newsroom, you have to be thinking there’s two sides of this. There’s what do I know newsrooms want to hear? And then there’s what do I want to say as a source, right? So the first thing as a source, as an organization, I have to be thinking about what is actually newsworthy about this moment? Just because it’s not making headlines doesn’t mean it isn’t newsworthy. I’ve uncovered a new trend, a new piece of information, some new facts, some new report that came out that a reporter didn’t know about. What makes it new? What makes it newsworthy, right? So when I go to pitch a newsroom, I can’t just be like, “Hey, climate change is happening.” Yeah, we know. What’s new about this, right? So the first question is going to be, what do you have that makes this deadline-driven medium and this deadline-driven culture newsworthy?
[00:29:14.140] – Sean Kosofsky
So the first thing is, why is it new and why is it newsworthy? Did someone locally do something? So make it local. The more you can make anything local, the more interesting it is. You also have to be able to make something super like national. Not only is this thing happening here in Poughkeepsie, but it’s also a national problem, and here’s why. So make sure it’s new and newsworthy, but you can localize it and nationalize it, that goes into any kind of pitch.
[00:29:37.890] – Sean Kosofsky
What I need to be thinking about as I pitch is what’s on the other side of that pitch call, which is the reporter’s constraint, which is why should I care? Every news desk, every editor of every outlet out there is getting 500 people pitching them for news stories every single day. And every day they are throwing all of them in the trash saying, “Why do I care? Why do I care?” So if you can break through to them and say why this matters to your readers, to your constituency, to your stakeholders, that’s how you’re going to break through.
[00:30:05.750] – Sean Kosofsky
So for the reporter side, they have an editor that they need to get this through, right? And that you need to convince them why this matters now. So the case, the super succinct way that you can explain why this matters, human harm, suffering, violence, corruption, what is happening right there that you can prove that will break through because that’s the number one filter they’re using is, why do I care? In order to sift through the 500 different pitches they’re getting.
[00:30:31.810] – Boris
It sounds like what I teach in storytelling a lot. And what I learned in fourth grade, which is you want to really present the who, what, when, where, and most importantly, why, why it’s relevant, why it’s significant, why it deserves column inches in print or screen inches on digital.
[00:30:53.050] – Sean Kosofsky
[00:30:54.310] – Boris
Cool. All right, Sean, I want to be very conscious of your time, and we’re hitting the 30-minutes mark now. I know that when I asked you for resources, you had a whole bunch of them that you wanted to share with us. Give me the highlights, which… I’ll link to all of them in the show notes. They’ll all be there for folks to find. But what should people be looking at as they’re trying to develop their own idea of media strategy?
[00:31:16.850] – Sean Kosofsky
So if you have a little bit of a budget, I definitely would say folks could look into Cision. It’s a little tricky spelling. I think it’s C-I-S-I-O-N. Or some people might know one of their products as PR Newswire. If you don’t have an in-house communications capacity, you could pay for a subscription to disseminate your news releases everywhere. I will say that I don’t always think that just blasting news releases all over the country is the best use of your dollar. But it is a way for some organizations to get into newsrooms for sure. So Cision and PR Newswire is one way you can both pay to track news and also to distribute news.
[00:31:52.580] – Sean Kosofsky
Another way is Meltwater. Meltwater is just one of the many ones out there that does clipping service. So if you’re getting a lot of coverage and you want to track trends or your opposition is getting lots of coverage and you want to track trends, Meltwater could be an interesting tool. I don’t know the pricing right now, but I know that you can subscribe to Meltwater.
[00:32:09.860] – Sean Kosofsky
But for those on a budget, I think that Google Alerts is really powerful. You can set a Google Alert on anyone, any topic, any keyword, any event, and see what’s actually happening the minute something hits a blog or the news, you will get an email on that or get a daily digest on that. That’s a free option for you.
[00:32:26.980] – Sean Kosofsky
Another way to see whether something is popping in terms of a trend, to see whether something is newsworthy is to use Google Trends. Google Trends is free. Anyone can go to Google Trends right now and see what words are popping. Is it some popstar like Dua Lipa, or is it something about Ukraine right now? What issues are popping? How can your issue fit into that trending issue, right? See if you can figure out whether your topic matches something that’s in the national conversation right now.
[00:32:53.480] – Sean Kosofsky
If you have a Twitter account which is totally free, they have a trending section, right? See what’s actually popping on Twitter right now and see if your issue can sort of fit into there. Those are different ways for free or for cost that you can kind of track issues and then use that to capitalize on how to fit your issue into that stream, right? Another tool out there for folks… Can I mention the tools that I have or you want to check…
[00:33:16.440] – Boris
Sure. I usually ask anyway, what is your call to action? What do you want people to do? And I’m happy to have you promote any of your work that you think is relevant to this. So please go.
[00:33:27.140] – Sean Kosofsky
Excellent. Yeah. So folks, I think in the show notes you’ll be able to get these links and stuff. But I think that one of the things that’s really important is for nonprofits to learn how to create a unique value proposition. This is something created by marketers and the private sector to help understand how to sell products. But I think nonprofits could really benefit from learning how to take not just their case statement, but also take a new thing called a unique value proposition and really explain to people why my organization is the most suited to solve a particular social problem and what the call to action is.
[00:33:58.650] – Sean Kosofsky
I have a free guide on how to create a unique value proposition. I didn’t see anyone out there offering this particular tool, so I have a free resource for you to download on that. I also have a handout that you can grab for handling tough media questions. Some folks want to avoid the media because they don’t like being put on the spot and they’re afraid of getting really tough media questions. I have a free guide about handling tough media questions, rapid fire questions, trick questions, all that stuff.
[00:34:25.650] – Sean Kosofsky
And then also you can grab my full course, which is not very expensive at all. But I have a course training nonprofit leaders, how to do media engagement, how to write press releases, how to do editorials, how to actually craft your message. All of that is based in my course Media Skills Crash Course for Nonprofits, and I’ve been spending many, many years training people on how to do the media. And so you’ll get a link to that course there. So those are just some of the resources I have today.
[00:34:51.320] – Boris
I really appreciate all of them. The free ones I use all the time. Google News Alerts and Google Trends. Google Trends is interesting. You might find things that you weren’t really looking for there, but there’s definitely really great knowledge to be absorbed from it. I know I’ve worked with Cision before as well, and I know that you put out great stuff. So I’m actually going to check out some of those resources.
[00:35:14.150] – Boris
I talk about unique value proposition when I work out an organization’s storytelling plan. But as you just said, I’ve never actually seen just a tool to figure that out. So I’m really curious, actually, how you do it. And I encourage everyone to go check it out. We’re going to have all the links to all of the resources that Sean mentioned, whether they’re on his site or some others in our show notes. So I hope everybody will come and check those out. Any parting words for the folks at home, Sean?
[00:35:41.080] – Sean Kosofsky
No, just I really encourage folks to lean in, engage the public, engage the media. It’s your friend. You really can be more powerful and get a huge audience for your nonprofit and make a bigger impact faster by engaging the media. So don’t sit on the sidelines. Engage.
[00:35:56.110] – Boris
Absolutely. Thank you, Sean, for breaking all of that down. You didn’t hold back anything that I was asking. You broke it down as best as possible. And I hope that organizations—nonprofit leaders, because organizations don’t have ears, but nonprofit leaders do—who are listening to this really do follow up and take the actions to engage with media. Get your voices heard. Don’t let the story be controlled by the Joe Rogan’s. No offense. Not that he’s going to be listening, but no offense, if you’re a fan of his, don’t let them control the narrative. Take charge, take power back and hold truth to power or yes, hold truth to power like Sean said earlier.
[00:36:35.200] – Boris
Thank you, Sean, for joining us. Thank you, everybody for watching and listening today. I hope we have helped you create more heroes for your cause with these strategies. If you enjoyed it, please, please, please do leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite platform so that more folks like you can consume this content, can find it, and can create more heroes for their cause, too. Have a great day, everybody.
[00:36:57.550] – Intro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- Sean’s story began as it has for so many others, feeling hardship in his own life and not wanting others to struggle in the same way. (2:48)
- The news and media environment has changed significantly. Newsrooms are shrinking their staff as more news sources have become available. This makes it hard for nonprofits to compete for the attention of journalists at larger publications, but also more opportunities for attention at the local level. (4:45)
- It also means that there’s a lot more polarization based on where people choose to get their news today. Nonprofits themselves have an opinion about the problem they want to solve in the world that others might not share. (5:41)
- It’s critical that nonprofits try to get involved in making the news and shaping the narrative, rather than let it happen to them. Such as: (8:21)
- Speaking truth to power, correcting or rebutting the mistruths or problematic stories that news media puts out.
- Packaging the work you do and your accomplishments and developing relationships with reporters and publishers
- Nonprofits first have to understand their own key message. What’s important for your audience to know? (9:21)
- Watchdogging: “Simply pointing out the bias or pointing out the lack of information included in news articles can be newsworthy.” (11:00)
- Focusing media efforts on local issues and publications can actually have broader reach, as many of them syndicate content to affiliates around the country. (13:00)
- It is difficult for a small nonprofit to compete with large influencers, but they may be able to find influencers on a similar level who can help them get their narrative across and to whom larger media will listen. (14:35)
- Developing relationships with reporters starts with creating a media list of outlets and reporters with whom you want to have a relationship—both traditional and new media. (16:29)
- If you can be a resource to journalists who are stretched thin in a way that makes their jobs easier, they will want to keep working with you again and again. So make it easy on them. (18:28)
- Start building the relationship by reaching out to them directly, even if it’s a cold call. Sean recommends calling the reporter on the phone. (19:26)
- Introduce yourself and the value that you offer to the reporter.
- Ask to be on their shortlist of sources for covering your topic.
- You don’t want to wait until a topic erupts before you get in front of reporters. You want to have a relationship by then so that they turn to you when it arises. (21:25)
- Getting your message out in the media helps establish your organization’s expertise and authority on the subject. Sometimes being a local expert can catapult you on to a national stage. (22:18)
- Anyone (or any organization) can become their own media company today with online tools for sharing your stories. Developing your own audiences on these channels is another way to get the established media to notice you and think of you for news stories. (22:40)
- Who should be the point of contact for media at your organization? Nonprofits should have designated individuals on the team who are authorized to speak to the press on particular subjects. (24:57)
- These people should be trained in dealing and speaking with media.
- Newsrooms are constantly looking for great content. Your pitch has to present it to them in a clear value-driven way. (28:04)
- What is newsworthy about this moment?
- How does your local problem resonate on a national level?
- Why should the reporter being pitched care about this story? You have to be able to relate it back to their readers, and why they’ll care about it.
- Sean recommends free and paid tools that you can use to track what’s happening in the news around your cause, and what’s trending that you might be able to speak to? (30:54)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Sean KosofskyOwner, Mind the Gap Consulting
Sean Kosofsky is the Nonprofit Fixer! He is a coach, consultant, trainer, and strategic advisor to nonprofits. For the past 28 years, he has helped causes, campaigns and candidates raise millions of dollars and transformed nonprofit organizations and leaders. He has served in a wide variety of roles in nonprofits (policy, communications, development, organizer, direct service, boards, and five stints as an executive director. He has worked on a wide range of issues including LGBTQ equality, reproductive justice, voting access, bullying prevention, climate change, and more.
His work has been covered in media outlets internationally and has received numerous awards. He is an author and the owner of Mind the Gap consulting. Sean is currently the Executive Director of Climate Advocacy Lab. He is a proud Detroit native, but lives in NY with his husband and their dog, Harry.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 45
Email Sequences that Keep Donors Donating, with Rachel Bearbower
In this Episode:
Does it feel like your nonprofit running on a donor treadmill? You’re constantly expending your resources to attract new donors, hoping that you get them quicker than you lose the ones that you had before so that you can do more. It’s exhausting and often demoralizing… and it doesn’t have to be that way.
Improved donor engagement and retention starts with a great welcome experience. Using a combination of personalization and automation, an email welcome sequence can start a conversation and build a relationship that provides value to both sides and lasts for years.
Rachel Bearbower of Small Shop Strategies helps overwhelmed executive directors create simple, effective welcome sequences on autopilot. She joins us this week to share how they work, and the 5-email formula you can use to get started today.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:04.610] – Intro Video
Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da Ding!
[00:00:20.790] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Nonprofit Hero Factory. One of our recurring topics is storytelling for fundraising specifically and the different ways that you could tell your story to your funders, to your donors at different times. Today we’re going to focus specifically on what I hope is a pressing issue for you. So if the end of year went well for you, and I really do hope it did, you might have a lot of new donors coming on board, a lot of new supporters in various levels that have not had a lot of contact with you in the past. Maybe they don’t know your organization as well as you’d like them to, and you want to convert them into long-term donors.
[00:00:58.930] – Boris
So we’ve got an expert today that does just that. She helps organizations do that. Her name is Rachel Bearbower. She is the founder and CEO of Small Shop Strategies. Like many of you, Rachel is a fundraiser, former ED, and founder. She has also been in the trenches of an underfunded limited resource system-less organization. And the stress, overwhelm and frustration it can cause. I know we can all relate to that. That’s why Rachel is who folks turn to for systems, structure and a plan.
[00:01:29.870] – Boris
And when all of these are in place, she promises you’ll have more time to serve those who mean most to your organization and raise the funds needed to keep your mission moving forward. Sounds pretty great. Rachel describes her superpower as being really good at seeing a big problem and then being able to drill down into the weeds to create an action plan. She’s also great under pressure and loves taking risks. And she is here with us today to help us with all of our strategies around donor retention. Rachel, welcome to the show.
[00:01:59.850] – Rachel Bearbower
Hey, Boris. It’s so good to be here. Happy New Year.
[00:02:04.480] – Boris
Thank you. Happy New Year. And it is a brand new year. And we’ve got hopefully all these new donors that have signed up wanting to hear from us, wanting to help us with our cause. And I’m really excited that now, I think is a great time, perfect time maybe, to have you on to talk about how to convert them into more sustaining donors. But before we do that, I want to get to know you. And I want the folks at home to get to know you a little bit more. So besides your impressive bio, very re-readable bio, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get to be who you are today? What’s your story?
[00:02:39.210] – Rachel Bearbower
Oh, my gosh. Well, I feel like I’ve lived a lot of lives, but I think I can kind of sum it up with: I have moved across the country four times and I’ve tried to walk across the country once. So I’m a big fan of, like big, bold moves. But I really fell into the nonprofit industry. I was actually working in finance, and I didn’t love the corporate world. It was really not my jam. And so moved across the country. And it’s like, can’t be that hard to start a nonprofit. Famous last words.
[00:03:33.350] – Rachel Bearbower
I decided to jump into working with an animal welfare organization and then ended up founding my own organization and spent the greater part of a decade really just learning everything I could about this incredible sector. And when I did eventually decide to leave, there was another cross country move. I decided to move to the Midwest, went ahead and fell in love with a farmer. And we decided to move to the Midwest and become farmers. So—
[00:04:09.071] – Boris
As you do—
[00:04:10.070] – Rachel Bearbower
As you do, yes. So I’ve done every coast now. Now I got to do the Midwest. But I realized, you know, that as an Executive Director, I felt just so isolated in my role. And I would look at—I’d go to these networking events, I’d be like, “How do I be like that person? How do I sit at the big kids table?” And I didn’t know how to get there. And I felt like I was recreating the wheel. I was like, somebody else has done this before. I don’t know what this is, but somebody else has done this before.
[00:04:52.150] – Rachel Bearbower
And so when I finally left, I was like, I don’t know what I’m creating, but I’m creating a space for executive directors to not have to recreate the wheel. I’m just going to teach everything I know and just put in place a community where you don’t have to feel so alone. Here I am, middle of Iowa, driving tractors, hanging out with EDs. It’s what we’re doing. So that’s my journey.
[00:05:28.880] – Boris
That’s a pretty great journey. I can relate to a lot of that, including moving coast to coast. I call myself tri-coastal because I lived in LA. My family is in Miami. I’m up in the New York, New Jersey area.
[00:05:40.000] – Rachel Bearbower
I love it.
[00:05:42.350] – Boris
So I can totally relate. And I can totally relate to wanting to help others with the knowledge that you’ve accumulated. I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing. You and I have talked before about what you do and how you do it, and I’m very impressed and think it’s invaluable to all kinds of organizations, executive directors and other senior people in there.
[00:06:00.550] – Boris
Also, you were talking about how you thought, “Hey, how hard can it be to start a nonprofit?” A lot of nonprofit founders, and frankly, for-profit founders think it can’t be that hard. And naivety is a superpower because, without it, I don’t think anyone would ever do anything when it comes to starting anything worthwhile anyway. So the good news is there are folks like yourself and like me in certain situations that are there to help—once you start seeing those roadblocks, help you overcome them.
[00:06:32.540] – Rachel Bearbower
I said that I am so lucky that I was so naïve and so overly ambitious, because that is really how—if I would have had any idea how hard the work was that I was doing, I would have never even started. But you just keep putting one foot in front of the other one and day at a time, and you do it.
[00:06:59.060] – Boris
Yeah. And hope that when you’re putting one foot in front of the other, you do it in the right order and don’t trip. But if you do, you get back up and you keep going.
[00:07:06.260] – Rachel Bearbower
[00:07:07.790] – Boris
So, Rachel, let’s talk then about what’s going on in the nonprofit sector. You’re working with a lot of EDs. Based on your company name, Small Shop Strategies. I’m assuming it’s mostly smaller organizations, smaller shops. What are they experiencing right now? What are some of the issues that they’re facing?
[00:07:29.350] – Rachel Bearbower
Yeah. So limited time. I did a survey. I’m always talking to my EDs. I’m surveying the people that are in my sphere. And I’m like, “What do you need? What’s going on?” Time. It always comes back to time. How do I manage my time? How do I find more time? What are time saving tips? Like always coming back to time. And so, when it comes to working with your donors and so much of what I’m seeing, especially with small shops, the focus is getting new donors. It’s all about getting new donors. Finding them, finding them, finding them. And then… what? And there’s no conversation about after that. There’s like “You should make sure to thank them.” We’ve got that. Okay, so that’s great.
[00:08:38.710] – Rachel Bearbower
But it is so much more than that. It is so much more than that. And that donor retention, there’s a statistic out there that 70% of new donors only give one time to an organization, and it’s probably higher than that. But I mean, that alone, why are you working so hard to get these donors if you’re just going to lose them? So when I heard that, I was like, okay, time out here. We got to be a little more efficient with our time here because we’ve just spent all this time trying to get our donors, and we’re trying to connect with them and do all the things we’re supposed to do. Let’s come up with some systems here. So what I’m seeing in the nonprofit sector right now is limited resources, not enough time, and not enough focus on retaining our donors.
[00:09:43.590] – Boris
That seems so self evident. There may be organizations, though, that still need to hear that, A, that you’re not alone, that you are having these kinds of issues, and B, that it is something that you can compensate for if not even completely overcome. We’ve talked before on this show, actually, you know Ephraim, he’s been on the show and he’s a big—the word advocate is not even enough. He’s a champion and a zealot of, “you’ve got to treat your donors well.” And you’ve got to really connect with them and keep the connection going so that you don’t spend all your time and money, time being the biggest limiting factor, as I think you correctly labeled. You don’t spend all of it just trying to acquire, acquire, acquire. There’s a customer acquisition cost in marketing, but then there’s also customer retention rates and retention costs. And in nonprofits’ case, that often refers to the donor. What does it take to keep them? How much does it cost you to keep them versus losing them and starting another one? I’m pretty sure the stats are clear that it costs a lot less to keep them than to acquire them, am I right there?
[00:10:59.630] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay. I have a great example of this. So let’s talk about Starbucks. Okay? So the average person… I’m going to just like… Everyone’s going to cringe. So I just need you to all take a deep breath. Okay?
[00:11:21.610] – Boris
Right. I’m with you.
[00:11:21.610] – Rachel Bearbower
Take a deep breath. The average person spends $14,000 at Starbucks on average in their lifetime. $14,000. You’re doing the math in your head. Let’s break this down. So that is over a 20-year period. That’s about like 67 something. It basically works out to two drinks a week. Okay? So when you get down to that, like that’s not that much. Two drinks a week, over 20 years, $14,000. Okay. That’s a pretty good lifetime value for Starbucks. They spend about $1,000 on you…
[00:12:16.950] – Boris
To acquire you as a customer.
[00:12:18.560] – Rachel Bearbower
To acquire you as a customer, to get you on the app, to do the, you know, you get like, well, I guess they don’t really do the cards anymore. But the free drinks and the birthday drink and the things that Starbucks does, they spend about $1,000 on you.
[00:12:36.100] – Boris
So it’s a 14X return. Not bad. I’d invest.
[00:12:39.760] – Rachel Bearbower
Not bad. So let’s think about that with our donors. If you were to have a donor for 20 years and that donor gave, say, $1,000 a year over 20 years, and it cost you maybe because math on video is hard, cost you $1,000 to acquire…
[00:13:10.530] – Boris
Acquire, maintain, yeah.
[00:13:11.790] – Rachel Bearbower
Acquire, maintain, steward them over the lifetime of their time with your organization, $19,000. It’s a pretty good lifetime value, right?
[00:13:24.980] – Boris
Pretty good lifetime value.
[00:13:31.630] – Rachel Bearbower
I think it’s important to continue to find new donors. I think there is a lot of missed opportunity in retaining our donors. And I think one of her biggest mistakes. And I am raising my hand here because I did this. Remember, founder, Executive Director, person who did not know how to fundraise, did not know anything, guessed at everything. I’m a pretty personable person. But then I would go and talk to my donors and I would turn into a robot. An absolute robot. Like, my letters would turn so formal. Dear Sir or Madam, or To Whom It May Concern. And I think that we forget that humanizing this whole thing could make our lives so much easier.
[00:14:37.370] – Boris
Yeah, we do forget that our clients , our supporters they’re people. And that we need to treat them like people at every point possible. And oftentimes we think we are. We think, no, this is a person. So I’m going to send them this update. But it’s an update rather than a conversation, rather than something that a person would say to another person in person.
[00:15:00.770] – Rachel Bearbower
I will say one time I was trying to get some letters out, and I’ve got dogs, and I had a dog. And this is when I worked at the animal welfare organization. I was trying to get these letters out, and one of my dogs stepped on the letter and it was a muddy pot. It was what it was. And I was like, you know what, I’m just going to send this. And I made a little note. I was like, “haha, Grayson got to this. He says hi, too.” The donor loved it.
[00:15:37.930] – Boris
[00:15:39.050] – Rachel Bearbower
And I was like, next time I did notes, I was like, Grayson, come on, get muddy. And it was something that was completely by accident. But that little tiny thing made a big difference. It made that connection of like, oh, yeah. No, totally been there when my dog has gotten something muddy. That’s a human connection.
[00:16:02.870] – Boris
[00:16:03.660] – Rachel Bearbower
And something that we forget.
[00:16:05.810] – Boris
Absolutely. I love the dog print. And instantly, as soon as you said, I’m like, oh, I’m sure that donor loved it. And from now on, Grayson needs to step on a stamp pad and then walk across all your letters. Just lay them all out and then have stamp pads and Grayson, come on, let’s go.
[00:16:20.560] – Rachel Bearbower
[00:16:22.310] – Boris
So at this point, you’ve got us, first of all, reconsidering our Starbucks habits. But second of all, shaking our heads along of, yeah, that does make sense. Donor retention, of course, if we didn’t already know, which I’m sure most organizations did. But again, they’re strapped for time, and they don’t necessarily know how to apply that. Donors drop out for lots of different reasons, but none of them should be you. None of them should be because you didn’t do what you could and should to keep them engaged and happy with the work that you’re doing. So let’s talk about that. And let’s break down how you help organizations, what we can all do to improve our donor retention rates right now today, as we’re listening to this show.
[00:17:05.670] – Rachel Bearbower
I love it. Okay, so automation is one of those things I get very excited about. Now, I realize that this is not something that everyone gets excited about, but I do. So I want to talk to you about a welcome series because it is one of the most efficient and most effective ways to bring someone, whether that someone is a caregiver who is filling out a form looking for information from your organization, or is somebody who just gave a first-time gift. However they are coming into the sphere of your organization, there needs to be a conversation.
[00:17:49.630] – Rachel Bearbower
And actually, whether you’re a small organization or a large organization, having that one on one personal relationship with every single person is just not feasible. And so coming up with strategies to be able to do that in a way that feels one-on-one, but it’s actually an automated way. Okay? So a welcome series is the perfect way to do that. And the idea of a welcome series kind of makes people nervous because they’re like, oh, there’s tech, there’s like lots to do. But what it is, we’re just going to boil it down, is you’re providing value to whoever it is who just came in.
[00:18:41.230] – Rachel Bearbower
So I’m going to use an example of a non-donor. Okay? So you have somebody who just signed up for your newsletter or a caregiver. Because I have an example for this from an organization, I’m going to tell you the story. It’s going to blow your mind. It’s awesome. But this organization, they’re an Alzheimer’s organization. They have caregivers that come into their organization. And, you know, it’s typically maybe young adults or people with aging parents who are looking for more information, looking for support. Okay? And they come in, they get the support, and then what? Okay? And mind you, you can do this with new donors, you can do this with anyone, but you want to provide value.
[00:19:38.600] – Rachel Bearbower
So what’s the first step in a relationship? Acknowledge that a connection was made. “Hey, I’m glad that you are here.” Okay? So the idea is that you provide value. What is it that my audience needs? What is it that my donor needs? What is it that this person needs? And you provide value, provide value, provide value, provide value. Said that four times.
[00:20:04.110] – Boris
[00:20:04.950] – Rachel Bearbower
And then make an ask. Okay? So it’s a five-email welcome series. Okay? I have a couple of tips. But first, I want to tell you about this organization, because this, I knew welcome series worked until I heard this story. So I just got this information yesterday because I knew that this was going to be important. So let me grab these numbers because I do not want to get any of them wrong.
[00:20:36.470] – Rachel Bearbower
So this organization, as I mentioned, it’s an Alzheimer’s organization. Okay? So they implemented a welcome series because they’re like, we have all these people coming in and they’re these caregivers, and we don’t quite know what to do, like how to have a personal relationship with them, how to have this one-on-one. And I was like, “Let’s get them into a welcome series.” Okay? So we created five emails, which I’ll go through those emails, and we automated it. So through their email providers. So whether you have MailChimp or Constant Contact or ConvertKit, all of those have that feature. Okay, the open rate on these emails, 53%. The average open rate, 53%.
[00:21:29.700] – Boris
Is that consistent from email one to email five?
[00:21:31.980] – Rachel Bearbower
Yes. That is the average of all five emails.
[00:21:34.980] – Boris
That’s pretty impressive.
[00:21:36.240] – Rachel Bearbower
53%. The average click rate, 11%. Now, to give you some perspective here, industry standards, like open rate is about 20%. Click rate is 2% to 3%. Okay? So these percentages are blowing it out of the water, like doing an incredible job. So here’s where it gets really, really cool. They started sending this welcome series in April. Okay? They started stewarding this group of people, and there was about 480 people that went through this welcome series, and about 16 of them donated to the yearend campaign, which is about a 3% ROI.
[00:22:40.530] – Rachel Bearbower
When you start thinking about stewarding a brand new group of people and then what can happen, I mean, and we talked about that lifetime value. You know, these people donated for the very first time. They’re starting to see the impact they’re feeling from your organization. And they decided to give a gift. Had they not felt like you were trying to make that connection, you weren’t going to get that gift. You might have gotten a gift, but maybe not. And the organization… they don’t do anything.
[00:23:34.550] – Boris
They just set it on autopilot.
[00:23:36.060] – Rachel Bearbower
It’s on autopilot.
[00:23:37.500] – Boris
Love it. That’s awesome. And good for them for getting that set up. I know lots of providers, email newsletter providers do have these sequences that you can create these automations. I know some organizations use their CRM also as their email platform, and I don’t think those are as good with automations in terms of sequences or drip campaigns as they’re sometimes called. So you might want to look if you are using a CRM into a supplementary system and MailChimp, I think still has their free tier. They certainly have discounts for nonprofits. But you could find free or low cost options to get people through that, even if you’re only sending your new donors through that and then keeping them in your CRM and taking them back out so that your email list and rates for subscription doesn’t go up too high what you’re paying monthly.
[00:24:30.960] – Boris
So I love that. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t like automation. I love automation and what technology can do and how technology can still be used to keep things personal. That’s awesome. When you’re talking about these email sequences and how you used to speak to people via letter or email. Today, we are much more used to an informal conversation in the first place. Think about, I would say if you are meeting someone on Zoom, a video meeting, you’re not going to start off with Dear Sir or Madam, and you’re not going to say, I’d like to tell you today about the numbers of people that we have, blah, blah, blah. You know, you’re going to start off with, hi, it’s so good to meet you. Thank you so much for joining me and for the time that you’ve spent, really means a lot to the organization. How are you today? Right? You want it to be more of a dialogue and then come into by the way, I really want to thank you for your gift. And here’s what it’s helping us do.
[00:25:27.520] – Rachel Bearbower
[00:25:28.260] – Boris
[00:25:30.750] – Rachel Bearbower
This is a great opportunity to share the stories of your organization. You are doing incredible work and impacting the lives of so many people or animals or whoever your beneficiary is. But tell the people in your organization. I think sometimes we hold those stories close, but this is a great opportunity to just be like, let me tell you something cool.
[00:26:04.810] – Boris
Yeah. You don’t have to sell me on storytelling.
[00:26:07.100] – Rachel Bearbower
Right. I do know this.
[00:26:10.270] – Boris
Yeah. No, I completely agree with you. So I do want to break down a little bit. And I want to be respectful of your time and folks at home because we are bombarded with so much media these days. I like to make these as packed with info as possible. So I’m just going to try to squeeze a little more out of you, Rachel.
[00:26:27.080] – Rachel Bearbower
Yes, of course.
[00:26:27.900] – Boris
You said five emails where it’s value, value, value, value, ask. Great. Love the sequence in those terms. How frequently are those emails sent? Because you said that one organization started in April. But are you talking about one a month? Are you talking about one a week or daily? How often do you send those out?
[00:26:48.650] – Rachel Bearbower
So it really depends on the frequency that you are sending emails. Like, if you’re an organization that’s only sending an email maybe once a month, then the frequency might be a little bit further apart. It really depends. But ideally, once a week, once every couple of days, that would be ideal.
[00:27:16.090] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay, let’s dig into these emails. I’ll quickly go through them. So the first email, first thing that you want to do when somebody enters into your sphere is align the value. So introduce you. When I say you, I mean you Executive Director, whoever is sending that email, you are a person. And while you do run an organization and we like to introduce ourselves as like, the face of the organization or whatever. But introduce yourself as a person. It’s okay to say, like, hey, I’m the person behind this organization. You’re talking to a real person. So introduce yourself and align values.
[00:28:05.050] – Rachel Bearbower
So then the second thing is, second email is to spark a conversation. So start with maybe sending some kind of article, podcast that’s interesting. I don’t know. Boris, do you have any recommendations for great podcasts? Send some podcasts that are interesting. Ask a thought-provoking question. Okay?
[00:28:32.060] – Rachel Bearbower
So then you want to move on to sharing a little bit more about what your nonprofit does. So a great, you know… do a show and tell. This might be sharing a story. Ask for the donor or whoever the audience is for their feedback. What do you think about that? Okay? Engagement, continuing that conversation. Okay?
[00:28:58.620] – Rachel Bearbower
So then the fourth one is to ask for feedback, get advice. So if you have an opportunity to do some sort of survey or get a little bit more information about who it is that you are talking with. So if it’s a donor, why did you give? And it doesn’t need to be a 20-question survey. This could be two questions like, why did you give and what’s your name? Very simple so that you can really understand why is it that people are coming into your sphere.
[00:29:35.250] – Rachel Bearbower
And then that last email, that’s where you have this opportunity to make an ask. So something you’ve probably heard on this podcast is that, the best time to make an ask, if you have steward your donors really, really well, the best time to make an ask is six to 12 weeks after the first ask. So do it. Time to make an ask. You’re like, hey, we’ve got this problem. This is what’s going on. You are clearly a supporter and you are interested in what we’re doing. Would you consider making a gift? Bam. So, five emails.
[00:30:22.030] – Boris
Love it. And thank you for bringing all those down. We’re going to have all that written out in the show notes as well as links to any additional resources which we’ll talk about in a second. But that 6-to-12-week-cycle, I think is great. The ask at the end of that is right on point. You got someone for the first time, chances are they’re dipping their toe in the water. They aren’t fully committed to your organization yet. So now you’ve stewarded them. You’ve provided them all that value, as you so eloquently and correctly said, four times at least you’ve provided that additional value to them. And then you’ve explained that there’s a bigger problem or a new problem or more that they can do in a way that is tangible to them or feasible for them to actually do. And then you ask them to please help you with that problem. I think that’s great. And I do agree that that six-to-twelve week period. I think you said eight to twelve. Sorry, I want to pick that right.
[00:31:22.940] – Rachel Bearbower
Six to twelve, eight to twelve somewhere in there. It kind of all depends.
[00:31:27.250] – Boris
I think that’s the longest you want to go with the sequence. I think regardless, and it’s totally fine if you and I don’t see this part of the strategy the exact same way. It is definitely subjective, but I don’t think it even matters how often your newsletters go out. This is something that’s separate from your newsletters and something that should feel personal and really establish that relationship. I know when I meet someone at an event, I might hit it off with them for a few minutes, but two weeks later I might not remember their name. I might not know who they are. So you really want to get that connection solid in their minds between their gift and what they’ve been able to do with their gift, how they become a hero and how your organization has helped them become that hero.
[00:32:14.600] – Rachel Bearbower
So really quick because I know that going and writing five emails. Right? Like just lifting them off is really hard. Something that you might want to try, especially as we’re in kind of first quarter after year-end giving, write one of those emails a week for the next four or five weeks, and then take each one of those emails and after you’ve written them, then turn them evergreen. So what I mean by that is make it sound like it could go out at any time and put those emails into that automated series. So then anyone after—that comes in after then receives those emails. So then you don’t feel that pressure of having to write all five of those emails right away. Great way to get it done.
[00:33:11.770] – Boris
I also did want to highlight that you said survey them, ask them some questions. You do want it to feel interactive. You don’t want them to feel like… And this should be the reality. You care about them and what their concerns are, the reasons why they gave. It’s not about you, the organization. It is about a human being. As you said, identify yourself in that first email. And it is about the person who is supporting you, why they’re supporting you, and what is it that they’re hoping to achieve. So hopefully you could deliver on their promise. I think later on it’s great to send a bigger survey asking for more information about them. I think quarterly is actually a good cadence for major donor surveys, especially to new donors, to update your own stats. But that initial couple of questions survey is a great idea to make them feel like you care.
[00:33:59.010] – Rachel Bearbower
Yeah, totally agree.
[00:34:01.000] – Boris
Alright, Rachel, I feel like I extracted some great stuff out of you, and now I want to help people take the next steps. So you’ve already told them how to get started. Write one email. This doesn’t have to be overwhelming. And then, by the way, when you’re finished with the fifth email the following week, go back and tweak maybe your first email because you’ll have some feedback. You’ll see how it’s working. So start playing with the copy, start playing with the headline, whatever it is that you want to start tweaking. Maybe if you’ve gotten some feedback, I’m going a little too far maybe now. But if you’ve gotten some feedback in those surveys, incorporate that into the email sequence to use their own language.
[00:34:36.680] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay. Can I say one more thing that’s really cool. So that example…
[00:34:40.890] – Boris
No more value, Rachel! No more value!
[00:34:42.050] – Rachel Bearbower
I know. I’m sorry. I’m not sorry. This is awesome. So that first email, the example from the Alzheimer’s organization. So in the first email that they sent when the organization, the Executive Director was introducing herself and kind of aligning those values, she asked, “How can I best support you right now?” Because remember, it was going out to caregivers. So how can I best support you and provide you with the resources that you need? The responses—she couldn’t really quantify the responses that she received, but she received enough responses that she had to get another staff person involved in answering emails. Because that many people were responding to her emails. I think that is really powerful. Really, really powerful.
[00:35:36.990] – Boris
It’s connection and it’s investment. Someone is now not just giving you money or doing something, but they’re also investing their time in communicating with you, in giving you feedback, and in feeling like they’re actually talking to somebody like they’re having a conversation. That’s amazing. And taking on that extra person will pay for itself in multiples, I’m sure.
[00:35:59.620] – Rachel Bearbower
Absolutely. For sure.
[00:36:01.810] – Boris
Rachel, I always ask if people have any tools or resources that they’d like to share. And when I asked you this, you actually sent me a whole lot that I’m going to share on the show notes. Are there any that you kind of want to highlight specifically while we’re on the air and then we’ll share the rest in the show notes?
[00:36:18.380] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay. I have so many tools and resources, so please go and look in the show notes because it’s like my favorite thing. I think that my favorite… I’m going to just kind of put this all together. I think my favorite resources are the ones that can simplify my life. And I say that generally because I know that I tried MailChimp and then I tried Constant Contact and then I found ConvertKit, and ConvertKit worked with my brain. Some people love MailChimp, some people…
[00:36:56.940] – Rachel Bearbower
So I’m not going to recommend a specific email service or a certain social media scheduler because we all work a little bit different. But if you can find some tools that you can use to automate the system or automate the work that you are doing and create systems in your organization, it’s going to save you a lot of time and allow you to move away from doing that system work and allow you to focus on building relationships and raising more money. Okay? So finding those tools.
[00:37:41.510] – Rachel Bearbower
I also love, love, love, love Brene Brown. So anything by her, I think really getting into understanding just who you are as a leader. Dare to Lead is a great book. And then Essentialism is a fantastic book to just start shedding, like all the extra crap that we are all doing just because we’re doing it. You are too busy. You are too busy. So let’s eliminate that in this new year and just start doing the things that are most important and bring us the most joy.
[00:38:23.690] – Boris
I love all of it. I love some of the tools, specific tools that you did recommend that we could list. But I agree the tool that you’ve got at your disposal and can use quickly and comfortably is the best one. Can you later upgrade? Sure. But sometimes I have a problem of I’m looking for the perfect tool and I spend too much time doing that.
[00:38:42.940] – Rachel Bearbower
Those don’t exist.
[00:38:44.220] – Boris
They don’t exist and even just the perfect tool for you isn’t necessary. The perfect tool for you is the one that you can use right now, and then later you can upgrade or do whatever it is to transition to another one. I’ve also read three out of the four books that you listed in the notes, which we’ll share as well.
[00:39:00.380] – Rachel Bearbower
Which one didn’t you read?
[00:39:01.770] – Boris
[00:39:02.950] – Rachel Bearbower
[00:39:05.150] – Boris
Okay. Yes. Assigned and downloaded on Audible already.
[00:39:08.950] – Rachel Bearbower
Excellent. Excellent. It’s a good one, actually, every nonprofit should read that one because I think finances is one of our… I think if everyone read Profit First that the nonprofit industry would completely turn around. But that is a different podcast episode, so we will save that for next time.
[00:39:28.160] – Boris
We’ll have to do another one then. So thank you so much for all of the value and stories that you’ve shared with us today. What is your call to action for our heroes at home who are slaving away, working away at their nonprofits and need some help? What’s your call to action to them today?
[00:39:47.230] – Rachel Bearbower
Oh, my gosh. Okay, so gratitude. First step, you get that first donor, you got to thank them or just any donor. So I do have a thank you template that is like mad libs for nonprofit. So go and grab that. It’s on my website. It’s smallshopstrategies.com/freethankyou. I just had somebody reply back to me and she was like, “Wow, that was like powerhouse little template.” I was like, “Well, thank you.” So there you go. Random review, sending that out into the internet.
[00:40:26.770] – Boris
Social proof is invaluable. We talk about it all the time. If other people are enjoying it, then chances are you will, too. So thank you for sharing that little social proof right there. And of course, we will have that link linked up in our show notes so anyone can head on over to The Nonprofit Hero Factory at nphf.show and find Rachel’s episode right there and get all of the stuff that we talked about and more.
[00:40:52.520] – Boris
Rachel, thank you so much. I do actually hope to have you on again talking about some of the other things that you help organizations do, because frankly, if we could just keep extracting everything out of you, I think we’re going to help a whole lot of people really quickly.
[00:41:03.570] – Rachel Bearbower
Thank you. It was wonderful. I really appreciate being on, and I look forward to connecting with you soon.
[00:41:11.720] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today. I’m sure you got some great value out of this conversation today. And Rachel’s insights and her five-email sequence for welcoming or onboarding new donors so that they become longer retained donors on your books. If you did, then please, please, please leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform. And tell a friend, because chances are you’ve got friends who are also nonprofit and can learn about marketing, about communications, storytelling, technology, all of the things fundraising, of course, that we talk about on the show every single week. Thank you, everybody. We’ll talk to you soon.
[00:41:53.810] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- Sometimes, naivete is a superpower. If nonprofit founders new all of the work that goes into starting and running a nonprofit, many would never start. (6:00)
- The biggest challenge small-shop nonprofits are facing today is limited time, and the focus tends to be on getting new donors. (7:30)
- Statistically, 70% of new donors only give one time to an organization. It seems that not enough focus is being put on donor retention. (8:38)
- It costs less to keep an existing donor than it does to acquire a new one. (9:48)
- Starbucks spends an average of $1,000 on acquiring and keeping their customers. The average 20-year return on investment from those customers is $14,000. (11:00)
- We forget that our donors are people, not abstract money-givers. We have to treat them like people at every point possible and engage them in conversation, not just one-way updates and requests for money. (13:41)
- Rachel shares a story about a muddy dog print that changed her view of donor communications. Little things that make a human connection can make a big difference. (15:48)
- Donors drop out for different reasons, but none of them should be you. (16:22)
- One of the most effective tools for donor engagement and retention is an email welcome series, which can be automated. The key is to personalize and provide value. (17:05)
- Rachel recommends a five-email welcome series. (19:38)
- The first step in a relationship is acknowledging that a connection was made.
- Then, “provide value, provide value, provide value, provide value… and then make an ask.”
- Welcome series have much higher open and click rates than average email. More importantly, they nurture people to give again. And once they’re set, they can be put on autopilot in your email/newsletter system. (21:36)
- Automation shouldn’t mean losing personal connection. Think of the emails as parts of a conversation, much like you’d have In a meeting. Connect personally and share stories. (24:31)
- The frequency of your email sequence may vary depending on your other communications, but Rachel recommends one per week or so. (26:48)
- Rachel’s 5-part donor welcome sequence: (27:17)
- 1. Introduce yourself, as the executive director. Make a personal connection.
- 2. Spark a conversation, share a story and ask a thought-provoking question.
- 3. Share more about what your nonprofit does with a little show-and-tell and ask for feedback to continue the conversation.
- 4. Ask for feedback. Send a short survey to learn more about them.
- 5. This is your opportunity to make an ask.
- You don’t have to feel overwhelmed at the thought of writing 5 emails. You can start by writing one per week, then turn them into evergreen elements of your welcome series. (32:14)
- When you’ve completed the series, go back and tweak them as you get feedback and see how they’re working.
- There’s no such thing as the perfect tool. Use what you can now, and upgrade later. (38:44)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Rachel BearbowerFounder/CEO, Small Shop Strategies
Like you, Rachel Bearbower is a fundraiser, former ED, and founder. She has also been in the trenches of an underfunded, limited resource, systemless organization. And the stress, overwhelm and frustration it can cause.
This is why Rachel is the one you turn to for systems, structure and a plan. And when all of these are in place, she promises you’ll have more time to serve those who mean most to your organization and raise the funds needed to keep moving your mission forward.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 44
Nonprofit Website Trends for 2022, with Boris Kievsky
In this Episode:
What website trends should nonprofits be conscious of in 2022? The last two years have dramatically changed the way that the world connects and does business.
Everything possible went online in 2021, and with it, the noise level has made it harder and harder to capture attention, make a connection and inspire action.
If nonprofit websites don’t keep up with visitors’ expectations, they’re likely to lose more potential heroes than they gain.
In this episode, Boris looks at the 5 biggest trends from 2021 and 5 ways nonprofit websites must respond if they are to achieve their goals.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:06.350] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da Ding!
[00:00:23.230] – Boris
Hi everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. My name is Boris Kievsky. I am your host every week. Today, I am also your guest. Well, I guess my own guest. I wanted to do a special episode, if you will, one where I’m going to be talking about the latest trends in the—really the online space and how they affect nonprofit websites.
[00:00:44.310] – Boris
As some of you may know, I am going to be teaching a course at NYU. It’s part of their Digital Certificate in Fundraising program that they now have, which is a really cool program, I recommend everybody check out. And starting February 2nd of this year, 2022, and hopefully then again some other semesters, I will be teaching how to develop high impact websites for nonprofits, really rooted in storytelling, although also of course getting into some of the technology. But what is the strategy of building a website for a nonprofit that’s going to have high conversion rates so that you don’t lose that many visitors when they come to your website. And instead, get them to take the actions you want them to take, the actions we all need them to take to create a better world for all of us.
[00:01:28.090] – Boris
So I wanted to share a presentation that we recently did in promotion of the program. I did it with co-host Liz Ngonzi, who is actually the creator of the program at NYU and a good friend of mine. We did it as a LinkedIn Live. It got some great reception and some really interesting questions. So I thought it would be wonderful to share it with all of you guys, my listeners. I am doing an on-screen presentation. So if you’re watching this on my website or on YouTube, you can see the presentation. If not, you should head on over to NPHF Nonprofit Hero Factory nphf.show… I should know my own website. nphf.show/ep as in episode 44. And you’ll get all of the show notes. You’ll even be able to download this entire presentation as well as some other resources that I’m going to recommend.
[00:02:17.340] – Boris
With that, let me go ahead and share my screen and get started on this presentation. All right, so Nonprofit Websites in 2022, What’s New, and Five Things To Do. Let’s get started. First of all, what’s new, what happened in 2021 and what to expect in 22? And I broke this down into five things as well.
[00:02:41.030] – Boris
The first is MORE NOISE. Everyone shifted everything online in 2021. You guys know that it all started with the pandemic in 2020, people were scrambling, not sure what to put where. Then in 2021 people thought, well, we’re going to go back to normal, whatever that might look like going forward. And it didn’t really work out that way. At best, things went hybrid, but everything shifted online. There was a lot more noise. 80% of business-to-business marketers say that their website is the most widely used channel for driving virtual events registrations. Well, virtual events, as you know, became the most popular thing to do in the last two years.
[00:03:22.990] – Boris
Besides that, though, social media has had a huge explosion. And I don’t just mean TikTok, but everyone went online to meet with their friends, right? Whether they were trying to do chats on Zoom or catch ups on Zoom, or they were doing it on social media to see who’s doing how, whether they were even posting their status updates about COVID and how they felt about it, or if they were actually sick with it.
[00:03:50.530] – Boris
Well, at the same time, over 160,000,000 businesses use Facebook every month to communicate with their audiences, and 93% of social media marketers use paid Facebook ads. What does that mean? That means even though you’re trying to communicate with your friends or you are trying to communicate with your nonprofits’ audience who have said that they like your work and want to hear from you, you’re competing for those eyeballs. Facebook is a complete pay-to-play platform, and as such, it’s incredibly difficult to get your message across.
[00:04:23.220] – Boris
The average Cost Per Action, CPA we call it, for Facebook ads across all industries went up to $18.68. Now, that’s not just to get them to click on something, but to actually get them to go through to your website, for example, to take some sort of action that you want them to take, but not even necessarily a donation. This is just to get them to do something. The average click through rate for Facebook ads less than 1%, 0.9%. So it’s an incredibly noisy and competitive landscape out there.
[00:04:56.340] – Boris
Podcasts. I love podcasting and hopefully you’re enjoying this podcast. Well, there are 850,000 active podcasts at the moment, with over 48 million total episodes. So thank you for those of you that are listening to this as a podcast, for devoting some of your time to listening to this show. I’m very glad that it is helpful to you guys and informative to you that you’re devoting some of your time and spending it with me, even if like me, you listen to it at 1.5x or 1.6x. Luckily, I do talk fast because I’m a New Yorker.
[00:05:26.970] – Boris
And then there are events. As I mentioned before, virtual events increased in popularity by 35% from 2020 to 2021, and they’re not slowing down anytime soon. Video has become increasingly popular. As the barrier to entry for video has lowered, so inversely has the number of hours of YouTube video uploaded every minute. It is now 500 hours. More than 500 hours of video just to YouTube is uploaded every minute. That’s not including TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, everywhere that you might be looking. Everywhere that anybody might be looking. Video is getting very saturated. So those are the noise concerns.
[00:06:11.700] – Boris
Well, there are also website concerns, of course. There are MORE WEBSITES and MORE CONTENT up on those sites. There are currently 200 million active websites. That’s not counting all of the websites that are just sitting there that have been semi-abandoned or domain names that are registered and no website is up there. This is actually websites that are currently up and active with 56.5 billion web pages indexed through Google. Now, of course, this includes social media pages that are indexed and other non-corporate or individual websites, but greater conglomerate sites if you will. But consider how much noise there is and how much competition there is for attention, even when somebody is Googling information about something that you guys are experts on and you’re hoping that they find you.
[00:07:02.730] – Boris
WordPress, which is the Content Management System or CMS that is the most popular in the world right now, controls 41% and I don’t mean controls. It really is the platform for 41% of all websites online and nearly 65% of all CMS based sites. Now, WordPress is my favorite platform to build on. I have worked with organizations that use other platforms, even ones that are self-builders like Squarespace. At the same time, WordPress is much more powerful. And because it is more powerful, it is more popular and it’s easy enough to use. It is also one of the biggest targets for attacks because people know a lot of things about WordPress and how it works. And it is a community-built open-source platform, so lots of different people are contributing to it and sometimes vulnerabilities do sneak in.
[00:07:58.770] – Boris
75% of consumers admit to making judgments on a company’s credibility based on that company’s website. This is actually not a new statistics for 2021 or 2022. This has been known science. It’s been studied in individuals, in user testing, and it is still incredibly relevant today. Think about it, your website, if someone is first trying to find out information about you, they might Google you, they might discover you on social media, but ultimately they come to your website to really learn more about you. And if they don’t find a website, it kind of diminishes your credibility. If they do find a website and it doesn’t look right, it doesn’t work well, then again they think, oh, this is not a very professional organization. This is not people who have it together so therefore I’m less likely to support them, to trust them with my time and my money.
[00:08:51.510] – Boris
I’ll add to that that there are studies that show you have less than half a second before the first impression is made. And we all know the importance of a first impression. So as your website loads, the first thing people see within half a second, they make a snap judgment. After that, you have about 8 seconds to actually connect with them in some way so that they don’t hit the back button. Some studies show it’s up to 15 seconds. It really depends on the website, maybe the person and how they did the study. But at most, let’s say you’ve got 15 seconds to make a connection on your website, or people will hit that back button and go to the next thing in the Google feed or their newsfeed or wherever it might be.
[00:09:30.690] – Boris
Next, we have MORE THREATS. This is number three. Well, as I mentioned, we all went online, including people working from home. There is now, therefore, more remote work, which means more online access, more ways to access your company’s resources online, whether that’s your website or other back-end databases or systems that you guys are using, people have to be able to access it more ways from home, which leads to more vulnerabilities.
[00:09:58.770] – Boris
The truth of the matter is that the weakest link in any technology chain is usually not always, but usually human. There is an incredible rise in phishing attacks, which is attacks that are trying to impersonate someone on your team. Maybe they’ve hacked your password. Maybe they have been logged into your email account and tried to impersonate you. I know a lot of organizations that have been attacked in this way with funds being diverted from their work to either restoring their data, if it is a cyber attack where they basically ransom your data, or there are many attacks now where they will simply impersonate someone in your organization and monitor your email thread. See how you’re communicating, see how you authorize payments, and then get in there and intercept something that looks like a regular communication, but actually diverts funds to someone else. And when a nonprofit loses the trust of their supporters because they lost their hard-earned money or their data, it’s really taxing on an organization.
[00:11:14.500] – Boris
2021 saw the highest average cost of a data breach in 17 years, with the cost rising from almost $3.8 almost $3.9 million to $4.24 million on an annual basis. That’s according to an IBM study. So this is a major threat. And if you think that it’s just big-data organizations or some large corporations that get packed and that get ransomed, it’s not the case. More and more cybercriminals really don’t care. All they care about is vulnerability. If they could make 100,000 from you versus a million from someone else, they’ll just target both. It really doesn’t matter to that. So there are definitely a lot more threats to be aware of.
[00:11:57.430] – Boris
We’ve also gone more mobile and more global, right? Mobile now accounts for 54% of web traffic worldwide. Your potential avatar, your potential heroes, are now everywhere around the world. They are global and they are accessible, which means that you need to be aware of where you’re communicating messages to, where people are seeing your messaging, how they’re responding to it. Of course, there’s some language issues, but there’s also issues of inclusivity, which is incredibly important, and I’ll mention that again. It also means that they’re bombarded with more content than ever before, because now everyone has gone online, everyone has tried to make things more mobile-friendly, more phone-friendly, and has tried to send notifications, text messages. WhatsApp messages, right? All of these emails, of course, to people’s phones. So we’re constantly now more than ever. And it’s almost redundant to say that because every year it seems to be more than ever, nobody sees any decline in the number of notifications and distractions that we’re all getting every year. So it’s just something to be aware of. And I’ll talk a little bit about how to mitigate that in a few minutes.
[00:13:13.410] – Boris
Number five, nothing specific to do with websites, although it does tie in, but there is MORE CRYPTO CRAZINESS, right? Crypto donations have skyrocketed. 45% of crypto owners donated $1,000 or more to charity in 2020, compared to one third of all investors. The numbers for 2021 aren’t fully in yet, but every indicator says that it has been an increase. For example, Crypto Giving Tuesday alone, which is done by the Giving Block, which I have a whole episode about. If you’re interested, you could check out on the website or on YouTube, wherever you consume this podcast, on your podcast players, of course, with Alex from the Giving Block, and they sponsor an event called Crypto Giving Tuesday. Obviously not Giving Tuesday itself, and they raised $2.4 million in that one day, which was a 583% increase from the year before. So clearly that is a growing field.
[00:14:13.230] – Boris
NFTs, Non-fungible Tokens are dominating headlines. If you haven’t heard about them, you’ve probably been trying to avoid them on purpose. A lot of people still don’t understand them, but essentially you could think of an NFT as a certificate of ownership or a ticket to something. So it is not an actual physical object, and it does not register a copyright or anything like that. But it identifies you as the rights holder to a particular object, and it could be a work of art, it could be a course, it could be anything that is digital or even physical. Sometimes NFTs really confer rights to something that’s physical out there. They are now a great way for artists to make money, for nonprofits to actually fundraise. And I’m happy to talk to you guys more about that, if anyone is interested. I’m getting heavier and heavier into this world of blockchain technology, because I think it’s going to really impact the social sector as well and it’s already really starting to.
[00:15:15.230] – Boris
All of that, cryptocurrency and NFTs are built on blockchains, and the blockchain is the foundation of what is being called Web 3. So, Web 1.0 was when anybody could put up a website, or most people could put up a website. Web 2.0 was when it wasn’t just a website, but it was bi-directional communication with social media apps and things like that. Now we’re moving to Web 3, which, if it works, will become a much more decentralized internet, a decentralized way of sharing information, of having access to certain things, including finance and including tickets and rights to things like NFTs confer.
[00:15:54.930] – Boris
But we’re really just at the beginning of what Web 3 can offer us based on blockchain technology, which hopefully will also add some security. But honestly, it’s probably going to open up new vulnerabilities as well. That’s just how technology works. But crypto is a new avatar, and I don’t mean Krypto like the dog that is in the Superman cartoons. Of course, I’m talking about cryptocurrency. It has spawned a new avatar. It’s millennials who are expressing elevated interest in both charitable giving, as we now know, and cryptocurrency investing. They are the largest group of cryptocurrency investors at the moment, and they feel a need to give back to social causes. So they are very much interested in organizations that will accept cryptocurrency in order to offset some of their gains in the realm of taxation by first donating to organizations that they care about. So something to very much be aware of.
[00:16:56.190] – Boris
So if those are the five things that you guys need to know about the state of things in 2022, let’s talk about five things that you should do in 2022 to respond to those and other elements of storytelling and technology currently evolving online.
[00:17:13.440] – Boris
The first is to STEP UP YOUR STORYTELLING. And by that, I mean with all the noise, you have to tell better stories and be sure that they’re targeted to the right avatars. Again, avatar is the term that I use for what other marketers will call target persona. But it’s really the hero that you want to activate for your cause. And your storytelling includes, of course, your organizational storytelling and program storytelling.
[00:17:39.530] – Boris
A lot of organizations have a tough time putting together their big-picture story, especially if they do many different things. And I can understand that it feels difficult, but it is absolutely critical again, on your homepage, for example, there has to be some representation of your overall organization in some sort of a storytelling form on your program pages. And whenever you’re communicating information about your programs, again, there needs to be a great story that will hook people in your target heroes. It’ll hook them in and drive them through your story, activate the hero inside of them, get them on that hero’s journey. You can also, in order to help with that, ramp up their individual stories. And that would be things like testimonials, videos, quotes, all of those things from your stakeholders and constituents, from your donors, from your board members.
[00:18:30.450] – Boris
All of these stories that will help people connect to you on a personal level, right? People don’t really connect to abstract organizations. Sure, you might have an affinity towards IBM or Nike or some big brand, but if you really want to connect with someone, that’s what you’re going to do. You’re much more likely to connect with a person than an idea of a company. So individual stories are huge right now and amp up your avatars.
[00:19:02.270] – Boris
So because we’re all being bombarded with messaging all the time, with the attempt to get our focus and our attention right, it’s a competition for eyeballs and time, if you will. You’ve got to be super, super specific about who your avatar is for each and every one of your programs at different stages. And maybe there’s a different avatar for your supporters that are donors versus supporters that are your volunteers. Right? Each of those could be different avatars, and they have entire worksheets on the different types of avatars that you can define. But you’ve got to be as specific as possible. You’ve got to really understand them as clearly as possible so that you could relate to them, and then they will relate to you. You’ve got to speak their language. You’ve got to talk to them about the things that they care about and not just your work. Right? You don’t want to come and talk to them and just preach about the great work that you’re doing. You want them to feel like they are heard and understood as well. And that’s the power of Web 2.0. It’s bi-directional communication. Web 3 is going to be even further, hopefully.
[00:20:14.490] – Boris
And of course, representation matters. I could have also put this as a big trend in 2021, but in 2022, more than ever again, I’m almost tired of using that phrase, but it’s so, so salient. Representation is critical. Diversity, equity, and inclusivity is really a must today. It not only helps people feel included, it also shows that you are someone, an organization that prioritizes inclusivity that wants everyone to feel welcome, not just the stock photo individuals that you might have had before on your website.
[00:20:55.000] – Boris
Oftentimes when I look for stock photography on websites, there’s a lot of great shots that some of them look very stock, if you will, and some of them look more natural. But more often than not, they’re frankly of white people, of blonde women, of white men. And that is really unfortunate because then others who don’t just fit into that one category will feel like you’re not really talking to them.
[00:21:23.820] – Boris
We always resonate best with people that we feel an affinity towards. Now, that doesn’t mean that all we ever see is race or ethnicity or gender. We do see other things, and we relate to people in many different ways. But the more you can vary up the types of imagery that you’re using, the types of stories that you’re sharing, the more you’re going to allow more people to feel included, to feel welcomed into the work that you’re doing. And then they will be much more likely to support you and help create a better world. And hopefully your better world includes a more diverse and accepting world where we’re all not just treated as equals, but feel like we are equals and have the capacity to do anything that we want to do based on our energy, our character. Of course, to use one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s most important words. So Diversity, equity, inclusivity. Take a look at your materials, take a look and see are you doing the best you can to make everyone feel welcome?
[00:22:33.510] – Boris
Number two, we talked earlier about the increase in cybercrime, STRENGTHEN YOUR SECURITY. More so than other types of businesses, nonprofits live and die on trust. As I’ve said, I’ve worked with organizations where that trust has been broken, sometimes through no fault of their own, often through no fault of their own, except that they let something slide and therefore something bad happened. And it takes a lot to regain the trust of supporters. Oftentimes you’re going to lose a lot of them. They’re going to either move on to another organization that’s doing similar work, or even worse, they might lose faith in the nonprofit system as a whole, feeling like they’re wasting their time and money. That’s the worst thing that we could do for the entire do-good community.
[00:23:23.250] – Boris
One of the things you could do, of course, is turn on multi-factor authentication. It’s not expensive. It is a pain in the butt. I agree. I have resisted in some cases from turning it on. I always have super secure passwords, but I have now converted everything to multi-factor authentication, certainly for my clients, but also for my own peace of mind with my own accounts. It’s absolutely vital today, any roadblocks that you can put in the way of a hacker is going to discourage them much more than just a random password or something that they might encounter less security on another account and therefore move on to them because they’re going to also try to take the path of these resistance.
[00:24:09.450] – Boris
Next, train your staff on protocols. As I said earlier, the weakest link in most technology security chains is actually human beings. We are not naturally predisposed to understanding cyber security. We’re not naturally predisposed to understanding security in general, but we can see it in the physical world, we know to lock our doors, at least most of us do in most communities, we know to hit the lock button on our cars as we’re walking away. But when it comes to cybersecurity, we don’t see it. It’s not as tangible and therefore real to us. But believe me, when you get hacked, if your Social Security gets hacked or if your organization’s website gets hacked, it becomes very real, very quick. So train your staff on protocols so that they know the best practices.
[00:25:00.390] – Boris
And as I mentioned earlier, passwords are still one of the weakest entry points. I cringe when I am working with clients and they send me credentials to log into something. And I see that it’s a very simple password, like their organization initials with the year that they’re working. Well, guess what? There are a lot of very smart AI bots that will go in and they will plug in thousands of combinations of keywords and dates and numbers in a second to try to get access. And if you happen to have a password that’s a combination of any of the most common terms that they know to try, you’re going to get hacked and you’re going to get hacked quickly and not even know it.
[00:25:52.730] – Boris
So most people don’t want to use very complex passwords. If you use a password manager and the one I use is KeePass, I’ll link to it in the show notes for this as well. It’s free, it’s open source, it’s very secure. All you have to do is remember one preferably very complicated password, and then it’ll generate for you all kinds of passwords. It’ll even let you keep them associated with specific websites. You can then click and it’ll open up the website for you. It’ll populate the username and password for you so you never have to even remember them. All you have to do is remember your one master password. I love KeePass. I’m not plugging it as this is the best tool out there. It’s the best tool for me. Anything though, is better than a spreadsheet or a piece of paper with your passwords on it. So use a password manager, whatever that might be.
[00:26:43.350] – Boris
Then, MOBILIFY YOUR MESSAGE. This is number three in five things to do. Okay? As I said before, your avatars are everywhere. Your stories reach them on their phones before anywhere else. So a few years ago it was all about mobile-friendly design, where you wanted your website to look good on a mobile device. But you were first using desktop to create the website and it looked best on website. Well, now, 54% I think of all internet traffic is on phones. Not only that, most discovery is on phones. So the first time that they’re going to find out about you or something that you want them to see is going to be scrolling through Facebook or LinkedIn or TikTok or whatever it might be on their phones. They’re going to click through hopefully, if you’re telling a great story and telling them something that they’re talking to them about something they’re interested in peaking their curiosity and they want to learn more. They’re going to click through. If they click through and reach a website that is not great looking on mobile, they’re going to say, oh, maybe I’ll come back when I’m on my computer later, or they’re just going to go back and forget about it. Either way, you’ve lost a potential hero. You’ve lost a potential action of support that you worked hard to get.
[00:28:00.790] – Boris
So today it really should be mobile first. Even if most of your donations still come on desktop and they do. Today, still, most donations come through desktop. That might be because it’s still too difficult to donate on mobile. So think about what you can do to make that mobile experience easier. Design for mobile first.
[00:28:19.870] – Boris
And in line with video and mobile, create vertical video. So I am a recovering actor and filmmaker. I’ve always been taught make landscape 16 by 9 is the standard high definition aspect ratio make landscape video and I still do. This episode right now is being filmed in landscape in 16 by 9 format. However, on social media, I’m then going to reformat some of this video into vertical , into square so that I could put it on Instagram and some other platforms, Facebook, even where people are going to be able to consume it in a more mobile-friendly format. You can, though, go straight to vertical video at this point, if your messaging is more personal and direct, you can just start on TikTok or start on Instagram video and get your message recorded there, and then adapt it for other platforms from there. So really think about vertical video as your—if not primary, then a secondary must for your work.
[00:29:27.690] – Boris
Number four, SIMPLIFY SUPPORT. So I still unfortunately see a lot of organizations limiting the experience, limiting the ways that I can support them. For example, you might not be accepting cryptocurrency still, you might require people to jump through several hoops to fill out a lot of information. Make it as simple as possible. The donor is always right, so let them support you however they want, when they want, from whatever device they want. Right? We’re on mobile first. Make it as easy as possible to click a button, and all the other elements are filled in for you as easily as possible for the donor, so that they could take action quickly, or team up with a platform that will let you do it in a very simple way. Even text-to-give that is still working today.
[00:30:17.750] – Boris
So be as accessible from a supporter perspective as possible. Remove all friction. Take out any additional steps that people have to make that are not absolutely necessary. It’s much better to follow up with somebody afterwards than to ask them too many questions and lose their information beforehand. Lose their donation beforehand.
[00:30:40.620] – Boris
There is a common now known aspect of psychology that comes from behavioral economics and behavioral science as a whole that the best way to get somebody to take action is not actually to reward them for it or to threaten them into doing it, but it’s actually to remove as much friction as possible so that they are defaulted into it. So assuming they don’t object to it, they will just do it. This has been incredibly helpful in all kinds of situations. Governments have adopted this strategy. Employers have adopted this strategy to get people to save more money so it can really be used for good. And I encourage you guys to do as much of that as possible. Look at what are the roadblocks or hurdles that people are facing before they can take the actions that we want them to take and remove as much as possible and reassure with social proof.
[00:31:32.810] – Boris
Again, there’s a lot of noise out there. There’s a lot of scams out there today, right? People are spamming us with all kinds of offers, and they’re attempting to not just get our attention, but also to trick us. So one way to help reassure people is with social proof, which is in the forms of testimonials, which is in the forms of accreditations that you might have awards that you may have won. Make sure that those are, if not front and center, at least just off to the side, so that if you’ve got my attention, I’m reading the story. I’m following along. I can then see, oh, there’s someone who has done this before me, meaning another supporter or another client perhaps, who has gone through this process and become a hero with the help of the work that this organization, your organization is doing. So reassure me with as much social proof as you can.
[00:32:21.610] – Boris
And as I said earlier, accommodate cryptocurrency. It’s not that difficult today. As I mentioned before, The Giving Block is a great company that’s making this as easy as possible. You don’t need to use them. There are plenty of other ways that you could do it, including just setting up your own wallets. It requires a little more technical knowledge, but honestly, it’s not that difficult. You can do it and then start accepting donations directly and addressing them like you would any other donation of stock or similar assets. It’s not considered a financial donation at this point, because cryptocurrency is considered an investment vehicle right now.
[00:33:01.590] – Boris
And then CREATE MORE CALLS TO ACTION. Give your audience more opportunities to become heroes for your cause. This is the fifth and final thing that I have to say you need to be doing on your website and really everywhere but on your website in 2022. The number one place where you’re going to convert your avatars into heroes is your website. Because there’s fewest distractions, there are fewer things tugging at them in different directions. You have the best chance of telling your best narrative and giving them value before they even think about donating, before you even ask them to donate or take some kind of action.
[00:33:37.830] – Boris
So you’ve done all the work to drive them to your website. Now give them as many opportunities as possible to become heroes for your cause. And by that, I don’t mean overwhelming them. Don’t give them a million different options. Give them one, two, three at most options, but do it frequently on all kinds of pages. Every piece of content you put out, every website page or blog post should have a call to action. That is the next logical step for a potential or even an existing supporter to take once they’ve consumed that content, resonated with that story in one way or another, felt indebted to you for giving them that opportunity and sharing that story with them. Now invite them to action and do it everywhere. As I said, on every single post that you have, on every single piece of content you put out, on social media, there should be some sort of a next step they should take. Now, that doesn’t mean that every photo you share should say now donate. But it should offer a way for people to learn more to dive deeper into the story if possible.
[00:34:39.790] – Boris
And then, of course, make it easy. Remove that friction. Remove all kinds of psychological friction where people have to think about, oh, do I want to do this or not? Is it too much work right now? Should I come back to it later? Make it easy psychologically, make it easy physically and chronologically timewise, as streamlined as possible. Those are the five things that you really need to do for your nonprofit website in 2022. I hope you enjoyed that part of it, the presentation.
[00:35:14.570] – Boris
There is one last thing that I do want to talk about, which is the NYU course that I’m starting in just a couple of weeks now, February 2nd through March 9th. We’re going to meet once a week. There will be some homework. It’s not going to be too crazy. But by the end, you’re going to learn how to create a complete website strategy, including formulating your goals, your calls to action, and your key performance indicators, your KPI, how you’re going to measure your success. That’s one of the aspects that we’re going to focus on.
[00:35:42.980] – Boris
Another is going to be creating your target hero avatars and user journeys. We’re going to really dig into how to identify your ideal heroes and in a way that’s going to resonate with them, that they’re going to want to take action, that they’re going to raise their hands, and then we’re going to guide them down their hero’s journey, which is a user journey in technology, we all call it that on apps and websites.
[00:36:08.150] – Boris
So how we’re going to guide them through that process, that journey to becoming a hero in their own world and of course, in the mission of your organization, we’re going to talk about the hero page framework for all kinds of landing pages. This is a framework that I developed adapting storytelling structure specifically to nonprofit website landing pages, how to get that attention quickly so that they’re not going to jump off within 15 seconds, how to then get them engaged and working down that page and taking the actions that you need them to take.
[00:36:42.770] – Boris
We’re going to talk about and formulate your organizational storytelling Hollywood story framework. And by that I mean, how do we figure out that big picture from your mission to your work, including all of the different things that you do if you do more than one thing or if you’re planning on expanding or if you’re just doing the one thing, what’s the big picture story and how do we tell it in a way that still resonates with our individual avatars? Right? You can’t talk company to person. You’ve got to speak somehow on a direct storytelling, personal level narrative.
[00:37:20.310] – Boris
We’re going to create home page storytelling wireframes and donate page storytelling wireframes. So you don’t have to be a designer. You don’t have to be a web developer to take this course and to learn a lot from it. In fact, this is really targeted for people who are in development, in communications, in marketing that don’t necessarily have those IT skills. If you do have them, great. It’s going to take you to a whole other level. But regardless of where you are right now in your journey as a communications or fundraising professional, we’re going to raise you to that next level of storyteller across digital media and websites specifically.
[00:37:59.140] – Boris
So we’re going to create wireframes. I’m going to teach you guys how to do that. And those wireframes will basically lay out what’s going to be on the page without worrying too much of a design. And then you’re going to be able to handle those wireframes to whomever is building your website or implement them on website builders like WordPress or Squarespace or whatever it is that you’re using.
[00:38:20.130] – Boris
And then we’re going to finally create a website sitemap. And this is not necessarily in order how we’re going to do it in the class, but we’re going to figure out what the entire site structure looks like, what the point of each page is going to be, and how that works with SEO, how we’re going to describe each of the pages. All of that is going to be in at least one of the projects that you’re going to be doing.
[00:38:43.690] – Boris
By the end of the course, by March 9th, you’re going to have a strategic plan for a nonprofit website. Whether you’re currently working with an organization and want to work on their site, or you are considering working with an organization, or you just want to go out on your own and start doing some of this kind of work, you’re going to have a finished presentation that you can take to an organizational leadership, which could be, again, yours or another organization, or you could even make up an organization that you want to be doing this for. And by the end, have a clear roadmap to how to tell your story on your website that you could hand off, like I said, to a professional website development shop or agency, or do it on your own with the skills and tools that you have. That’s it. That’s the entire pitch for the course.
[00:39:34.100] – Boris
If you’re interested, you can go to dotorgstrategy.com/nyu, New York University, and that will redirect you actually directly to NYU’s page, where you can learn more about the program and enroll, if you wish.
[00:39:49.650] – Boris
On the screen right now, for those of you watching, is the QR code to take you to that page. If you are not watching right now, and are listening on your podcast, thank you again for spending your time with me today. You can head over to NPHF standing Nonprofit Hero Factory nphf.com/ep44 to get all of these show notes and all of these links right on the screen and make it easy for you to, of course, take action on all the things that we’re talking about today. Let me stop sharing my screen and thank you again for joining me today for this special episode.
[00:40:28.630] – Boris
I hope you learned some things, some practical tips and advice on what you can do with your organization’s website this coming year to take advantage of the trends and what’s happening out there in the world so that you can better tell your stories, communicate with your ideal avatars and of course, get them to take the actions you need to become heroes for your cause and create a better world for all of us. We’ll be back next week with another guest that’s going to share their knowledge on how to do better.
[00:40:59.350] – Boris
I believe next week we’re going to be talking about email onboarding sequences actually, that’s what we’ve got planned. So be sure to tune in for that one. It’s a very important topic. Until then, thank you again for joining me. If you like this show, please, please, please this is my call to action for you. Leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite platform or wherever you’re consuming this content so that more nonprofit professionals can discover this show and learn from experts not just me, of course on how they can do more and have a greater impact on the world. Bye bye, everybody.
[00:41:36.690] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes Spotify or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
Top trends to consider from 2021
- More noise when everyone shifted everything online (2:41)
- Social Media
- Over 160 million businesses use Facebook
- 93% marketers use Facebook Ads
- Cost per Action (CPA)’s average is $18.68
- Average click-through rate is 0.9%
- Podcasts – 850,00 active podcasters and over 48 million episodes
- Events – Virtual events increased by 35%
- Video – YouTube has over 500 hours of video uploads every minute
- Social Media
- More Websites, more content (6:11)
- 200 million active websites
- 56.5 billion web pages indexed through Google
- WordPress – market share continues to grow. Now 41% of all websites.
- 75% consumers judges company credibility based on their website
- More threats – as more things have gone online, security efforts haven’t kept up. And nonprofits are in a particularly vulnerable spot. (9:30)
- More remote work > More online access > More vulnerabilities
- The biggest weakness in most technology systems is people.
- Phishing attacks are on the rise, as is the cost of a data breach
- Highest cost of data breach in 17 years
- More Mobile + More Global (11:57)
- 54% of web traffic is from mobile devices
- Your potential hero is global and easily accessible on their devices
- More distractions and more competition for attention
- More Crypto Craziness (13:13)
- Crypto donations have skyrocketed
- NFTs are dominating headlines
- Web3 is coming
- Crypto donors are a new avatar who wants to give back
5 Things To Do in 2022
- Step up your storytelling. With all the noise out there, it’s increasingly critical to be able to communicate your message quickly and effectively. This includes your big-picture storytelling and your individual storytelling, and it all starts with really clearly defining or updating your avatars. (17:13)
- People don’t connect to abstract organizations, they connect with other people.
- Strengthen security. Nonprofits live and die on trust. Once lost, the trust of your supporters can be impossible to regain. And if you lose their money to a cyber criminal, it’s twice as challenging. (22:33)
- Turn multi-factor authentication
- Train your staff
- Use password managers
- Mobilify your message. Your avatar is everywhere and they’re on their phones. So think mobile first. Design for mobile and tell your stories in mobile-native formats, like vertical video. (26:41)
- Simplify Support. Make it as easy as possible to support you in the donor’s preferred method—including cryptocurrency. And bring in social proof to reassure people that they’re making the right choice. (29:27)
- Create more calls to action. Don’t make people guess what you want them to do. Give them every opportunity to become a hero, and make it clear how. (33:01)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Boris KievskyChief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy
Boris is an entrepreneur, recovering filmmaker, and relapsed geek. As the the Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy, Boris helps nonprofits harness the power of great stories amplified through the right technology to reach the right audiences, create meaningful connections, and activate the inner hero in each of them.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 34
Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way (part 3 of 3), with Boris Kievsky
In this Episode:
The power of storytelling lies in its ability to connect people and share experiences. Regardless of how great a story you tell in the middle of the forest, if no one’s there to hear it, it doesn’t make an impact.
In this third and final part of our exploration of Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way, we’re going to focus on elements of story craft that make stories more impactful, give them greater reach, and keep people coming back for more.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:16.190] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!
[00:00:20.150] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Thank you for joining me once again. Unlike most episodes, this one is going to be a solo show, so you just get to hear from me today. Most of the time, you get to hear from amazing experts in all manners of nonprofit fields like fundraising, marketing, technology and, of course, storytelling, which is what I wanna focus on today.
[00:00:40.970] – Boris
This is actually Part Three of our exploration of nonprofit storytelling lessons from Hollywood and beyond. Whether you’re new to nonprofit, new to storytelling or been working with both for years, my hope is that these concepts can help you refine your strategy and spark ideas for new ways to share your important work with the people who need to hear it.
[00:01:00.110] – Boris
Now to get the full story, so to speak, go watch or listen to part one, which is Episode 22, which focused on the questions and elements you have to have in place before you even begin to tell your story, such as establishing all the different characters and voices in your story and the goals that you have for all of them because you can’t have heroes if they don’t have calls to action and goals.
[00:01:22.490] – Boris
And then Part Two, which was Episode 29, there we covered the story style, structure and layout tips. I think there were 16 or 17 of those just in there. All of the little aspects that you could use to tweak how you tell your story to keep it more engaging, captivate your audience, maintain their attention and get them to do the things that you want to do so they become heroes for your mutual cause.
[00:01:47.210] – Boris
This installment, Part Three, is the final installment where we’re gonna cover the tools and tricks of the craft that will help you polish your story, really get it ready for mass consumption. At least we hope it will be mass consumption. And then the packaging or the elements you need to get your story out to the world, get people interested in it, get them to click that link, get them to scroll down, read it, and get enraptured in enough to take the actions you want them to take.
[00:02:14.810] – Boris
The first of the two parts that we’re gonna be talking about, of course, is craft. And storytelling, a lot of people tend to think of as an art, which there are many artistic aspects to it. But there’s also the craft side of it. And that is that a great screenwriter or novelist or nonprofit writer has to know how to use the tools that can make the movie or, in your case, your story more believable, more focused, more sticky, and keep people coming back for more. And there’s a set of tools that I learned from my time in Hollywood that I want to share with you.
[00:02:50.270] – Boris
And the first one is that you’ve got to establish credibility. Now, whenever you’re telling a story, hopefully the people who are listening to you take you at face value and know that you are the expert that you are.
[00:03:03.650] – Boris
Some of them may have already used your services or donated to your cause. They’re already members of your community in one way or another. But your goal is to, of course, bring in new people all the time. And those people may not know of the work that you do, of the impact that you have, right? Or of why they should trust you really.
[00:03:26.090] – Boris
So you wanna establish why we as first time visitors or relatively new visitors should trust you with our time, our money, et cetera, our resources, really our voice.
[00:03:37.730] – Boris
So how do we do that? Well, on any given page, depending on what it is that you’re trying to share, you can have various types of social proof. And essentially, that comes down to either testimonials or logos or some sort of endorsement, third party endorsement that might even be a guide star rating that you include on the bottom of your homepage or even your URL. Your website address could have the name of the cause right there.
[00:04:06.770] – Boris
There are little quick shortcuts and signals for us to understand that you are nonprofit, that you deserve our attention, and hopefully that you know what you’re talking about. Maybe it’s numbers like, how many people you’ve already impacted, what past successes you’ve had that people can attest to. Those are all types of social proof.
[00:04:27.830] – Boris
Movies use stars on their posters, right? To establish credibility. There might be certain stars that when you see in a movie, you’re nearly automatically gonna go see because you really like their work, at least until they disappoint you, which I hope your stories never disappoint your listeners. Similarly, what does your organization, what does your story offer as social proof, as a way to establish credibility?
[00:04:52.790] – Boris
Then this is a tactic that I borrow from Shakespeare, which is, “Say it thrice” aka three times. Now, in Shakespeare’s time, any important lines that their characters have to say, in one way or another, they would say them three times. I don’t mean they repeat “here ye, hear ye, hear ye,” which of course they did. But they would actually repeat the same concept multiple times in a given speech or certainly throughout the scene in order to be sure that the audience got it.
[00:05:22.010] – Boris
Now, Shakespeare was at a couple of disadvantages to us in that he couldn’t really control the way that the audience would respond to things, including, of course, throwing tomatoes if they didn’t like a speech. He also couldn’t control whether or not they’d be noisy or rowdy. So for him, it was necessary to have characters repeat things multiple times.
[00:05:42.530] – Boris
There’s also a theory that they said it three times because the stage was a thrust. I got to do a monologue on Shakespeare—on the Shakespeare Globe stage in London, and I can attest to it. It does have audience on three sides. So people said, you’d have to turn to one side, then walk to the front, and to the other side in order to be sure that everybody heard you.
[00:06:02.810] – Boris
Today, of course, we don’t have those same challenges, but let’s think about the challenges we do have. We have a million distractions. We have people multitasking whether they want to or not. They might be watching your video or reading your story, but also getting things on their phones or their kids might be coming in. Their dog might be barking, or an alert might be coming in from one of their emails or social media apps or something, right? There’s endless distractions.
[00:06:26.570] – Boris
So while I’m not saying repeat yourself verbatim at least, do introduce a concept multiple times and define it in different ways so that people really get a chance to absorb what you’re saying throughout your story.
[00:06:39.950] – Boris
And then the next tactic I advise is to kill your darlings. This is an odd one, and it’s difficult for most writers, including myself still to this day, but especially when I was first starting to write. It essentially means that there’s often times when we will include something that we think is just so poignant, so witty, so on the nose that it’s gonna make the show, make the episode, make the—in our case, blog post or whatever video so much more salient.
[00:07:13.790] – Boris
Unfortunately, we are often too close to the text, to the subject, to understand that from an outside perspective, it may not really be as resonant. Every line, every moment in your content needs to be filled with things that are going to engage and further the character, the reader as a character in your story.
[00:07:35.810] – Boris
I remember the first play I wrote. I was working with a playwriting teacher. He was actually a great playwright and screenwriter. And I had a line in there that I just loved. I thought it was hilarious and it was witty and it was poignant, and he read it and very politely looked at me and said, “Would the character actually say this, or is this Boris trying to sound intelligent?”
[00:07:59.450] – Boris
Now, you may not have the same problem as I had at the time, but you may have certain terms. You may have certain inside language that really makes sense to you. How many times have I read mission statements or vision statements that are just full of jargon and rhetoric that sounds so refined, and it doesn’t actually make a lot of sense to someone who’s reading it for the first time.
[00:08:22.850] – Boris
So take a look, take a close look at whatever language or fascinating or witty things you may be including in your content, and think a couple of times about whether or not you should actually remove it to make it more interesting and relevant to your audience.
[00:08:42.530] – Boris
The next is to introduce spin offs. So if you follow any of the Dick Wolf TV series, for example, Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Chicago PD, all of those launched sequentially. I’m not sure of the exact order, but they were introduced first in one show and then they would have it in another show. They would have—mention of another show before it actually launched. They would bring the characters in, establish them in that world.
[00:09:12.830] – Boris
So spin offs, in your case, might be if you’re telling one type of story and you have another piece of content or another place where you want people to follow you for more content, you can introduce it in the story that you’re currently telling, sort of as a spin off or a new series that you’re going to be sharing somewhere else down the line.
[00:09:37.050] – Boris
In that same vein, we wanna tease what’s to come. Now, in a previous episode, I talked about cliffhangers, where you come to a point and stop in the middle of your story at the most exciting climax portion of the story. And you want people to tune back in next week or in the next reel in the case of the double feature. “If you like this, you should really tune in next time because we’re going to do this and this and this.”
[00:10:05.370] – Boris
Similarly to how when I ended the first episode or the second episode of this series of Hollywood storytelling for nonprofits. I also said, “Tune in next time or be sure to check in with us for the next episode, which is coming in a few weeks.” At least, I think I said that. I hope I said that. So tease what’s to come in your own storytelling to keep your audiences coming back for more.
[00:10:29.910] – Boris
And then pick your shots. You know, in actual filmmaking, we pick our shots long before we ever even cast an actor. We actually storyboard the entire thing as best we can to see exactly what we’re gonna show in any given shot. In this case, I’m talking more about your visuals, right? What is it that you’re going to show in the context of your article or your blog—or your blog post or your video?
[00:10:58.350] – Boris
However, you’re going to share this content except, of course, in the case of podcast like this one. What are the visuals that you’re going to include to make people instantly transport into the world that you are trying to establish for them, to engage with the story in a way that pulls them in and helps them resonate with the character, feel for the characters that are going to be in it, and perhaps picture themselves as one of those characters?
[00:11:28.650] – Boris
Remember the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” It may actually also be worth thousands of dollars if you’re able to help people connect with the cause, connect with the world and the problems in the world that you’re establishing that they likewise want to solve.
[00:11:46.590] – Boris
And then the last part of the craft before your story is ready to go public, is to do a private screening. Now, I’ve been fortunate to work in a couple of movies that had larger premieres, let’s just say. But even before they had that, long before they had that, they had multiple private screenings where first, just the director and the producer or even just the director and a few close friends would come in and watch and see: Is this movie working? Is there anything extra? Is there anything we could do to tweak, to tighten, to really make it more powerful and engaging at any given point?
[00:12:22.230] – Boris
So if possible, run your story by some trusted advisors. Now, maybe it’s somebody else on your team. Maybe it’s your board of directors or board of advisers that you could send out. If it’s an email, send it out to them first. Let them take a look at it and give you any feedback possible.
[00:12:39.630] – Boris
Or maybe it’s even a group of superheroes to misuse the term. But people who are so entrenched and engaged with your community that they’re happy to be the first eyes and ears for your content and let you—give you feedback if there’s anything that they think doesn’t quite work for them, and therefore audience members like them. So test and refine your content before widely distributing it.
[00:13:10.290] – Boris
Now that we’ve established who our characters are, what questions we need to answer before we even start writing our story, how a plot works and how we can apply it to our own storytelling? All of those in parts one and two. And then what are all the devices that we could use? And what are all of the different elements of craft that we could incorporate in order to—or take advantage of in order to make our story as great as we can.
[00:13:36.810] – Boris
Let’s talk about the packaging. And this is really going to the idea of how we’re going to market our story. But before you can even market it, you have to have what in marketing we call the collateral, which in movies might be the posters, the trailers, the billboards, right? All of those things are packaging or originally, of course, in the terms of DVDs, it would be the package on the DVD. What is the—What does the cover look like?
[00:14:04.890] – Boris
As much as we like to say, we don’t judge books by their covers, we really do. And we do judge movies and your own stories by the initial presentation that we’re given of it. It helps us decide whether or not we’re going to dive any further, give it any more of our attention, spend any more time to engage with your content in the first place.
[00:14:28.350] – Boris
So the first thing you wanna do, is actually give it a great visual. That visual, like we were talking about before, needs to really speak to the audience that you want to reach, and it needs to tease the story that’s going to be there. We absorb visuals 60,000 times faster than we do text.
[00:14:47.970] – Boris
So even if you think the text is the most important thing there and you’ve got great text, if there’s not a visual you’re missing out. And if the visual isn’t impactful in engaging, if it doesn’t pique my curiosity or start transporting me into the world of the story, then you’re actually losing me.
[00:15:05.070] – Boris
There are studies that show we have about 8 seconds to engage someone when they reach a piece of content. If you don’t, they’re going to hit that back button or they’re gonna tune out and move on to something else. Again, we’re all multitasking these days, and there’s no shortage of things trying to grab at our attention all the time. So you’ve got to use every resource you can.
[00:15:26.130] – Boris
Then once you have your visual picked, yes, the next most important thing is the title. The title of the movie goes a long way. The title of your article goes at least as far. Your title is the first thing people will really use to frame and contextualize your story.
[00:15:42.570] – Boris
Even if your visual is very clear, the title can direct things in a different direction or really point us into what we’re going to be talking about. And it should be in some ways exciting or informative, so that we know that again, this is a story that we want to go on with you.
[00:16:00.750] – Boris
Then, once you have your title, you want to give it a tempting tagline. In the world of movies, again, a tagline might be something like. “in space no one can hear you scream.” Which was the tagline for Aliens. In Alien, there was—the poster really just had a dark space cape, I guess you would call it. And there was something coming through it. There was something a little different there, but really just the title of the movie Alien.
[00:16:29.590] – Boris
It could have been about anything, including at that time it could have been about the show, Alf. But it clearly wasn’t. It was a suspenseful thriller and the tagline, “in space no one can hear you scream,” really made it powerful and showed what it’s going to be about.
[00:16:46.570] – Boris
Similarly, in your own work, if you could add a tagline that helps explain what the story is going to be about, that might be catchy, that might capture some interest or pique some curiosity, but also inform, maybe even strike an emotion. You want to get that oxytocin released as early as possible, but without really trying to press those buttons because people will feel if it’s artificial.
[00:17:11.290] – Boris
Anything you can do in those senses to create—to create those elements in a tagline is going to really serve you well. So it could clarify the title, but it has to build interest and pique some curiosity to get people really excited to consume the content.
[00:17:30.790] – Boris
And now that you have all those three things—all those—yeah, those three things, you want to put them together into a poster, which is going to be combining your title, your tagline, and your visual into some sort of configuration. Now, I understand we’re limited in a lot of places where we might have a template that we can’t superimpose one thing on top of another.
[00:17:53.230] – Boris
The most important thing to bring first is usually the title and the visual. There are studies that show that the title should be first, but I prefer combining one over the other any way that both can be seen quickly within the first 8 seconds. And hopefully the tagline is going to be the most powerful combination that you can make. So whether it’s a photo for your post, the thumbnail for your video or your podcast like this one, it has to work with the other elements combined to make an irresistible poster for your audience.
[00:18:24.370] – Boris
Think about if you’re driving down a highway and you see a billboard. Now in Hollywood, all the billboards pretty much—unless Apple is releasing a new product—are for a movie or a TV show that’s about to come out. This is a unique thing in the world of Los Angeles that every single billboard pretty much is about a show or a movie.
[00:18:46.210] – Boris
And its goal is as you’re driving by to capture your attention long enough to make an impression in your mind. Hopefully when you’ve seen those a few times, so the marketing agencies of the Hollywood Studios hope, you’re going to want to check out the website or find the trailer on YouTube or open the email that might be coming to you about that show.
[00:19:10.450] – Boris
If you’re subscribing to Netflix, for example, they’ll send you, you know, new things on Netflix or HBO to watch, right? So you want that poster to make an impression that’s somewhat sticky so that we are excited to consume the content. And when we see it on social media, we’re gonna want to click through to learn more. That’s your poster.
[00:19:33.190] – Boris
So those are the—those are the packaging elements, the marketing elements that you need to have for every single piece of content you have. If you think about a social media post, it is entirely a poster. You don’t have usually a lot of time and space in a social media post to give an entire article, for example.
[00:19:52.670] – Boris
But you do have the room to put an interesting title to put a visual together with it, which every piece of content you share from your website should have a visual. If not, then you could just share a photo or share something else on social media that will stop the scroll, which is a common expression now in marketing, and you want them to click through.
[00:20:12.590] – Boris
So you have to have your call to action in there as well, which in social media is often implied. It’s “go ahead and click on this poster because we’re going to take you to the website.” It’s also what that text right below your visual is going to say “here’s what the website is really about” and tease a little more content there.
[00:20:30.090] – Boris
Now you have your three different parts to this series. With the three of them, I’m hoping that we’ve given you enough elements that will help you think about how to tell your story in every manner of media so that you can capture the attention and actually activate heroes. Remember, you have to have a call to action every piece of content you have.
[00:20:53.370] – Boris
I hope you enjoyed this show. I hope if you haven’t yet, you go back and view or listen to parts one and two. See all the takeaways which we’re going to have for this one as well on our show notes at nphf.show. I think this is going to be Episode 34. Don’t hold me to this. I can’t remember right now, but it’ll be in the show notes and it’ll be in the links on this YouTube on any place that you discover it.
[00:21:19.110] – Boris
You can also download the full entire eBook that I’ve assembled with all of these tips and more. If you visit the website, there’s a quick little form that you can fill out there. That’s my call to action to you is, go ahead and fill out that little email space to download your own eBook and then you’re going to be on our newsletter list, which means you’re going to get notifications when we have new articles, new free programs, and new podcasts like this one which coming back next week we’ll have a guest talking about their expertise.
[00:21:52.050] – Boris
Thank you so much. Please, if you do enjoy the show, give us a rating. Give us some sort of a review on iTunes or follow us on Spotify on any of the major podcast platforms and most of the minor ones. We’re there on all of them. And please, please, please, share it with others who can benefit from content like this so that I and the guests that come on the show can reach more folks. And as we like to say, activate more heroes for their cause. Bye bye, everybody.
[00:22:42.630] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- Storytelling is as much craft as it is art, and there are tools of the craft that anyone can learn and use (2:19)
- Establish credibility and trust through social proof with testimonials and endorsements, as well as seals of approval or accreditation from third parties (2:50)
- Repeat your most important points three times, in three different ways, to make sure it sticks. (4:52)
- Avoid language that sounds lofty or uses insider terms that may alienate people unfamiliar with your work. (6:39)
- Use one story or medium to introduce others. When launching something new, share it organically with the people who already like your work. Give them the chance to discover new work or new other places that they can interact with you (like social media channels, newsletters, etc.). (8:42)
- Tease future content that may be of interest to someone interested in this story, so that they are eagerly awaiting your next installment. (9:37)
- Choose your visuals wisely to draw people deeper into the story. (10:29)
- Test your story before you share it widely. Have trusted staff, board, or supporters review it and share with you any feedback on how to make it stronger. (11:46)
- We do judge books by their covers and movies by their posters, so choose a great cover visual that will quickly tell people something about the world of the story and get their attention long enough to check the title. (13:36)
- The next thing that we notice is the title, which should tell us what this story is going to be about. (15:26)
- The tagline (often called a subheading or subtitle) should then give more clarity and context to the title, and tease the story to increase curiosity. Bonus if you can start to set the emotional stakes in there as well. (16:00)
- Combine the title, tagline and visual into a poster that will resonate with your intended audience and make them excited to dive in or to take the next step in learning about your work. (17:30)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Boris KievskyChief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy
Boris is an entrepreneur, recovering filmmaker, and relapsed geek. As the the Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy, Boris helps nonprofits harness the power of great stories amplified through the right technology to reach the right audiences, create meaningful connections, and activate the inner hero in each of them.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 32
Forming Win-Win Nonprofit Corporate Sponsorships, with Heather Nelson
In this Episode:
It may be surprising to learn that nonprofit corporate sponsorships actually increased throughout the pandemic. Even as many for-profit businesses and nonprofit orgs tightened their budgets, businesses have responded to the needs in their communities and leaned into partnerships with like-minded nonprofits in greater numbers than ever before.
For many nonprofits, however, creating successful corporate sponsorships is full of uncertainty. How does one identify good potential partners? Whom should they approach? What should they offer to make it a worthwhile endeavor? This overwhelm leads many to doubt or abandon the idea altogether, choosing instead to channel resources to more tried-and-true donor-based and grant-based sources.
Heather Nelson’s mission is to help more nonprofits and businesses form successful, win-win partnerships. That’s why she started BridgeRaise, a consultancy that focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for nonprofits. We invited her to The Nonprofit Hero Factory to demystify the process and break down her methodology into simple, actionable steps that anyone can use to start or scale their organization’s corporate fundraising.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:19.610] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!
[00:00:21.140] – Boris
Hi, everybody, welcome to another episode of the nonprofit Hero Factory. I love having experts on every single week to not only share information with you guys about how to do better marketing and communications and fundraising and make better use of technology. I also love it because a lot of times I get to learn from them what their ideas and their strategies are, and we have some great conversations around the subject. Today, it’s a particularly interesting episode for me because while I’ve been aware of this concept for many, many years now, of course, I have never actually personally delved into corporate sponsorships and how to set those up with corporations, perhaps in the area or national corporations for nonprofit.
[00:01:08.210] – Boris
I know how to market them. I’ve done that many times, but I’ve never actually been on the back end of things as the initial negotiations even happen. So today I’m excited to have Heather Nelson on the show. Heather is the President and lead consultant at BridgeRaise. She is an MBA and a CFRE. Heather is a corporate partnership and sponsorship specialist who leads her own boutique consulting firm, BridgeRaise, as I just said, which focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for nonprofits. And Heather has developed an extensive following of fundraisers who want to join her in raising money based on building relationships and impactful partnerships, which I think is key, and I’m sure we’re going to talk about a lot in the episode today.
[00:01:50.820] – Boris
Heather describes her superpower of building aligned relationshipbased partnerships between nonprofits and companies and really seeing and believing in the value that nonprofits can bring to those partnerships. With that, let me bring Heather onto the show.
[00:02:05.565] – Heather Nelson
Hello everyone. Hi.
[00:02:05.565] – Boris
How are you today?
[00:02:09.480] – Heather Nelson
I’m great. Thanks for having me today.
[00:02:11.760] – Boris
It’s awesome to have you on. I’m really excited to learn from you today. Before we do, though, you just heard me read off your bio and it is really impressive already. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you? What’s your story? Other.
[00:02:25.930] – Heather Nelson
Well, I’ll start with saying I’m Canadian. I’m based in Canada, and I have been in the nonprofit sector my whole career, which I feel puts me in a bit of a unicorn position. I did start in programming and working on the programming side in international development organizations and a few other organizations. And then I went and got my business degree and came out of that really wanting to work on the revenue side, business development and fundraising. And so, I’ve been doing that ever since. And most recently, prior to starting my own consultancy, I worked at Food Banks Canada, which is the National Food Bank Association here, and we focused entirely on corporate partnerships.
[00:03:12.920] – Heather Nelson
So that was where I really got to flex that muscle and practice things I learned at business school and throughout my career. Which I’ve now applied to BridgeRaise, which has been around for five years. And we’ve been working with nonprofits of all sizes on their corporate programs.
[00:03:29.640] – Boris
That’s very cool. I, too, started out in programming, but mine was in C, C++, Lisp.
[00:03:38.710] – Heather Nelson
The other kind of programming.
[00:03:39.560] – Boris
The other kind of programming. It always catches me off guard for just a second. My brain has to turn… no, no, we’re talking about nonprofit programs.
[00:03:46.990] – Heather Nelson
That’s right. Yeah.
[00:03:48.900] – Boris
Awesome. Heather, tell me, what are you seeing out there? What’s going on in the world of corporate sponsorships and nonprofit development? I know that things in finance in general have been changing a lot over the last couple of years, shifting alignments, shifting resources. What’s happening specifically from your point of view?
[00:04:10.580] – Heather Nelson
You know, I’m so happy you ask because… well, first, I’m going to start with I really like using the word partnership instead of sponsorship. And one of the reasons is to highlight one of the changes that we’re seeing that I believe, which is very good for nonprofits. We’re seeing the evolution away from either a very philanthropic and donation-based or a very transactional, purely marketing based scenario to this place in the middle. Right? So I like calling it—using the word partnership because it does have some elements of both of these things in it. And that is an emerging priority amongst this sector. We’re seeing that happen.
[00:04:51.590] – Heather Nelson
It’s becoming more and more pronounced that companies are looking for certain things from the nonprofit that extend beyond just doing good in the world, but include doing good in the world. We also have seen, obviously, with the move to remote working that we’ve seen happen over the last year, the influence of virtual marketing, virtual events, virtual connections between employees and their companies that has heavily influenced how corporate partnership looks. So that’s been a big shift that we’ve really had to adjust to in the space of corporate partnership.
[00:05:28.040] – Heather Nelson
And I think… the last one I would like to highlight is I think a lot of people felt that when the pandemic started, that maybe there wouldn’t be the funding that there had been. And we didn’t see that. We’ve seen actually companies be more and more generous recently than maybe ever before. They’ve leaned into their marketing to do good in the world. They’ve accessed employees in different ways. And so we’ve actually seen companies do at least as much as they had before, and many do more.
[00:06:02.760] – Heather Nelson
Of course, there is exceptions. There is companies that have not been able to do that, but where they have been able to we’ve seen them do it. And I think that has led to at least a certain amount of optimism around what is possible, which I really appreciate.
[00:06:18.100] – Boris
That’s wonderful to hear. I was actually going to ask you, has it been increasing or decreasing and it sounds like organizations…
[00:06:23.978] – Heather Nelson
Yeah… Some of each.
[00:06:24.691] – Boris
[00:06:24.762] – Heather Nelson
It’s not all bad.
[00:06:26.820] – Boris
So I wouldn’t be surprised if it mirrors the overall donor and donation landscape where some things have declined, but overall things have gone up. And I definitely want to get into all of the reasons why the organizations, the businesses are doing it. And especially at this time, there might be some additional reasons. But before we get there, I’m wondering, what does it look like? How how are nonprofits creating these corporate partnerships as it were? What does it look like when it’s successful, when it’s done right?
[00:07:03.440] – Heather Nelson
Well, I mean, I think from my point of view, I mean, there’s a bit of a personal question and a bit of a factual part, I think to that.
[00:07:11.468] – Boris
Tell me both.
[00:07:12.620] – Heather Nelson
From my point of view, when it’s done right, there’s a strong alignment on the reason for the partnership. Could be alignment on a value between the company and the nonprofit. It could be an impact that they both want to have. But there’s some really core reason why they’re partnered together. And then when it’s done well, that extends into there being benefits that the nonprofit provides and in return, an investment that is proportional to that relationship that is given by the company. Right?
[00:07:45.640] – Heather Nelson
And that’s when it really works. And sometimes they’re more consistent across a few. And sometimes they’re fully unique, depending on obviously, the amount of that investment. But I really like it to look proportional. So it needs to be… both sides need to be valued in a really good partnership. And that’s what it looks like inside. And then outside, we see stories being told. We see announcements being made. We see a connection between the two that is visible to their employees, maybe to their customers, maybe to the public at large.
[00:08:24.330] – Heather Nelson
The audience might depend on the situation, but it shouldn’t be a secret if it’s a good partnership, that’s really working.
[00:08:31.580] – Boris
Of course, yeah. So you’re kind of getting into this anyway, but I really want to dive further. Why do companies want to form partnerships with nonprofits? I mean, we kind of know, especially those of us in nonprofit, that—why a nonprofit might want to form a partnership. And I’m sure that maybe you could even talk to, not every company is going to be a good fit for a nonprofit in the first place. But what is it that a nonprofit can offer, is offering per se, from their side of the partnership that will entice the business to work with them?
[00:09:08.400] – Heather Nelson
Sure. Well, I think following up on that alignment piece, what we are seeing out in the world is companies really wanting to solve social problems. Some of them want to have an impact on certain social problems. Some of them want to stand for something in particular. And nonprofits provide them with knowledge in that space, provide them with expertise, authenticity around making that happen. So that’s the first thing. But there’s also other benefits we’ve talked about. We’ve seen in the world this disconnect between employees and their employers because of more people working remotely and employee engagement opportunities. To opportunities for employees to volunteer with the nonprofit is a really outstanding benefit that nonprofits can offer to companies.
[00:10:00.100] – Boris
They can also help provide some content for marketing. That could be stories that could be the impact that the company is helping them make in the world and sharing that with the public or with their employees. So there’s different benefits. And part of an overly good partnership is finding out the ones that the company values and that the employee and that the nonprofit can execute effectively against, and matching those together.
[00:10:27.050] – Heather Nelson
But we do see them fall into these buckets, most typically around employee engagement, some and authenticity and impact. Those are three buckets I would look at.
[00:10:38.640] – Boris
Yeah, I really love the part about the employee engagement. It’s hard to see the news and not hear about “the great resignation” that’s happening right now. Where, ever since the pandemic began, people are not excited to go, first of all into the office, never mind back. But people are being more selective. There’s actually a labor shortage in a lot of areas because people are much more selective about what they want to be doing. And I know that it’s popularized with the millennial generation, but I think I’m a lot older the millennial, and it still applies to me, obviously, because I’m doing this work.
[00:11:13.910] – Boris
We want to have alignment with the work that we’re doing. We don’t just want to work for a paycheck anymore. Most of us that are privileged enough, I should say, to have these choices and opportunities. So when a corporation can not only say, hey, we also care about these things, but actually devote dollars and time towards that, that helps with the employee retention and appeal. I’m sure too, right?
[00:11:38.140] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. I agree. It absolutely does help with those things. And I think I really believe that a company just saying it’s making a difference is insufficient, right? They need to prove it. And one of the ways they can do so is by giving their employees time. But providing incentives by giving the space and opportunities for employees to engage in this cause that this company cares about. So if it’s done well, it can be a real win-win because it can strengthen the tie between the company and the employee.
[00:12:18.240] – Heather Nelson
And it can also make the purpose or the community investment priority of the company more real for everybody. So that’s great. And I think, you know, to your point around, people aren’t looking forward to going into work. We also find that we’re connecting so much virtually around work. It’s really nice to have something else to be connecting about. And so we do find nonprofits offering lunch and learns and training sessions and, virtual tours and all these sorts of things just give, like, a different cooler conversation for people to have. And, you know, they need that. That helps with the connection for companies. So nonprofits have that to offer.
[00:13:05.230] – Boris
Absolutely. And there’s also on the other side of the millennial stereotype, which is a positive one. They want to be spending their money on organizations that they don’t consider evil or that they consider aligned with their own morals and values. So I think in that sense, it’s a marketing tool. Hopefully it’s a genuine endeavor by the organization, but it is a way to signal— virtue signal, in the true sense what their priorities are, right?
[00:13:35.020] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, for sure. For those companies that have a consumer facing brand, I mean, there’s so many other things that a nonprofit can do with them to demonstrate through sales and through how they interact with customers, that they are connected to a nonprofit. That does tend to sort of lie in the purview of more sophisticated nonprofits. And it’s a great vehicle, and it can be very lucrative for both sides if it’s working well.
[00:14:08.160] – Boris
So I know that in grants, for example, when an organization, a nonprofit gets a grant, there is a certain amount of reporting to do and a certain amount of perhaps even mile posts that they need to reach and metrics that they need to keep and report on. Is there anything like that with a corporate grant? What does a company want to see when they’re forming a partnership?
[00:14:32.120] – Heather Nelson
You know what there’s probably as many examples of what the company wants to see is there are arrangements. I would suggest that they do fall into a few categories. Within the context, there is corporate grants that are more heavily weighted on metrics related to the impact on the stakeholders, the beneficiaries of the organization. So some are designed that way, and they are, well, not exactly the same as other granting. There is more similarities with a fairly clear guidance around what kind of reporting you need to do.
[00:15:09.010] – Heather Nelson
Outside of those kinds of relationships, it does tend to be on a negotiated basis. There should always be some form of reporting. And I do actually recommend that fairly early on, you find out what it is they are measuring. Because sometimes they’ll be measuring a number of employees participating. Sometimes they’re measuring the number of Facebook likes they got. Sometimes it’s, you know, that you met the certain impact. So it’s an important part of working out a successful partnership to know that piece of information and to plan to report on it.
[00:15:43.950] – Heather Nelson
I do generally like to recommend, however, which is different than most foundation grants, that the report back is as succinct as possible. So you’re reporting on what you have promised to report on without a whole lot of extra, because generally it is being shared. So making sure that you can share a fairly tight story of success is perfect.
[00:16:12.440] – Boris
And making sure that the organization can share—the company, I should say, can share—a fairly succinct impact statement as well. Because it’s one thing to say, yeah, we care about something, and it’s another to say look at the change that we helped create with our consumers, with our employees, right?
[00:16:31.280] – Heather Nelson
I love that you bring that up, because one of my keys to success, actually, in corporate partnerships, is that you can boil the complexity of what you’re doing with the funds down to a sentence. And that can be very difficult, especially if they’re funding a very complex issue. And when you’re in the weeds of it to boil it down to “and we’re helping 100 kids exit poverty” or something very simple like that or serving 100 breakfast can feel like you’re oversimplifying very complicated social issues. However, companies need to be able to communicate fairly succinctly in annual reports and other places what their money went to do.
[00:17:15.130] – Heather Nelson
And so we do need to be able to do that. Somebody at the company is looking further into the detail to make sure it’s authentic and real and all those things, so there’s somebody that you can provide more detail to. But you need to be prepared that there are a lot of people at the company that are only going to know that headline and that headline is going to help you renew your money and get more.
[00:17:39.670] – Boris
You made me think about this concept where I’ve actually, with clients at times, aske them for a testimonial before we actually start the work. And I promise not to use it unless they still believe in it afterwards. But for me, it’s trying to get an understanding of their expectation. What do they value? What do they want to see at the end that’s going to make them super happy? So as you were talking, I thought, well… I wonder if you almost want to create a press release ahead of time. What will the press release in six months look like if this is successful, right?
[00:18:12.680] – Heather Nelson
I love that idea. That’s a great idea. Yeah, because it is like that sometimes. That’s when you see, “oh, that’s what they wanted to say. Why did they just tell us?” I mean, that’s another argument, honestly, for long term relationships. Because there’s only so much that a nonprofit and the company, there’s only so much information they can exchange the first go round. Right? Nobody has the time for everything to be shared. And therefore, if you commit to a relationship over time, then there’s always incremental gains each time.
[00:18:48.240] – Heather Nelson
Whether you do the same thing each year or you change aspects of it, you have time as two organizations to get to know each other, right? And improve on it. And that would be the kind of thing you’d be like, okay, we got the press release at the end of this year. Okay. Now what we want to say next year would be a really cool conversation?
[00:19:06.620] – Boris
You’re welcome to steal that idea.
[00:19:09.140] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, that’s right… it’s in my notes!
[00:19:10.790] – Heather Nelson
That’s all yours. You and everybody listening to this episode. Okay. I feel like so far, we’ve really established why a business might want to be in a partnership with a nonprofit. What they’re going to get out of it. And similarly, what nonprofit should be thinking about when they’re looking into partnerships. But let’s break it down to if we haven’t started any corporate sponsorships yet, or we’re looking to grow our partnership program, what do we need to do? How do we even identify the businesses out there that might be a good fit for partnership with a nonprofit?
[00:19:51.830] – Heather Nelson
Okay. Well, so the first thing I want to say is that if you haven’t started before, be looking to only find a few companies to start with. So I find that often what happens is we think, okay, let’s first get an exhaustive list of every possible company. And then once we’ve done that and got research on all of them, then we’ll go to the next step of having a conversation with some, and we’ll kind of go on. And I am really all about getting into the part where we’re having the conversations, we’re testing our ideas and we’re getting to partnership with somebody so that we have something to build on.
[00:20:25.740] – Heather Nelson
I ask to start with to try to find ten companies that you think you should start with. And usually we start by looking at people who’ve given in the past who are lapsed. Companies that are in our geography, so that can be a good place to look, companies that are in geography because then already you have one little piece of alignment.
[00:20:45.980] – Heather Nelson
And then, I call it dream storming. Usually when people work at an organization, they already have thought to themselves, this is a company for XYZ reason I think should be giving to us. Right? You know, your organization, you know, the organized companies that are likely to align. So we start with a list like that, and we do… I recommend then doing a very specific kind of research. And it’s not about all the research… it’s about going to their social media. It’s going to their website. Going to a few places and really looking for the things that you need to know to show alignment between your organization and the company.
[00:21:22.660] – Heather Nelson
What are they talking about around employees? What are they giving to already? What’s important to them right now? Are they really focusing on a certain social issue? How do you speak to that social issue? So we’re looking for those kinds of bread crumbs in what they’re talking about. And social media is amazing for this. So this is like 100% where you spend your time to figure that out.
[00:21:45.980] – Heather Nelson
And then based on that, you move to outreach. And I build a little bit of internal knowledge around benefits and what we’re going to give to them before. But it’s not fancy. It’s not polished. It’s not all glossy. It really is more of a working document. So that then we can start having conversations and learning what they value before going further.
[00:22:09.290] – Boris
So as soon as you said, social media and all things digital, I don’t know if you saw my eyes light up and my grin come across my face, because obviously, that’s where I live and brief most of the time. What are some of the social media tools? I would think LinkedIn would be a big one for work like this.
[00:22:27.860] – Heather Nelson
[00:22:28.980] – Boris
Where do you tend to go?
[00:22:29.670] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. LinkedIn and Twitter are the two places that we tend to go to look. And we start with that list and then go to those two channels for more company information. And, of course, their website, too. They have media releases they’re putting sometimes that’s a good place to look. But yeah, LinkedIn for the people that are responsible for their community investment, for marketing and sometimes, sometimes even human resources. So you will usually see that those are the places that there tends to be relevant information. And Twitter, too.
[00:23:07.190] – Heather Nelson
That’s where companies tend to broadcast things they’re proud of. Right? So another place to look.
[00:23:13.270] – Boris
Now, do you approach them on LinkedIn or on Twitter? Where do you initiate? And then I want to get into how, but where do you initiate the conversation?
[00:23:22.040] – Heather Nelson
To the degree it’s possible we initiate the conversation in email. So that is the preference. If that’s not possible, then LinkedIn can sometimes be a choice. If the person is very active in LinkedIn and you can tell that they’re engaging there regularly, then that can be an option. But if they’re using it mostly as a broadcast channel, then it’s more appropriate to try to reach them at their work and through email. That’s my recommendation.
[00:23:54.580] – Boris
Ok. Great. Do you ever just do cold calls as well?
[00:23:59.920] – Heather Nelson
You know, that’s not my recommendation. Generally, I believe that… look, the email maybe may be cold, but we’re going to try to create warmth around it by following them on these social channels and communicating with them and showing appreciation before we reach out and then making sure the email is an aligned email that just very simply gets to the point about why they should call you back. If it doesn’t, then sometimes putting in it that you’re going to call to follow up is great. But I like to break the ice, especially now with people working remotely and different things, with an email to notify them and explain who I am before the first phone call.
[00:24:40.960] – Boris
That’s great. That’s great. Okay. So we know where we’re going to stalk them, pardon the term. We know what types of things that we’re looking for on these social media channels and where we’re going to first initiate contact. What do we actually say when we’re trying to initiate contact? Because, boy, those cover letters can be awkward. And I’ve seen people… I’ve personally fumbled for what the perfect intro to make in certain situations. How do you do it, Heather? What secret?
[00:25:09.400] – Heather Nelson
Right. Well, I think the most important key I always tell my clients this email is so short that it is painful. That’s how short it is. Because it really is the least amount of information you can give them to get them to call you back. And for many of the people we’re reaching out to, this is not an important email, so they’re likely reading it while they’re walking on their phone while they’re in the elevator. So, long with attachments is not going to work.
[00:25:39.420] – Heather Nelson
It should be short. It has one sentence explaining who you are and where you’re from. The next one is the alignment. That cool thing that you found. Hey, I saw your employee engagement is really important to you, and I have a cool opportunity I’d like to talk to you about. Hey, I see that this is important and I want to talk to you about that. And then what your next step is, can I have 15 minutes? I’m going to follow up with a phone call. Three sentences. That is it.
[00:26:05.480] – Heather Nelson
And if they don’t answer that, they don’t respond, then we can start thinking about what’s the next version? What’s the next next little bit of information that we try? Because they may not answer the first time. But holding back a bit of information, like, you know, we were in the news or this is a little bit more about what we’re offering, that will give you a chance for a follow up email. And we know that sometimes it can take a few tries to get a call back. So, you know, no point in, like, avalanche of information on the first go.
[00:26:35.970] – Boris
So I really appreciate that you don’t want to overwhelm them. So often when people are doing marketing, regardless of whether it’s nonprofit or for profit, they try to cram everything in there possible. Look at all the reasons why you should this and this. And there’s a lot of overwhelm versus telling a clean and concise story, something hopefully that teases that there’s more and that we’d love to talk and tell you more and that there’s an opportunity there. Right?
[00:27:04.220] – Heather Nelson
That’s it. And then again, the the more is a little bit more right. They don’t need to know everything about your organization to buy into this one thing. I think that this feeling that in order to give the money in order to create a partnership, they have to know everything right away is like a myth that trips people up. Just think about enough to have another conversation, enough to get to yes. If they want more information, honestly, they will ask you. If they want financials or HR structure or all the programs that you have available or all the events they will ask you. Generally, they’re not shy people.
[00:27:45.240] – Boris
And frankly, they could Google you, right? And you’d show up.
[00:27:47.340] – Heather Nelson
Right, they can go to your website. Well, that’s another thing I always say is that there is no such thing as a first impression. The second you’ve written an email, they have gone to your website. They may have already gone to your LinkedIn. So make sure that those things look corporate friendly… I call “open for business,” before you make the call. Because after it’s too late, you’ve already got “okay, now they don’t like companies,” or “I don’t see a company anywhere in any of their stuff. Why are they calling?”
[00:28:17.540] – Boris
Absolutely. And your website is a powerful tool in that regard. So are your social media profiles. Do you advise organizations to have specific corporate sponsorship and partnership pages on their site?
[00:28:32.740] – Heather Nelson
Well, there’s different ways to show that you are open for corporate partnership, and so it depends on the organization all day. But I do very, very heavily recommend that there’s some visibility of companies on your website and on your social. So how that looks? There’s lots of different ways that can work, but there definitely should be evidence that this is something you do, that you welcome companies to support you.
[00:28:58.490] – Boris
And if you already have had sponsorships, they should be on your home page. They should be on your sponsors page. They should be in several places as reinforcement for not only potential new partnerships, but also just individuals will say, oh, this company supports them. It gives you some sort of credibility social proof, which is great.
[00:29:19.860] – Heather Nelson
Absolutely. Right. So that’s for sure. That’s super important that that shows up somewhere.
[00:29:25.280] – Boris
So I don’t want to pull all your secret sauce out. But let me see if I could get just a little bit more from you, Heather. Once they have agreed to a call, what is it that you need to be prepared to deliver in that call? Because I’m assuming it’s not going to be a four hour call with the entire executive board of the business. What is it that you need to have prepared and what’s your goal for that first call?
[00:29:50.740] – Heather Nelson
Well, so what I say to have prepared is a brief description of what… expanding on the hook that you put in the email, expanding on the alignment. So, the key benefit. You need to have a little bit more about that, and then you have to have a series of questions. So I have a series of questions that I always look at and pick from, because by the end of that call, you should know what the proposal should look like or what more information you need to know in order to know what the proposal should look like.
[00:30:19.350] – Heather Nelson
You should not come to that call with the proposal. You should have the primary idea and maybe even a secondary idea that you’d like to tease them. If the first thing, like, drops like a rock. Like, they’re like, no, I’m not doing that. Then you’re like, sell, maybe there’s this be prepared to pivot, but in both cases, it’s like a paragraph description, a few bullets. It’s not the detail because you’re going to want to follow up with thoughtful details based on the answers they give you to the questions, after you talk for a little bit.
[00:30:50.830] – Heather Nelson
They’ll make you say something because they generally won’t just tell you the goods without knowing what you want to know. But if you tell them a little bit, then follow up with a few questions. That’s really an ideal first call. Then the next step is more, right? More of a proposal, a one page summary, whatever the next step might be. But again, you’re building right. You’re building the relationship. You’re building the partnership. You’re building a benefit that makes sense to them.
[00:31:21.690] – Boris
Absolutely. I appreciate that you think of it and advocate it as building a relationship. It’s not an exchange. It is a partnership. And those really grow over time. You don’t… I’m almost tired of saying this metaphor all the time, but you don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, or text them, “will you marry me?” after you just both swiped right. Whatever the new dating analogy might be. It takes time to build that trust, build that credibility with each other, that you’re both going to deliver on what you want, and that it’s a worthwhile investment for both of you in terms of time and funds, Right?
[00:31:59.080] – Heather Nelson
[00:32:00.420] – Boris
So if organizations that are listening to this haven’t started yet, haven’t gone down the path of corporate sponsorships, corporate partnerships, and now they’re looking to or maybe they’re looking to grow their program. What’s the first next first thing that they should be doing right now?
[00:32:19.860] – Heather Nelson
Well, let me start with answering it for newer organizations. They really need to answer the question, why is a company going to give to me? And for what? And that has to be from the company’s point of view, not from the nonprofit point of view. It’s not, “I want money to do this thing.” It’s this makes sense for a company because it helps them accomplish Y. So the why and the what. We have to answer that. After that, all other things can follow.
[00:32:46.970] – Heather Nelson
And if you’re a more sophisticated organization, I would be pushing the limits on that. So they can tackle more complicated whys and whats in terms of connecting audiences to their brand, that kind of thing. So it’s the next level of that same question. You need to understand that… what you have to offer in a corporate context before you can make a call.
[00:33:11.470] – Boris
Absolutely. Whenever I’m working with a client and we’re trying to whether it’s develop a website or some kind of campaign, we always start with the target avatar. And in that target avatar, the most important section is actually not even the demographics. It’s the psychographics, which focuses, in part on what are their morals and values, what are their concerns and what are their pain points? And how do we solve it? So I feel like for a corporate partner, maybe you fill out the head of HR or the head of whatever department it might be. But they are thinking on behalf of the company, what are their pain points? And how can we solve those pain points for them, right.
[00:33:51.980] – Heather Nelson
That’s right. Exactly. Yeah.
[00:33:53.450] – Boris
I love it. If they haven’t… Starting with a blank page for most things is pretty difficult. I know you have some resources and some templates. If nonprofits want to get started and want to kind of leap frog those first awkward moments of sitting in front of their keyboard, what can they do?
[00:34:12.740] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. So I have two things that I can offer to help. First, if you go to bridgraise.com slash gettingstarted, there’s a free download there that goes through the why and the what, and some of the key questions to ask yourself in that. And a few more things that you might want to do internally just to get ready before you start reaching out. So that’s free. You can download that. And then I also have a bundle at bridgebaise.com slash timesaving templates, and it’s a low price offer.
[00:34:43.520] – Heather Nelson
And I basically have, the research brief is in there, an outline for an introductory proposal, some email samples for that three-line email. So I have a bunch of things in there that are designed to just get away from starting from scratch. Of course, every organization will modify them slightly to meet their own personal needs.
[00:35:04.981] – Boris
You would hope so.
[00:35:05.230] – Heather Nelson
It really gets you past that, “Okay, how do I even structure this?” Because I tried it. And these ones work.
[00:35:11.880] – Boris
That’s brilliant. And I’m sure it’s a great resource for organizations. I know in marketing we have what’s called swipe files, where you literally take example copy and images and videos, whatever it might be from successful campaigns, and you modify them because if that works and there’s enough alignment, then chances are it’ll work for you, too. Or at least it’s worth a test. In this case, Heather, you’re clearly super knowledgeable on this subject. If someone wants to get started and wants to leap frog that whole initial stage of research, trial and failure, I’m sure they’re going to love the resources that you offer.
[00:35:50.110] – Boris
Is there another tool that maybe isn’t yours or resource that you recommend organizations that are looking to start or expand their corporate sponsorship program? Check out.
[00:36:03.700] – Heather Nelson
Absolutely. Honestly, I learned from other organizations all the time. One of my favorites is called Accelerist. They do some great research. They have a technology-based corporate partnership database that helps find alignment between your nonprofit and companies. It’s a great tool. I highly recommend going to their website and taking a look at some of their resources. So that’s what I love and turn too often.
[00:36:30.160] – Boris
I’m glad to hear that there is such a resource because I know for the foundations out there, there is the Foundation Database Online by Candid, and there’s other search tools out there, but I didn’t know that there was actually one for corporate sponsorship. That sounds great.
[00:36:47.700] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, absolutely. It is super great.
[00:36:50.170] – Boris
So, Heather, we’re going to have all these links in our show notes, obviously. So that it’s super easy for anyone to grab your tools or check out accelerist if people want to get in touch with you directly, what’s the best way that they can do that?
[00:37:02.620] – Heather Nelson
Of course you can reach me through my contact information on my website, but I love connecting with people on LinkedIn, so I know you’re sharing my link there. Follow me on LinkedIn. I drop videos in there. Tools, other… have conversations on articles that I think are relevant in this space, and I love being connected to more people there. I welcome new friends over there.
[00:37:24.150] – Boris
Awesome. As someone who has recently connected with you on LinkedIn, you share great content. So anybody who’s interested in this stuff really should connect with you as well.
[00:37:31.886] – Heather Nelson
Brilliant. Thank you so much.
[00:37:33.050] – Boris
Heather, thank you so much for being on the show today. I learned a lot. I love learning it’s one of my favorite things to do. That and teaching. So I really appreciate your time today and I’m sure everyone listening has enjoyed it as well. And if you have, folks at home, could you please please please subscribe? Leave us a review.
[00:37:50.300] – Boris
Share this with others so that more people can discover. Great experts like Heather learn more about the things that they can be doing both online and in storytelling to activate more heroes for their cause. Thank you and we’ll see you on the next episode of the nonprofit Hero Factory.
[00:38:25.880] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review
Concepts and Takeaways:
- We’re seeing a move from marketing-based and philanthropy-based, to partnerships. (4:10)
- Another big trend is the shift to virtual marketing, events and connections between employees and their companies. (4:51)
- With the pandemic, more companies have leaned into their marketing to do good in the world. (5:28)
- There are three factors to a corporate partnership done right: (7:12)
- Alignment on values between the company and nonprofit.
- Benefits that a nonprofit provides the corporation.
- An investment by the company that is proportional to that relationship.
- Some of the benefits that a nonprofit partner provides a company are: authenticity and impact around their dedication to making a change, and marketing opportunities. (9:08)
- Employee engagement and cause alignment are increasingly important as more people are looking for fulfillment beyond the paycheck, in what’s becoming known as “the Great Resignation.” (10:38)
- It’s also beneficial for the company in terms of showing their values to consumers, who are also increasingly conscientious of the brands they give their money to. (13:05)
- There are many different metrics or results reporting that companies might want to see from a sponsorship. You want to know that information in advance. Some are more concerned with outcomes and impact on beneficiaries. Others are concerned with employee engagement numbers. (14:32)
- Unlike most foundation grants, or corporate grants, you want to keep the report as succinct as possible so that it’s as easy to share as possible across their media channels and annual reports. (15:43)
- Most people at the company are only going to see the headline results and base future giving on that headline. (17:15)
- When starting to look for companies to partner with, resist the temptation to cast a really wide net. Heather advises to start with finding 10 companies that would be a great fit. (19:10)
- Start by looking for companies with a known alignment: those who may have given in the past, or those in your geographical area. Then try what Heather calls dream storming: brainstorm companies you think would align with your organization. (20:25)
- Once you have your list, start researching those companies, which can be largely done on social media and websites. Your goal is to look for indicators that they’re going to align with your company. (20:25)
- Once you have your researched list, you can move on to outreach. Have an idea of what benefits you’re going to give them, but the goal is to start a conversation in which you’re going to learn what they really value. (21:45)
- LinkedIn, Twitter and company websites (press releases in particular) are the platforms that will be most helpful in identifying potential partners. (22:29)
- You want to start the conversation on email, if possible. LinkedIn is a secondary option if the people you’re interested in are very active there. (23:22)
- When initiating contact, it can be difficult to know what to say. Heather advises: Keep it short. Include the least amount of information to warrant a call back. (24:40)
- Sometimes it can take a few tries to get the response you’d like. So hold back some additional interesting/relevant information for your subsequent attempts to get a reply. (26:05)
- Potential corporate partners will likely check out your nonprofit before responding. So you want to be sure that your website and your LinkedIn showcase you as a great potential partner. There should be evidence that you welcome companies to support you. (27:45)
- On your first call, be prepared to expand on your alignment and the key benefit, and have a series of questions ready to go. (29:50)
- With each conversation, the goal is to deliver a little bit more and to build a relationship and the benefit(s) that make sense to them. (30:50)
- For organizations new to corporate partnerships, start by answering the questions, why is a company going to give to us, and for what? (32:19)
- More experienced organizations can be looking at more complicated versions of whys and whats, including specific items that will help connect audiences with the business brand. (32:46)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Heather NelsonPresident/Lead Consultant, BridgeRaise
Heather Nelson MBA CFRE
Heather Nelson is a corporate partnership and sponsorship specialist who leads her own boutique consulting firm, BridgeRaise. BridgeRaise focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for non-profits and Heather has developed an extensive following of fundraisers who want to join her in raising money based on building relationships and impactful partnerships. To tap into Heather’s practical resources, check out www.bridgeraise.com or connect on LinkedIn
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 31
How Nonprofits Are Re-Engaging Donors by Listening to Their Data, with T. Clay Buck
In this Episode:
Are nonprofit fundraisers forgetting that donors are people and alienating them in the process? When it comes to campaigns, donors are commonly segmented into convenient, pre-defined buckets, based on the amount of and time period since their last donation.
While that’s a good starting point, its assumptions and lack of nuance may be doing more harm than good. The truth is that nonprofit donors don’t see themselves in terms of your fiscal year, your budget or your segments. Segmenting and communicating with them based on their last gift or trackable trend reduces your relationship to “what have you done for me lately?”
T. Clay Buck, an individual giving consultant, has performed countless database audits and has witnessed this alienating segmentation trend too many times. Clay joins us this episode to share his approach to finding the story that donors are telling organizations, and challenging the standard segmentation processes, to make a more personal connection and increase donor engagement.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:18.050] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!
[00:00:19.540] – Boris
Hi Everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. That da-ding just makes me smile every time. I love it. We’ve got a great show lined up for you today. My guest is Clay Buck, and we’re going to be talking about storytelling and data and donors. And really, where the three intersect, so that you could better listen to the stories that your donors tell you so that you can respond and engage them accordingly. So let me tell you a little bit about Clay Buck. He is the founder and consultant at TCB Fundraising.
[00:00:51.550] – Boris
He is a 30 year fundraising veteran, having spent an equal amount of time as a frontline fundraiser as he has a consultant. Boy, that really makes him sound like he’s been down in the trenches of this fundraising war, which I kind of understand. He has experience in all aspects of fundraising with particular expertise in individual giving and building the systems and infrastructure that support high-level results. He is the founder and lead consultant for TCB Fundraising an individual giving fundraising consulting firm. He has held leadership roles at several nonprofits across the country and at major national fundraising consulting firms.
[00:01:26.300] – Boris
Clay holds a BA from the University of Georgia and MFA from Michigan State University and a certificate in professional writing from the University of Chicago. He earned a certificate in philanthropic psychology with distinction from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and is an AFP master trainer. That’s pretty impressive. Clay describes his superpower as “building the processes and systems that create strong individual giving programs.” And with that, let’s bring Clay on to talk to us about all of those things.
[00:01:57.760] – Clay Buck
[00:01:59.200] – Boris
Welcome to the show, my friend.
[00:02:01.650] – Clay Buck
Thank you. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:02:03.440] – Boris
It’s exciting to have you on. I’m looking forward to hearing all of the wisdom that you’re ready to impart on us.
[00:02:09.524] – Clay Buck
[00:02:10.550] – Boris
But first, I did read that you have your MFA.
[00:02:14.117] – Clay Buck
And I happen to know you’re a bit of a theater nerd like myself. No pressure Clay, but why don’t you tell us your story?
[00:02:24.450] – Clay Buck
Yeah. I started out to be an actor. I did… really, when I was an undergraduate, I did an internship at a smaller summer stock theater in North Carolina. And my internship was running the box office. And so, “You bought your ticket. You want to give $25? $50? $100 to support the theater?” with every ticket sale. And fast forward, finished my master’s degree, moved to Chicago and realized that A) I hated auditioning and B) the $300 that I had in my pocket was not going to be enough to sustain this lifestyle.
[00:03:00.020] – Clay Buck
So I wound up getting a job as a grant writer and sort of made the connection, “oh, this business of fundraising is the same thing that I was doing at this theater.” Okay. Made the connection. And as they always say, if you find something you love more and can do better, go do it. So I did. So that was 30 years ago. Then I started doing that. And then just through that process, developed… I’ve done somewhat everything from being a grant writer to special events to corporate foundation and really developed a love and an affinity for individual giving, particularly at the low and the mid range.
[00:03:37.210] – Clay Buck
So I have really zeroed in and focused on that as kind of of where the area of fundraising and I love the most and work in the most.
[00:03:44.920] – Boris
All right. Not bad. That’s a good story.
[00:03:47.370] – Clay Buck
[00:03:50.810] – Boris
I’m a theater snob, Clay, so not bad for me is one of the highest compliments you could possibly get.
[00:03:55.830] – Clay Buck
Okay. Well, there we go. There we go.
[00:03:58.070] – Boris
Yeah. No, but it had a good opening. Nice hook, middle, and I liked it. I like it. You’re a good storyteller, Clay.
[00:04:04.770] – Clay Buck
I try. I do try.
[00:04:07.230] – Boris
So that’s your story. Now you’re working in individual giving programs, helping organizations develop, optimize, do all of that kind of stuff. Talk to me a little bit about what you’re seeing out there in the trenches.
[00:04:19.300] – Clay Buck
Yeah. So when I started my own firm a couple of years ago and again, a chief development officer, I’ve been on the front lines. I also worked for a couple of different consulting firms, as well. So I’ve kind of seen both sides of the equation. Where I really focus is building strategy and the infrastructure and process for individual giving. And I’m— volatility is the wrong word because volatility implies some negativity. It implies… or at least it does to me. But I’m seeing a lot of volatility in individual giving.
[00:04:56.170] – Clay Buck
And there is a ton of great technology. There’s a ton of great strategy. There’s a ton of information and learning. And I am seeing a lot of “let’s try this. Let’s do this. Let’s adjust this. We can add this. We can do social media, we can do this streaming…” Right? So there’s a whole lot of noise. Where I’m seeing the real success is defining strategy and using data to tell us which way to go. Looking back at that historical data and historical donor behavior to tell us what’s the best strategy for us, which direction should we go? And where should we be implementing the most?
[00:05:38.510] – Clay Buck
And the way I frame it is—because we’re both actors we’re both theater people, we talk a lot about storytelling and the stories we tell our communities, the stories we tell our donors, how we’re telling the story of our case for support. I kind of frame this as “what’s the story the donors are telling us?” And they’re telling us those stories by what data they provide, how they behave, what their giving patterns look like.
They’re telling us their stories in a whole lot of different ways. It’s on us to really be listening to it and to be looking for what those stories, and how they’re informing how we work with and talk to our donors. Right?
[00:06:15.340] – Boris
Yeah. So first of all, I think it’s great that nonprofits are out there experimenting with all these different things, and I encourage them to do so. I do feel like—and maybe this is what you were implying—there’s a lot of “let’s just throw things at the wall and see what sticks” rather than a concerted strategy for their online engagement, for their efforts. So, a bit of a Catch 22. Good on them, but also now let’s take it to the next level and really sharpen our focus and actually use data to see what’s working and what’s not working. That’s a whole other level. That’s step three, let’s say, but we’ll all get there, I hope.
[00:07:00.860] – Boris
So with these stories that donors are telling us… first of all, what are you seeing? Are there any trends right now in data that you’re seeing? What kind of organization are you even working with at the moment to pick this up on?
[00:07:14.480] – Clay Buck
And I personally, I work with a wide range. So I have everything from large scale programs with hundreds of thousands of records to the small nonprofit with literally 250 records. The trend seems to be the same across the board. Here’s the fundamental thing. And especially if we look at giving over the last year: donors care. There’s a lot to care about. And in many ways, donors are trying—they are trying to exercise their philanthropy. They’re trying to exercise their caring by giving to us. They might, well, it’s not might… They aren’t following our rules.
[00:07:53.710] – Clay Buck
They’re not necessarily behaving and saying, I give year over year, so I fall into a clean retention rate analysis. They’re not following standard paths of upgrading, and they are definitely not following standard path of channel behavior. So they’re giving online. They give via check. They come to an event. They’re all kind of over the map. What donors are saying to us is, “I care about you doing it on my terms and in my ways. And in the way that makes the most sense for me and my family to do it.”
[00:08:26.040] – Clay Buck
One of the biggest trends that I see… so, one of the services that I offer and do, and I do a lot of them, is database audits, where we really dig into the data and look at the giving trends over as long a history as we can get. One of the biggest trends that I see in every single file that I look at is what I call “consistent, but not consecutive.” So a donor will make a couple of gifts in one year, and then they take a year off, and then they give another gift that’s higher than the last gift or lower than the last gift.
[00:08:55.160] – Clay Buck
And then they take 18 months off, and then they give three gifts right in row. So when we look at it over the history, they don’t necessarily behave in what our standard segmentation would would define. Right? We tend to think, right: current donor, lapsed donor, long lapse, LYBUNT, SYBUNT. And those have very strict definition, whether it’s a year or 18 months or so forth. When we look at it, historically, we see donors coming in and dropping off. And what happens if we standardize our approach, we’re treating them like you’re a current donor or you’re not.
[00:09:32.500] – Clay Buck
So they’re giving, and they’re actively engaged with us how they want to be engaged. But we keep shifting how we think about them because we’re not looking at them from a longitudinal perspective. And the biggest point there is in the testing and in the analysis that I’ve done and I’m seeing: those folks are out there walking around going, “of course I’m a supporter. Of course I’m a donor. I believe in taking care of…” whatever the mission is. In their minds, their loyal supporters in our minds, their lapsed donors.
[00:10:09.450] – Clay Buck
So how do we shift our approach to approach them the way they think of themselves?
[00:10:13.660] – Boris
So it sounds like even though you’re analyzing the data, you’re saying that they’re not points of data, they’re actual humans?
[00:10:19.870] – Clay Buck
That’s shocking, isn’t it, right?
[00:10:23.680] – Boris
Yeah. And so, as humans, I’m sure they’ve got their lives beyond our organizations. And they’ve got their concerns and their priorities beyond our organizations. Many priorities shifted over the last couple of years. A little pandemic swept through the world. Is still kind of here. And so I’m sure that shifted a lot of patterns as well. Is there any sort of consistency in terms of people went away and they’re coming back or is it really down to the individual?
[00:10:54.940] – Clay Buck
It’s really down to the individual. I mean, a lot of organizations, many organizations were very fortunate to see kind of an uptick during the pandemic. Right? Some crisis giving some “I need to feel agency. I need to feel control. I’m going to give to a thing.” So I think we’re still kind of evaluating what those kind of one-time donors look like and how they behave. But there’s always something. And I don’t mean to minimize the years of the pandemic, but there’s always something that might drive, right, this increase in one time gift or caring gifts or crisis giving, quote, unquote.
[00:11:31.630] – Clay Buck
The question that we really have to look at is, who are the donors that keep coming back to us in different ways? Who are the donors that are sticking around with us and through their behavior and through what they provide to us in terms of data, are telling us that they have a loyalty and an affinity that we might not necessarily see.
[00:11:53.640] – Clay Buck
And I will also add, it’s not just giving behavior. It’s actually what data they provide us, because it’s a whole lot easier now to just in drop my name in, right? I can drop my name in. I can fill out my credit card information. I can do this. I can do giving really quickly. There are a whole bunch of different ways that I can send a gift to super fast without giving you. But if a donor is taking the time to give us their name, their email address, their address, their contact information… they’re filling out forms. They’re responding to the surveys. Whatever it may be. If a donor is taking the time to share that information with us, what they’re essentially saying is, hey, Boris, I want to hear more, right?
[00:12:31.360] – Clay Buck
I’m trusting you with my information. I’m trusting you with my name, with my contact information and saying, Tell me more, and they’re waiting on us to respond to them.
[00:12:41.550] – Boris
Yeah. So, oftentimes the donor doesn’t receive a lot of consistent communication and engagement and might therefore drop off, become a lapsed donor. And it just looks like a data point that flipped off—a switch off—rather than trying to look at what the causality underneath that might be. I want to come back for a second to what you were saying in terms of COVID giving and how some organizations definitely saw upticks because of the need that was presented during the pandemic and the challenges that communities were facing.
[00:13:19.980] – Boris
I think. And maybe you could confirm or deny this in terms of the data you’re seeing. But to me, it feels like people who already care about specific organizations, those are the organizations they turned to—back to—to support and give more to, when they were worried either that the organization wasn’t going to have the funding that it needs. And I saw this a lot. Or when they thought, oh, this community needs help instantly. They associate giving that help with the organization that they already believe in and trust.
[00:13:53.220] – Boris
Does that sound about right?
[00:13:55.330] – Clay Buck
It sounds about right. I have no data to support this. So this is purely anecdotal kind of what I’ve seen from organizations that I work with, kind of what I’ve seen from the community that I live in. I think the overarching statement is that giving the act of giving gift donor agency, it gives us the ability to say I feel out of control. I acknowledge that this huge situation is happening. I want to do something about it, but I’m in lockdown. I’m five thousand miles away. I’m trying to deal with my own family in my own job, but I care and I’m concerned. I want to do something.
[00:14:36.370] – Clay Buck
So the act of giving gives us and gives donors some level of control to be able to say “I did something.” Right? And, “I feel good about myself.” More than likely donors that increased giving during the pandemic—and this is true of any crisis giving when you see a hurricane, a natural disaster, times of national tragedy and anything like that—people are giving to something that gets to their core identity and their core values. Who I am as a person. The things that I care about on a daily basis that I see myself as kind and thoughtful and caring and generous in these areas.
[00:15:13.160] – Clay Buck
For me and my family, that’s animal rescue. That is our go to when we feel we need to do something we go to. And then the organizations who told really good stories to donors who didn’t know about them or the work that they do in the midst of crisis in the midst of anything, give introductions to new ways to capitalize on that feeling. I do think donors tended most to go either to organizations they already cared about or to organizations and missions that have very, very, very clear, identifiable impact on the situation itself.
[00:15:51.320] – Boris
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I love that you brought up that donating makes them feel like they have some sort of agency. It’s something that they can actively do. Because that’s, talk about storytelling, that’s something I talk about all the time. You are—your organization is empowering somebody to become a hero who may or may not feel powerless without the work that you do. Without being able to donate to you, I don’t know that I could affect the food shortages in certain communities. Without being able to donate to you, I don’t have the ability while I’m in lockdown, as you just said, to make a positive change in the world. So you’re allowing me to be a hero under these circumstances.
[00:16:37.900] – Clay Buck
Do you know the starfish story? That old sort of anecdote. If I could let me just really quickly, right? A guy goes down to the beach at sunset. The tide has gone out, and there’s another man, an older man on the beach. And he’s walking down the beach. And all of these starfish have washed up. And as the tide washed out, it left him stranded on the beach. And this older man is walking along and he bends over and picks up a starfish, throws it back in the ocean so that it’s in the water. Otherwise it’s going to dry up.
[00:17:07.930] – Clay Buck
The guy watches him do this. And he’s doing the starfish one at a time, and he finally goes up to him and he says, look, why are you doing this? There are literally thousands of starfish on this beach. You cannot possibly make a difference for all of them. The guy bends over, picks up a starfish, throws it back into the ocean and says, “made a difference for that one.” And I think that’s what donors are telling us. And again, this is why I love the low in the mid range donors.
[00:17:34.830] – Clay Buck
I think these donors are saying to us, I’m out of control here. I can’t control this global situation. But you know what I can do? I can feed one person. I can rescue one dog, I can educate one child. And this is a place that I already care about, and I can exercise a little agency, a little control and make a difference for that one. I really believe that’s what donors are telling us. Our response, then, is how do we reinforce that feeling for them?
[00:18:12.110] – Boris
Go on, go on.
[00:18:13.350] – Clay Buck
Which, which again, I go to the patterns that donors give tell us a lot about how—see, I don’t think donors—I don’t think I know. Donors don’t care about our fiscal year. Our annual year donors give when they’re going to give. Our responsibility is to make sure they have the pathway to give they have the opportunity to give. I do not talk about asking donors. I talk about creating an offer. I talk about creating an invitation. That’s what we’re doing. Whatever platform, whatever channel, however we’re doing it, we are creating an offer for them to make a difference in the world, or we are inviting them to be a part of our mission, inviting them to be a part of our visions and creating pathways to make that easier for them.
[00:18:59.360] – Clay Buck
We’re very good at sending out multiple emails, multiple whatever platform we’re using. We’re very good about putting out multiple times and giving donors a lot of ways to say “no,” “not now,” “not yet.” They’re giving on their timeline. And again, when we look at their behavior—and I have done hundreds of these by now, if not thousands, which is terrifying—in every data file I look at, there is always a core group of donors, a smallish but significant percentage of donors who give multiple times per year, give every other year…
[00:19:38.220] – Clay Buck
They’re giving on their schedules because they’re not—in their minds, they just gave. In our data, it was 14 months ago, so now they’re a LYBUNT, right? I think if we start to construct some of our segmentations and some of our approaches in acknowledging that… “Boris, you’ve been one of our most loyal and generous supporters. We were just going through our records and seeing that you have been giving to Acme charities for seven years. Wow. That’s amazing. The difference that you have made over those seven years is almost immeasurable. Thank you for being a part of that.”
[00:20:14.560] – Clay Buck
Right? If we can take that in some very simple segmentation and some very simple messaging, and what I have found is that using that again, I call it consistently, not consecutive using that and treating them as a separate segment. They’re responding wildly to it, and they are actually also converting, quote, unquote to more regular giving, quarterly monthly making commitments. Right? Because I’ve been doing that anyway, so this is an easy step for me to do. Because we’re conveying the message that “you have done this, do you want to do a little more?” Because usually the answer is, “yeah. I fed one person. If I can feed five by just giving you my credit card number? Excellent. Let’s do it!” Right.
[00:20:59.780] – Boris
Yeah. So rather than treating them as someone who gave X months ago, you’re treating them as someone who has been an active supporter in one way or another for a certain number of years. So it’s not… I think the analogy here is it’s not just what have you done for me lately or you’re only as good as your last donation. It’s you’ve been supporting us. That this low period of time and helping the community that we’re serving.
[00:21:31.150] – Clay Buck
That’s it. The analogy that I will often use is, you know that friend that you look at their name in your contacts list, and you think, “I should call them. That’s been way too long.” And it feels like you just had lunch with them. But actually, it was two and a half years ago? And you pick up the call, you pick up the phone, you call them or you text them. And it’s like no time has passed at all. And then you do meet for lunch and you’re like, “I love this. You’re wonderful. Why don’t we do this more often?”
[00:21:58.200] – Clay Buck
That’s who these friends are.
[00:21:59.821] – Boris
[00:21:59.830] – Clay Buck
Because the reality is, they’re most likely fine with us. Because they’re thinking, “yeah, of course I support Acme. Of course. I feed hungry people. Of course I rescue pets.” They’re not thinking, “oh, I haven’t written a check in 14 months or 16 months or whatever it is.” They’re thinking, yes. They’re walking around with their capes on, going, “I feed hungry people.” And then when we do reopen it in their minds, we’ve always been present. We’ve always been there.
[00:22:27.100] – Clay Buck
Yes, there are some. Yes, there are some that go, they didn’t hear from us. They haven’t heard from us. They don’t know what’s happening. And they are a little ticked off, and they are a little harder to renew. Yes, absolutely true. But I’m also convinced that there is a group that is walking around going, “I love them. I love that organization. I love what they do. I’m a part of it.” And we go, “yeah, but you haven’t written a check in two years.” Right?
[00:22:48.080] – Clay Buck
So let’s shift our story to them based upon the story they’re telling us.
[00:22:54.380] – Boris
So what should the nonprofits be doing? How can we modify our current segmentation practices, data analysis practices, whatever they are, ultimately the way that we perceive people, how do we reevaluate it and do it better?
[00:23:12.360] – Clay Buck
I think the first step truly is acknowledge. Well, actually, the first step is committing to data literacy. Right? I’m an actor. There’s nothing except having done all those light plots in undergraduate, and we used to call it “torture and design” “torture and decor.” But there’s nothing in my background that makes me an excel person. There’s nothing in my background that makes me a data person. I took algebra twice—three times, for crying out loud. But I learned early on that we needed data, and so I forced myself to get good at it. So I don’t hold anybody accountable to something I haven’t done myself.
[00:23:52.470] – Clay Buck
I do think that data literacy and technological literacy are two of the greatest skills that fundraisers can invest in right now. So understanding and working to understand the different types of segmentation that’s number one—valuing it for yourself, valuing it for your staff.
[00:24:10.780] – Clay Buck
Then secondly, acknowledging that there are different types of segmentation than what our normal sort of binary lapsed, not lapsed, current lapsed, we’ll look at, and taking the time to invest in it. I know this sounds kind of highfalutin and a little high values.
[00:24:32.860] – Clay Buck
We are in a position as a profession where we are going to have to be the ears and the advocates for using data and technology and fundraising, because it is a governance issue. But our boards and our leadership are looking at bottom line. And they’re looking at how fast can we raise how much money, how quickly. It really does become incumbent upon us to take a kind of front line in the trenches leadership role, and stop and go, “look, here is the ROI and the value of investing in data here.”
[00:25:01.400] – Clay Buck
And bring to the table, “look, I took the time and here’s what I found. I found these thousand donors that over ten years have contributed over a million dollars, whatever the number may be. And we’re going to invest in this strategy. We’re going to test it and we’re going to find out exactly how they do respond.” So the short answer is taking the time to dig a little deeper and year end is a really good time to do it. I know, year end, processes are flying and we’re approaching fourth quarter at a mad pace, and so a lot of things. But taking the time to invest in how can I look a little deeper to find the things I haven’t traditionally seen?
[00:25:43.980] – Boris
So, are there any universal starting points for actually looking at the data? Like, I really like the example that you brought up of someone who hasn’t given in 14 months. That doesn’t mean that they’re not still a recurring or repeating donor, that they’re completely lapsed and you’ve lost them, and that you need a campaign to get them back, right? Because otherwise they’re gone for good. So are there, without those specific mile posts of one year, six months, two years, whatever it might be, how do we know where to start segmenting? Where to make that switch between one bucket or another? Or is it that everybody should be in multiple buckets, but then they might get different communication.
[00:26:37.500] – Clay Buck
I think segmentation is absolutely critical. I think we can get into over segmentation and make ourselves crazy. If you have a full time data person and you have the sophistication to do multiple layers of segmentation and then deliver messaging on that, bravo, you. You are the exception, not the norm.
[00:26:55.790] – Clay Buck
Quite honestly, one of the most simple things to do. And I’m kind of giving away the farm here a little bit because this is how I do it when I audit it. Most. If not all of our CRM platforms have roll up summary fields, first gift, first gift date, last gift, last gift date, second gift, right? Second gift date.
[00:27:15.180] – Clay Buck
If you can get those six fields, you can find these people. Because what you do is you look at their first gift and go show me everybody whose first gift was five or more years ago. And then you look at their last gift and go, show me everybody from this group who is five or more years ago was their first gift. Show me everybody whose last gift was in the last two to three years. And now you start to see this group of people. “Oh, wow. Boris first gave to us in 2010. His second gift was in 2014. His last gift was in 2021?”
[00:27:47.480] – Clay Buck
And we start to say, oh, okay, Boris looks like a lapsed person. And that’s a bad example, because I did say 2021. But even so, it looks like a lapsed person. But when we see… Or using a summary field like total number of gifts… look at a lapsed donor and you see a total number of gifts of ten. That’s a huge clue that. Oh, wait. He’s been far more active than just this last gift renewal.
[00:28:14.850] – Clay Buck
Because the other thing we do—if we are doing, and a little lot still aren’t, I know that—but if we are doing a lapsed renewal, so we’re sending a specific thank you letter to a lapsed renewal and treating them as somebody who lapsed but then came back. But we look at that behavior, they have lapsed and come back multiple times. We’re just re-treating… It’s going out to that friend that you’ve missed and saying, “okay, catch me up again. What’s been going on in your life?” And your friend’s like, “come on, we did this last year, right?”
[00:28:45.910] – Boris
Yeah. And that friend analogy that you made before. I never thought about it that way, but I absolutely love it because it’s instantly something that I think all of us can relate to, where we haven’t been able to catch up with friends, but we still view them as close friends that we may have been friends with since childhood, but we just don’t get to speak on a regular basis because life.
[00:29:08.100] – Clay Buck
They’re also that friend that we describe as, I haven’t talked to them in five years, but after I call them tomorrow and said I have an emergency, they’d be the one that would be there. That’s who these donors are. They want to sit and metaphorically have lunch with us. They want to know what’s going on, but because they care, and because they’ve shown that they care, they’ll still give us a gift if we ask directly and ask, right. But let’s take the time to take them out for a beer. Not literally. Maybe literally. Some of them might be literally, you know.
[00:29:39.300] – Boris
Yeah. Or send them some beer because they might be in a different part of the country. And you’re not traveling with COVID.
[00:29:45.480] – Clay Buck
Let’s not get into shipping alcohol and all of the ramifications of that, but yes!
[00:29:48.910] – Boris
There’s delivery service. There’re delivery services. I’m not advocating anything illegal here. Clay, this is great stuff. I’m sure we could talk about a whole lot more things, but I’d like that we’ve really zeroed in on one particular thing that I think nonprofits should be thinking about right now, especially as year-end giving season is upon us. If they haven’t started yet, what’s the first thing they should do? I feel like we kind of covered this actual data.
[00:30:20.070] – Clay Buck
Yeah, audit the data. Take a look. Take the time to invest in it. Either hire a firm to do it. Sorry, shameless plug for me and the many firms that do database audits. Or take the time to pull all the data out of the CRM and just run some quick analysis on it. Use those summary fields to take the time to look and see. And while you’re at it, take the time to look at your data quality. How many addresses do you have? How many emails, where are you missing phone numbers, etc., etc., etc. Because we can’t reach our donors then, right? It’s pointless.
[00:30:49.960] – Boris
Perfect. I think that’s a great place where everybody should be starting. Even if you think you’ve been looking at your data all this time, look again. Look for those people that neatly fit into the buckets that you’ve previously made and talk to them as a human being with their own life rather than someone who lapsed off your list for X months.
[00:31:10.840] – Clay Buck
[00:31:13.220] – Boris
What’s a tool or resource, Clay, that you recommend nonprofit leaders and fundraising professionals, I guess, specifically, should check out.
[00:31:21.200] – Clay Buck
I know you want to talk tech. I know “technology.” I know there’s tons of stuff out there and there’s all kinds of great resources… if it’s not on your bookshelf, if you haven’t read it, I think every fundraiser, everywhere, needs to once a year read Harold J. “Sy” Seymour’s “Designs for Fundraising.” Published in 1967, before we had technology and digital and whatever… all the things that we have. The principles in that book are the same principles today. We’re still using the same techniques. We’re still using the same strategies. And he’s absolutely right in the importance of relationship and the importance of donor behavior and how they tell us.
Sy Seymour isn’t it telling… Doesn’t say anything in the book that I haven’t said today to be perfectly honest. So that is always my go to resource, and I actually do reread it once a year just to refresh and keep myself focused.
[00:32:15.160] – Boris
And I’m sure if it’s that popular, they have a digital version, so you don’t have to—
[00:32:22.460] – Clay Buck
It was written in 1967. You’re going to get a beat up old copy from—
[00:32:24.490] – Boris
they don’t print anymore? There’s no new addition.
[00:32:26.921] – Clay Buck
[00:32:27.740] – Boris
Sounds like an opportunity to buy them all up and—
[00:32:30.240] – Clay Buck
No, don’t do that!
[00:32:31.970] – Boris
No, that would be bad. And donate them to nonprofits!
[00:32:35.480] – Clay Buck
There you go. Good. Good. That was a good recovery. It’s readily available. You can find it absolutely from your favorite book store, your favorite online source for books. But it really is just a phenomenal book. And just for perspective, Sy Seymour is who Jerry Panis learned from and developed his theories from. Right? So this is generational knowledge being passed down to it and to us all as fundraisers. I learned from people who learned from Jerry. So there’s a whole lot of generational approach there.
[00:33:10.100] – Boris
Awesome. We’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes, as well as anything else that we touched on in this episode and some definitions of some of the terms that we talked around that might be helpful as well. If anyone wants to follow up with you directly, Clay, what’s the best way to do that? What should they do?
[00:33:28.200] – Clay Buck
LinkedIn is the easiest. You can pretty much find me anywhere online under T. Clay Buck. It’s usually @tclaybuck or some variation thereof. LinkedIn is a great place to find me. I am on Twitter, with an alarming frequency and my Twitter handle is @tclaybuck. But you can also visit my website at TCD fundraising.com.
[00:33:50.280] – Boris
We’ll have all those links as well as the show notes and takeaways for nonprofits to get started with all the awesome things that you were just recommending to do. Clay, thank you so much for joining us today and talking about this stuff.
[00:34:03.160] – Clay Buck
My pleasure! Thanks for having me.
[00:34:04.780] – Boris
Awesome and thank you everybody for joining us today for the nonprofit Hero Factory. If you like this type of content, talking about what nonprofit leaders can and should be doing to increase the number of supporters, to activate more heroes for their cause, with experts like Clay… please, please subscribe and leave us a review. Leave us a rating on your favorite platforms, on iTunes, wherever you might listen to us so that more people can discover this show and benefit from people like Clay and all of our other amazing guests.
[00:34:34.960] – Boris
Thank you, everybody. See you next week.
[00:34:56.500] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- There’s a lot of experimentation in nonprofit fundraising today. But success only comes when there is a strategy, informed by data. (4:53)
- Donors are telling us their stories just by providing data, like giving patterns and other interactions that they have with a nonprofit. And the data show us that many seemingly lapsed donors care about what we’re doing, they just might not be showing it in ways that neatly fit into our preconceived notions of donor behavior. (5:51)
- One of the biggest trends that Clay sees is the preponderance of “consistent-but-not-consecutive” donors. These are supporters who may not give in consecutive periods, or may give less one time and more another. Too often, they get mislabeled into lapsed or similar categories, and the communication with them becomes inconsistent with their views. (8:40)
- Donors are human beings with changing priorities and life circumstances. In times of crisis, their patterns change, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to support the causes they care about. (10:13)
- For donors, the act of giving is an act of agency. They are attempting to make a change in the world, to right some wrong and not feel powerless. Even in times of crisis, though, they are likely to increase support for the organizations that they care about, as well as those that have a clear connection to the current crisis. (14:07)
- The Starfish parable: donors want to feel like they’re making a difference, even in the face of unfathomable odds. (16:37)
- Donors don’t care about a nonprofit’s fiscal year. They give when they want to give, and our job is to make that as easy as possible. Don’t assume that, just because you haven’t heard (or received a donation) from a supporter in X months, that they no longer identify themselves with your organization and cause. (18:22)
- Creating segments of donors who are consistent but not consecutive, and approaching them as long-time friends and collaborators rather than labels like lapsed/LYBUNT/SYBUNT, and giving them a reason and a way to increase their support has proven very effective in increasing giving. (19:50)
- The first step to changing how you view and engage your donors is to commit to data literacy. You don’t have to be naturally great with math or an Excel pro, you just have to be willing to learn. (23:18)
- The second step is to acknowledge that there are different possibilities for segmentation than the binary tests that are dominant. Consider what your donors’ data is actually telling you about them, and then treat them accordingly. (24:10)
- There are six donor record fields that can be pulled from most any CRM platform that, when looked at the right way, can identify your consistent-but-not-consecutive donors. Don’t send them yet another reacquisition campaign that shows you don’t understand them. (26:55)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
T. Clay BuckFounder/Consultant at TCB Fundraising
Clay is a thirty-year fundraising veteran, having spent an equal amount of time as a front-line fundraiser as he has as a consultant. He has experience in all aspects of fundraising, with particular expertise in individual giving and building the systems and infrastructure that support high level results. He is the Founder and Lead Consultant for TCB Fundraising, an Individual Giving fundraising consulting firm; he has held leadership roles at several nonprofits across the country and at major national fundraising consulting firms.
Clay holds a BA from the University of Georgia, an MFA from Michigan State University, and a Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of Chicago. He earned a Certificate in Philanthropic Psychology With Distinction from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and is an AFP Master Trainer.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 29
Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way (part 2 of 3), with Boris Kievsky
In this Episode:
Welcome to part 2 of our exploration of nonprofit storytelling lessons from Hollywood and beyond. This installment covers 15 elements of style and structure, and another 6 tips for laying out your action. Each concept can be directly applied to better telling your nonprofit’s stories.
When most people think of storytelling, they tend to think of it as a freeform art. While that’s true to some extent, most every great story relies on specific structural elements and clear stylistic decisions. Of course, within that structure and those guidelines, there is endless room for creativity.
Whether you’re new to nonprofit, new to storytelling or have been working with both for years, these concepts can help you refine your strategy and spark ideas for new ways to share your important work with the people who need to hear it.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:04.720] – Intro Video
Welcome to the nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da-ding.
[00:00:21.930] – Boris
Hey, everybody, welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. This is another episode in our series on Hollywood Storytelling Tips for nonprofits. I began the series about a month ago now helping organizations figure out some of the key storytelling elements that every great story should have. I’m basing everything, of course, on the Hollywood formula because it is one of the most successful formulas of all time, arguably the most successful and certainly in terms of revenue. You know, if you’ve ever enjoyed a movie, been inspired or moved by a movie by what you saw or even just greatly entertained and appreciated that entertainment, then you’ve experienced the power of a great story, specifically in the way that Hollywood has put it together.
[00:01:05.390] – Boris
It doesn’t mean that those stories have to be on video, that they have to be big budget. In fact, so many of the great Hollywood stories are not on a big budget. They’re told with low budget cameras and actors who may not even be at the top of their game yet. And yet they can come together and create a story that’s really exciting and fun to watch. I don’t want the term Hollywood to make people think that this has got to be big budget blockbuster, superheroes fighting with special effects.
[00:01:35.820] – Boris
Sure, that’s one type of story, but there are so many different ones. And in the first part of the series, I covered how to set up your stories by first framing your goals and then really understanding your audience and the characters involved. Once you know what you want to achieve and whom you’re speaking to, who you want to step up and become the hero of the story. Now it’s time to take a good look at how you’re going to tell it. This is where that “do we need a blockbuster?” part comes in.
[00:02:03.940] – Boris
In the end, you see, all stories work on similar principles, and any story can theoretically be told in countless different ways. Today, let’s look at what story structure looks like and the elements that we want to include to capture and keep attention as well as to inspire our audience to hopefully become heroes for our cause by taking the actions we need them to take. And that starts by thinking about what style you’re going to be telling your story in.
[00:02:31.730] – Boris
Now again, it doesn’t have to be a blockbuster. There are rom-coms, there are documentaries, there are thrillers, there are action movies. All of them have their place, and all of them can tell a story in a different way. In fact, you could theoretically take the same story and frame it differently, tell it a little bit differently, using different dialogue, different staging, whatever it might be, and suddenly turn it into a different genre. Some of my favorite clips on YouTube are actually taking known movies and remixing them into something that looks and sounds completely different, oftentimes adding a different sound track, which is also an important part of the Hollywood storytelling system, which you can use sometimes in your own productions. Obviously, music plays a role.
[00:03:16.010] – Boris
But what’s key is to first start by picking your style and shifting styles midway through is often disorienting. If you’ve ever watched a movie that started out as a comedy but then shifted into a horror film, I don’t think that he has happened and have been made that way, but if you’ve ever seen a movie that starts with one thing and then turns into another and you feel kind of lost in the story or it’s trying to mix too many styles, right?
[00:03:43.100] – Boris
Oftentimes that happens at the risk of actually keeping an audience focused and following along because it’s very disorienting. First start by choosing your style and then choose your genre. Right? Your genre is specifically whether it’s a Rom. Com or a sitcom, if it’s a TV series. Think about, is this a feel good story? Is it a tragedy? Is it a romantic comedy, a documentary or a cautionary tale? Right? Those are all valid genres, and you want to be really careful because you never want to seem like you’re telling a tragedy in the sense that this is bleak and this is how things are.
[00:04:27.090] – Boris
You always want to be, including some element of hope, some element of progress. That people are not just going to always be in this situation, but that with my help or with the audience’s, the heroes’ help. People are going to be in an improved state of life. They’re going to either be more educated or they’re going to have more food and not worry about where their next meal is coming from or have shelter or have arts, whatever it might be. You want to have that kind of hope in every single story that you tell, especially if it’s the story of one of your beneficiaries so that you don’t feel like you’re just trying to tug at heart strings, but also to inspire people that change is real.
[00:05:17.160] – Boris
And then you want to be true to your medium. So as I said before, not every story has to be on video. It doesn’t have to be a big movie. It could be a podcast, it could be a video series, a webinar, it could be in a sequence of emails or a single email. It could be a blog post. Any of those things and all of the different other media types that are available and increasingly becoming available to all of us as consumers and as creators, they all have their own elements of structure and their own constraints.
[00:05:50.890] – Boris
Remember? One of my favorite expressions is, creativity loves constraints. So embrace the limitations of whatever medium you are telling your story in and then feel free to play with them and see how you can use them to your advantage. Every weakness is actually a strength, if looked at the right way. So be true to your medium, but then also know when to break the rules. So you don’t always have to follow proper etiquette when it comes to storytelling, because sometimes breaking with that etiquette will get the attention you want.
[00:06:27.560] – Boris
You always, of course, want to be careful that you don’t break etiquette for the sake of breaking etiquette, and you don’t offend people whom you definitely don’t want to offend. Often, certain politicians and organizations might—I don’t see this very often with nonprofits, but they might actually vilify somebody and put other organizations for other people down in order to make their point. That’s not the kind of etiquette that I’m talking about, you should break. I don’t personally believe in that. I believe in uplifting people instead of putting them down.
[00:07:00.900] – Boris
But you do want to break out of norms sometimes. Whether it’s your voice… So if an organization has a particular voice that they usually tell their stories, and sometimes a change of voice might be just the thing you need to start attracting new attention or to sort of dislodge people from the groove that they’ve already been in with your organization, get them to pay attention to anew. And then you want to know your POV. Now POV is a common term. It comes from—I believe it comes from Hollywood, where there’s a POV shot. Maybe I’m wrong there maybe actually came to Hollywood from somewhere else.
[00:07:37.800] – Boris
But the point of view is often decided before a movie is ever shot. Every movie has what’s called a shot list where they’re going to talk about… Okay, first, we’re going to have a third-person point of view where we’re going to have a medium shot. Let’s say then we’re going to have an over the shoulder POV shot, and that’s going to be approximately through the character’s eyes through one of the characters eyes looking at the action or looking at another character.
[00:08:01.700] – Boris
Similarly, in your own stories, it’s never an objective third party person that is just watching and relating a story. That person has a point of view. They have their perspective on things, and it’s totally valid. Whomever your narrator is, should have an opinion. Maybe they’re happy about something that’s going on, or maybe they’re disappointed with the state of the world today. Or maybe they’re excited by the possibilities. Right? But either way, they have a perspective. And oftentimes if it’s someone who is on your staff, that perspective is one of authority because you are an expert in your field. You are someone who knows—or the staff-person speaking knows—something that the majority of people don’t know. So that’s a valid and important point of view that they could be taking. And that instructs how that story might be told.
[00:08:53.440] – Boris
So once you have those elements now, we could really look at how a story is structured. So what do I mean by that? Every Hollywood movie follows a formula. Now they don’t all do it perfectly. In fact, they often times will break with the norm on purpose.
[00:09:10.830] – Boris
And we’ll talk about that a little bit more. But there’s a reason why they do it. Because within that structure, they can do a whole lot of different things, including even improvisation. Movies aren’t always completely scripted, and that’s okay. But knowing it well helps you organize your thoughts in order to then change them around in any way that you want to make the story more interesting and more compelling. So let’s talk a little bit about that. Of course, the classic story structure is simply a beginning, a middle and an end.
[00:09:43.680] – Boris
Every story must have those three things in order to really feel like a story to us. If it’s something that doesn’t have an end, then we feel kind of left wanting and a little disenchanted with the storyteller. If it doesn’t have a beginning, we might start off confused, which sometimes is intentional. And if it doesn’t have a middle, if it just jumps from the beginning to the end, then we’re often left unmoved because we’re not sure how the transformation took place. And that’s another thing that every story must have.
[00:10:13.650] – Boris
So people often don’t have the patience, for example, for a slow start. So don’t feel like you have to go all the way back. You can begin anywhere you want to begin. In fact, some of my favorite movies and plays don’t begin at the story’s beginning. But the plot, the action starts somewhere later on, maybe even at the end. In the case of one of my favorite places, Betrayal by Harold Pinter or the movie Memento, where it’s actually being told in reverse chronological order in a really interesting way.
[00:10:42.890] – Boris
Those are all great devices, but within those stories, if you were to take them apart, you could actually reshuffle them back into an order of beginning, middle and end, because all those parts don’t need to be covered. That said, you want to tell a complete story or a complete part of a story. So whatever point you start at and order you choose to go in, make sure to paint a complete picture by the time you’re finished, or give the audience a quick way to learn the rest, for example.
[00:11:12.810] – Boris
So if you’re doing short form storytelling on social media, you’ll often have that link to deeper content that they could find on your website or on YouTube or wherever else you create your content. You’re essentially telling a short version of the story, a teaser for the story and saying, hey, you want the full thing? Great. Go find it over here. We’re happy to share it with you. Right?
[00:11:32.960] – Boris
And then one thing that I advise people to do when telling stories because there’s a lot of different stories you could tell, and sometimes it’s hard to think of all of them is to celebrate victories. So, whenever you’re watching a movie that does have any sort of action, and that could include romantic action, there are ups and downs. There are highs and lows. Those ups are victories. The characters have experienced something that has made them feel better, made their world better, has somehow been a success. You want to be sure to celebrate those because they might not happen every day. But that’s even the more reason why they’re so important to show people that victory is possible, that there is hope for the future. And together we can get there, right? Every step forward is a step toward achieving your mission.
[00:12:22.200] – Boris
But you do want to acknowledge setbacks, and this is the next tip. Movies and their heroes don’t have a straight path to victory. In fact, if you could see my hand, it kind of goes up and down, up and down. New highs, new lows, new highs, new lows. Because stakes are constantly being increased. If a character knew everything that they had to do at the end in order to succeed, they would probably be too scared to do it in the first place so they wouldn’t get started.
[00:12:52.370] – Boris
They would never become a hero. The world would never change. There are setbacks along the way, and that’s okay because you’re going to then show people how you help them overcome those setbacks. One of the quotes I like is that the measure of a hero or a person, a man—I think it was originally said, I don’t like to use those gender specific terms—is not how many times he or she falls down, but how many times they get back up, right? So that’s acknowledging your setbacks.
[00:13:21.860] – Boris
One other thing I want to say about that is that failures are normal. We all fail. We all have setbacks in our lives. And when you’re telling specific stories of a specific person’s journey, hopefully it is a journey that leads them through transformation and gets them to a better place in life. But if you don’t show along the way the challenges that they have or the challenges where they started or along the journey. If you’re not able to show those, then the people are not going to feel three dimensional and they’re not going to feel relatable.
[00:13:56.070] – Boris
There are scientific studies that show that when someone opens up and shows their vulnerability, they actually elicit a response in—a neurochemical response in our brains. That is the release of oxytocin. That oxytocin is the chemical that helps us feel trust and compassion both at the same time. And aren’t those the very things that you want people to feel when they’re thinking about your organization? So when you’re opening up feeling vulnerable, talking about the vulnerability, people will relate. They’ll feel like you’re a human being, right? No one wants to give money to Nike, but people do want to feel something based on the shoes and the experience around the clothing.
[00:14:42.140] – Boris
No one wants to give money to an organization that is just some umbrella name. They want to give money to people working in an organization for a cause that we all believe in and want to succeed. So acknowledging those setbacks helps us feel like you’re a human being and this is human to human, which is ultimately everything that we want to achieve.
[00:15:06.740] – Boris
The next thing you want to do in storytelling, and this is a fun device is foreshadowing. So if you are telling a story that may take a little bit longer, let’s say to get to the end, you want to maybe hint at what’s coming down the road that opens up a loop in our brains. We naturally want to close that loop, and we will be much more likely to stay tuned to the end to get that loop closed, to feel that piece of information filled in.
[00:15:36.860] – Boris
We don’t like having these question marks hanging in our minds. So it might be like something along the lines of now, before we tell you how this person did this, let’s start at the beginning. Oh, wow. This person was able to do this, and you’re going to tell me how that opens up that loop. You’re foreshadowing what’s going to happen later. That’s just one example or you could say, “but more on that later,” in some way, at some point in your story. And I do that oftentimes, even in my interviews, they say, hey, you know what? We’re going to come back to that later. But first, let’s expand on the issue that we’re talking about, right? So it gives people an incentive to stay tuned and stay focused on your story.
[00:16:18.350] – Boris
The next tip that I find very difficult to do, to be honest, is to take the time to make it short. So Mark Twain once signed a long letter of his in which the PS, I believe, was, I apologize, and I’m paraphrasing this, But Mark Twain said, “Please forgive me for the length of this letter that this letter is so lengthy, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” And that’s kind of funny. It sort of in Mark Twain’s way, makes you think and put some question marks up in your brain. Why does it take longer to write something that’s shorter? The truth is, it’s easy to ramble.
[00:17:04.760] – Boris
It’s easy to go on and on. It’s easy to include much more than someone needs in a story. But everything that’s not critical, that’s not serving a very specific purpose in your story—that is an opportunity for someone to become distracted, to tune out. To… as one of my theater director teachers used to say, that gives them the chance to start counting the lights in the theater, and as soon as they’re counting the lights, you’ve lost them. Movies are often made in the editing process. They are edited and reedited and condensed and re-condensed in order to make them as efficient as possible.
[00:17:44.380] – Boris
Every little scene. Basically, every word has to contribute to the objective, the super objective and the plot of the movie otherwise is cut on the editing room floor. So take the time to edit it down to the essentials. But of course, not so much that you’re removing the human factor.
[00:18:05.650] – Boris
The next tip that I have is to feed them elephants. Now, of course, I don’t advise anyone ever actually elephants. I love them. They’re beautiful creatures, and they should be protected as they often are. So what do I mean by feeding elephants?
[00:18:21.080] – Boris
There’s a quote that says, “how do you eat an elephant one bite at a time?” It’s by Creighton W. Abrams, Jr. And I confess I don’t know anything else that Creighton Abrams said or wrote, but that one has really stuck with me. The story of our organization, of our work, of our lives… it’s long. It’s very long, and that if you’re trying to boil it down and just get it to one small thing in the way of making it short, you might miss out on a lot of different things.
[00:18:55.620] – Boris
So instead of trying to boil down someone’s life into a sentence or into a two minute video, you may just want to focus on one specific element and then have people come back for the next installment… the next element of the next tale from their lives. So feel free to focus in on one particular part of a journey or one particular transformation that your programming has had on a particular person or your own experience with your organization. Zoom in on one thing and tell that story in a short, compelling way. Then people are much more likely to come back for the next bite of that elephant. The proverbial elephant.
[00:19:38.440] – Boris
One more device to add to that in the realm of keeping people coming back, is throwing in some cliff-hangers. Now, cliff-hangers—some of us that are old enough to remember these types of movies now—are actually the end of a movie. The end of a double feature… the first part of a double feature, oftentimes where the hero is literally left hanging on a cliff. That’s why it’s called a cliff-hanger.
[00:20:03.630] – Boris
And you want to know what’s going to happen to that hero. You’re excited, you’re scared, you’re angry, perhaps even that the hero is there in that position. And so you’re much more likely to stay for the second half of the double feature, past the other reels that might come in between the commercials, whatever it might be, go out and buy some more popcorn. Really, that’s what the theater wants you to do, right? You want to know what’s going to happen to this person. So a cliff-hanger is the term for stopping a story at a very exciting point and saying, I’m not ready to tell you the rest of it just yet. You’re going to have to come back later.
Very effective advice. Don’t overuse it, because when you do people will stop tuning in. I’ll give you an example. When The Lord of the Rings movies came out, I hadn’t read the books. My mistake. And I saw the first movie and I loved it. I watched it. And when it got to the end, it didn’t end. It just stopped. And that was upsetting to me because I wanted some sort of conclusion, some sort of wrapping, some sort of bow on that present that they had given me. And I didn’t get that experience.
[00:21:13.720] – Boris
I was upset. I didn’t go see movie number two in theaters. I waited ’til three came out, and then I watched one and two back to back and then went to go see number three. Don’t overuse Cliffhangers and make sure that they are exciting and that you’re not going to leave me waiting for much too long because chances are I’ll forget. And then I’m not sure if I’m going to tune back in for the second part. So that’s on cliff-hangers.
[00:21:37.200] – Boris
Then, cross promote. So this is something that TV shows will do often times if you watch any of the Chicago series, Chicago PD, Chicago Med, right? And Chicago Fire. They’ll often cross promote each other. They’re all part of one television universe. Similarly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will do the same thing where they’ll cross promote each other’s movies. It different movies in the universe. That’s a great thing to do. And in your stories, you could do something similar where, when your audience is enjoying a story, be sure to tell them another way to get similar content. Now that could just be telling them: if you sign up for my newsletter, then you’re gonna get more of this type of content really soon.
[00:22:24.970] – Boris
Or if you like this story, you’ll really love this other one that we shared just recently or one that we’re going to have soon. Right? Cross promoting. And sometimes it could go even beyond just from story to story. You could cross promote programs. You could cross promote all kinds of things as long as they are relevant to the audience that you’re working with. And remember, we talked a lot about keeping things relevant to the specific audience in the first installment of the series. I encourage you to go back and listen to that again, if you need to or haven’t heard it yet.
[00:22:57.700] – Boris
So, if you’ve told your story well, and we’re going to talk more about the action of a story in every movie, we’ve got the end of the movie, the credits, right? Don’t forget that your movie, your story has credits as well. So the show your audience that this is a team effort. The credit belongs to your heroes. Now that might be the narrator of the story, or it might be whom the story was about, or it might be that the donors who made this possible, or the volunteers who slaved day after day to make this actually happen.
[00:23:37.120] – Boris
They deserve the credit. And you want to share that credit because it’s going to help us all feel like we can be heroes as well. Because if people like us are in the credits, then we could also be heroes in this world. Speaking of supporting credits and giving credit where credit is due, see this series and everything that I talk about wouldn’t be possible without some of the great storytellers throughout the ages, including people like JJ Abrams and Shakespeare and Robert McKee and Crayton Abrams and my favorite theater, film and writing teachers. All of them were heroes in one way or another in my life, and I’d like to give them credit.
I give credit actually oftentimes to my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Krupitsky, who taught me so much about writing and about storytelling in fourth and fifth grade. She actually was my teacher for both of those. Right… give that credit. It makes you look humble. It actually encourages you to be humble and grateful to the people who make things possible. So now that we’ve established the style and some of the structure of storytelling, let’s look at the action.
[00:24:51.350] – Boris
So the action of a movie is all about the conflict to save the world of the protagonist. Again, that doesn’t have to actually be planet Earth. It could just be a marriage. It could be a relationship. It could be a child coming into their own and having their transformation in one way or another. But for their mission to be successful, a hero has to rise up in the face of all obstacles and win the day. Sometimes begrudgingly. But they do have to. Right? And we talk about calls to action a lot.
[00:25:21.340] – Boris
Before we have those calls to action, we have to establish the back story. And that is what is this world like? How have things been up to this point? What is the history of the problem problem? Chances are, if you are running a nonprofit, you are focusing on one or two specific problems in the world. Now that might include a bunch of different programs that you’re running. But there should be an overarching mission that unifies all of the things that you focus on. That is the big picture problem.
[00:25:53.480] – Boris
If you are familiar with old movie trailers, they all used to start with in a world where there’s certain kind of injustice, there is a man or a woman or a child who has to take on the seed of power, overcoming… Right? That dramatic voice talking about the world that we live in. Similarly, in the first few minutes of a movie or any story in the beginning of it, you establish that this is the world, but there’s something wrong. If there’s not something wrong then, frankly, no one needs to do anything, everything is fine, and we can all move on.
[00:26:28.470] – Boris
That’s not the case for your organization or your mission. So what is the back story for this particular story for this particular segment of your storytelling, novel or whatever we want to call it series?
[00:26:42.120] – Boris
Then you want to go ahead and map out the journey. If your heroes take action, if your potential heroes take action and stuff up to become heroes, what will that journey look like? What are they going to have to do? How long will it take? How many paths can they take? Right?
[00:27:00.780] – Boris
So you might have multiple programs. They all should help with your overall mission and goals. Well, they are different paths to success, and I might want to take one path versus another, depending on how you’ve described it and what resonates best with me. This is the part of storytelling that really differs from Hollywood in the case of your organization. In this case, you want to make the potential hero their own agent of change and turn this into a choose your own adventure rather than a prewritten story.
[00:27:33.970] – Boris
So map out the journey, perhaps telling me how long this might take, what I’ll have to bring, what I should be prepared for so that I don’t feel like I’m turning a blind corner and unsure what’s going to happen to me. If I go ahead and volunteer or go ahead and donate, you want to make it super clear for me. The next thing to do is to set the stakes. So what will happen if in this world that you’ve established, the hero doesn’t take action? The potential hero doesn’t become a hero.
[00:28:07.720] – Boris
What’s at risk are more people going to fall to prey to a certain pandemic or phenomena? Are fewer kids going to grow up having a certain opportunity or be able to do something with their own lives? Are future heroes not going to be able to realize their own potential, essentially, right? So make it clear why this is a battle that really must be won. What’s at stake? And then create a clear call to action.
[00:28:38.810] – Boris
So I talk about this a lot. A lot of organizations that I’ve worked with, they assume that people will know what to do or that the best call to action is to donate money. That’s not always the best thing. Depending on where you are in your journey, where I am as a potential supporter or an existing supporter, there are different actions that I might want to take. But if you don’t tell me clearly that this is the next best step. Or here are one, two or three. I really wouldn’t go over three possible steps that you could take next to become a hero. That would be fantastic.
[00:29:16.660] – Boris
Ideally, I recommend making those steps a scale, a ladder, if you will, where someone can do one thing that takes almost no personal commitment. Like, for example, signing up for a newsletter, or they can donate their time or teir voice or their money. And different calls to action will have a different level of commitment. So if I’m already well-invested in the stories that you’re telling and in the organization, the work that your organization is doing, then a greater call to action might suit me just fine. Whereas if this is the first time I’m meeting you, don’t ask me to marry you before first date. Go ahead and ask for my number or ask for my email address.
[00:30:01.700] – Boris
Actually, either one these days people will ask for, if you want to run an SMS campaign or an email. Usually email is easier. Or maybe even it’s just join you on face group for something or sign up for an event. Any of those are perfectly valid and it gives me the sense of control that I can decide what to do next. But don’t assume that I’m going to automatically start looking on your website or on your social media wherever I find your story for what can I do now? Don’t count on me to be that moved and inspired, making as easy and frictionless for me as possible.
[00:30:36.640] – Boris
Then you want to slowly build to a finale as I was motioning before, for those of you watching this on video… the stakes get higher and higher. The successes and failures will feel higher and deeper. Ultimately, there is supposed to be in every story a final battle. Now, again, this doesn’t have to be a superhero movie. It could be a rom-com. It could be a buddy comedy, it could be a documentary, but it comes to a head to a climax and the battle for the fate of that world—whatever, however you define the world—will be at stake. So you want to slowly build to it.
[00:31:21.640] – Boris
As I was saying a minute ago, your calls to a should rev up over time, depending on my engagement and affinity for your work. But you do want to keep raising them on me over time. Give me the opportunity to do more and more. Hopefully, if I’ve already taken action in the past with you, I have seen that action pay off. You have kept me informed. You have told me what my actions have yielded in the world that we both see has an issue in it, so that next time you could say, you know what doing that achieved this, right?
[00:31:56.500] – Boris
X achieved Y. If you do X + 2, we’re gonna achieve Y x 3. Great. Your return on investment is going to be even greater. So slowly keep building to that final battle.
[00:32:08.720] – Boris
But do, and this is the next step, make it a winnable fight. There’s a concept of a donor-size problem where you don’t want to ask for somebody from somebody who can’t afford to give you a million dollars. You don’t want to ask them for a million dollars because they’ll feel like, oh, well, I can’t actually solve this problem.
[00:32:25.700] – Boris
You want to make this a winnable fight by giving your audience something that they could do that’s going to have an impact that’s going to pay off. And that the culmination of the support that I’m going to give, plus this community that you’re building around your cause is going to give, the culmination of those is going to make this a winnable fight and we can achieve our mission and the vision of the world that we want to see, together. So make it a winnable fight before you ask me to actually jump in.
[00:32:59.610] – Boris
Those are the elements that I want to talk to you guys about today that will really help you set up your narrative, your structure and the style in which you’re going to tell the story. Combined with the audience and understanding how they work and what types of characters you should have in your story, you should now have a great foundation and even a structure with the beginnin- middle-end, whatever order you want to put it in, that’s going to engage your audience. That’s going to attract new audiences, hopefully, because you’re going to resonate with them specifically and you’re going to tell it in a way that’s going to keep them interested and wanting to hear more from you and keep coming back for your content.
[00:33:41.240] – Boris
Whether that’s on social media, on email, on your website, however, you want to serve it to them, including, of course, on a podcast. I hope you enjoy this show. I hope if, you haven’t yet go back and view or listen to part one, see all the takeaways which we’re going to have for this one as well on our Show Notes page at NPHF.show. And you’re going to then want to come back for more. That’s my hope, because if you don’t, then I’m not going to be able to give you more value and I’m going to lose the ability to help you do even more.
[00:34:13.790] – Boris
So hopefully I’ve done a good job of teasing that this is part of a series and that in the next part of the series we’re going to talk about specific elements that you could introduce to really make your audience pay attention and take action, make sure not to lose along the way. And all combined, you’re going to have a great idea of how to tell a great story, the Hollywood Way, but specifically for nonprofits. Thank you for joining me.
[00:34:39.210] – Boris
Next week. We’re going to have another guest on the show as we do most of the time. This is part of a special series of Hollywood storytelling tips for nonprofits, and I look forward to seeing you with a guest next week. Bye bye.
[00:34:51.510] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.
Concepts and Takeaways:
- Start by picking your style and genre and be careful not to change part-way through. (2:10)
- The dangers of making the story a tragedy. (4:14)
- Staying true to your medium and knowing when and how to break the rules. (5:17)
- Understanding and acknowledging your own point(s) of view. (7:25)
- How stories are structured. (8:53)
- Telling complete stories, whatever the length. (10:57)
- The vital importance of celebrating victories and acknowledging setbacks publicly. (11:32)
- Use devices like foreshadowing to keep attention through longer stories. (15:06)
- There should be nothing extra in a story. Work hard to remove everything that doesn’t serve the story arc. (16:18)
- How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Don’t try to tell people everything you think they should know in one story. Break long stories into shorter installments whenever possible. (18:05)
- Use cliffhangers to get people to come back for the conclusion. (19:38)
- Take the opportunity within or at the end of a story to pique interest in other stories (21:37)
- Give credit where credit is due. This is your chance to demonstrate community and gratitude to the people who make your work possible. (22:57)
- In some way, every movie is about saving the world. And so is your organization. What’s wrong with the world today that you need others to step up and become heroes? (24:51)
- Tell your audience how you’re going to help them succeed and make the world a better place. What can they do? What options do they have? (26:42)
- Make it clear why this is an important battle by letting people know what’s at stake. (27:54)
- Call your heroes to action explicitly. Make it clear what you want people to do, and make it easy to do it. Offer options if appropriate. (28:38)
- Don’t make the challenge too great or ask for too much at once. Give people the chance to take a small risk and get an easy win first. Increase the stakes and investment slowly. (30:36)
- Make it clear that this is a fight that you can win, together. (32:08)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Boris KievskyChief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy
Boris is an entrepreneur, recovering filmmaker, and relapsed geek. As the the Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy, Boris helps nonprofits harness the power of great stories amplified through the right technology to reach the right audiences, create meaningful connections, and activate the inner hero in each of them.