EP51 - Tim Sarrantonio - Featured

Episode 51: New Report: The State of Nonprofit Donor Support, with Tim Sarrantonio

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 51

New Report: The State of Nonprofit Donor Support, with Tim Sarrantonio

In this Episode:

There’s a new individual giving report, and the good news is that household charitable giving is on the rise. The bad news is that over 80% of new donors don’t give to the same nonprofit again the following year. The biggest difference maker? Treating donors as individuals, understanding their motivations, and reinforcing how your work connects to their personal identity. In other words: personalized, story-based communication.

Today, for example, people are generously donating in support of Ukraine, which is on our minds because of the invasion, violence and humanitarian crisis we are witnessing. For Boris, the crisis in Ukraine goes much deeper than what we are seeing on TV, but how likely are most people to continue giving when another crisis dominates headlines? Are we just locked in a cycle of emergency response giving?

Tim Sarrantonio, the Director of Corporate Brand at Neon One, an integrated network of products and support for nonprofits, knows that finding accurate data and making connections between data and the broader story is the key to successful nonprofit fundraising. Neon One’s data report, Donors: Understanding the Future of Individual Giving, was released on March 8. He’s here to talk about what they discovered.

[00:00:05.690] – 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!

[00:00:21.930] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Nonprofit Hero Factory. I am your host of this show, and I am the chief storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy. My name is Boris Kievsky, which today is a kind of topical name. As we record this, there is a lot of uncertainty around what’s going to be happening in the city that my family is named after that I’ve visited many times. My thoughts and hopes are with those people, and I’m encouraged by the fact that shows like this and guests like the one we have today are here to help more organizations do more good, to create a better world for all of us, to hopefully minimize this kind of disruption, violence, and, frankly, evil in the world.

[00:01:11.370] – Boris
With that, thank you for listening to my little intro there. But let me introduce the guest for today’s show. He is the Director of Corporate Brand at Neon One. His name is Tim Sarrantonio, and Tim has more than 10 years experience working with and volunteering for nonprofits. He’s raised over $3 million for various causes, engaged in enhanced databases of all sizes, procured multiple successful grants and formulated engaging communications and successful fundraising campaigns for several nonprofits.

[00:01:43.560] – Boris
He has presented at international conferences, and is a TEDx speaker on technology and philanthropy. He volunteers heavily in his community around… I should have asked him how to pronounce that before, Niskayuna, New York. And he describes his superpower as finding the connections between data and the broader story we all want to tell. Let’s welcome Tim onto the show.

[00:02:06.990] – Tim Sarrantonio
Hi, Boris. Thanks for the warm welcome. And you did get it, Niskayuna. That’s correct.

[00:02:11.800] – Boris
Awesome. It’s always a priority for me to pronounce things correctly, and then if I don’t rehearse it, you never know. But at least I got your name right, I hope.

[00:02:20.880] – Tim Sarrantonio
Yes, you did. Absolutely. It’s like San Antonio, but roll some r’s into it.

[00:02:26.330] – Boris
Well, we could get into the Russian “r” rolling.

[00:02:30.030] – Tim Sarrantonio
No, thank you. Right? But yeah. Thanks for having me on the show. Really excited.

[00:02:34.810] – Boris
It’s my pleasure. I’m glad to have you on. And we’ve been chatting a little bit about what you have to share with us. I’m really excited to get into it. Before we do, though, why don’t you share a couple minutes. What’s your story? Why do you do what you do? How did you get here?

[00:02:50.570] – Tim Sarrantonio
How did I get here? Okay. My story: I was born in New York City and grew up where my father was an author. My mom worked in the city, so my dad was home. My mom would go into the city for work. And so I always had a really interesting childhood in that way where eventually I thought, I wanted to be a lawyer, trust and estates lawyer, actually, growing up, because that’s what my mom did. And then I went to college and said, I don’t want to be a trust and estates lawyer. But I love storytelling. I love hearing what the average person is going through. So, I actually wanted to be a labor historian and tell the stories of the average working person and the things that they did. Very Studs Terkel-like in terms of what was the experience that people would go through.

[00:03:44.230] – Tim Sarrantonio
And so I did what every budding academic would do, which is I just dumped a bunch of money into more school. I went to live in Ireland. I went back to New York City and got a degree there, too, and then moved to the Midwest because that’s where all the great labor programs are, is in the middle of a cornfield.

[00:04:03.230] – Tim Sarrantonio
And what happened was I didn’t get into any of the programs that I wanted. And my dad said, “Get a job.” And so I still wanted to help people. And there was a nonprofit day labor center in Chicago that was hiring for a grant writer. And so I got that job. And it was 2008. So, I promptly stopped getting grants, pivoted to individual fundraising and that job didn’t work out. It was a weird organization, but I learned a lot for working for something that had $90,000 in their entire budget. Worked for a few other nonprofits, including a pretty big Catholic school in the north side of Chicago, Rogers Park neighborhood.

[00:04:49.630] – Tim Sarrantonio
And then there was this company that did a database for nonprofits. And that was very intriguing to me because I had used things like Raiser’s Edge and tried to build my own databases—unsuccessfully, I might add. And that was about ten years ago, actually, when I first joined them. And I’ve been with them ever since. And finding the ways that people tell stories through data has been my journey there. It’s been an interesting ride. People are like, “Oh, so you have a background in data?” No, not at all. Liberal Arts, but it works out, kids. It does work out.

[00:05:26.350] – Boris
That’s a cool and circuitous journey. Not too different from my own, although I started more on the tech side of things in New York, then went into the storytelling side of things all over the place, came back, and now combine everything that I know and love in the service of nonprofits, similar to you. Definitely fascinated by the data side, still focused on that a lot of times, but story for me is paramount. It’s the most critical thing to actually make the connection between data and people. And I think you and I are on the same wavelength on that.

[00:06:01.990] – Tim Sarrantonio
And what’s interesting, by the way, just because I was so excited about your show, in particular, Boris… I helped found a comic books in literacy nonprofit, so heroes and just even the intro and all that type of stuff, it really resonates with me. And especially as a father of three young kids, we need that type of light more now than ever. And so, again, really excited to be here.

[00:06:27.610] – Boris
I appreciate that. And we can geek out about comic books and stories of all sorts later on.

[00:06:34.290] – Tim Sarrantonio
Later on. Yes.

[00:06:36.070] – Boris
But let’s go ahead and get into why we brought you on the show, frankly. And that is to talk about your point of view sitting at Neon One. For those of you who aren’t watching this video and are listening, Tim, as the director of corporate brand, is wearing the merchandise. He’s got his Neon One hat on. I’m pretty sure that’s written into his contract somewhere. So what is going on? What are you seeing from your point of view? What’s happening?

[00:07:05.900] – Tim Sarrantonio
So, yeah, it’s been interesting because since the onset of the pandemic, a lot of things have changed, but a lot of things have stayed the same. So Neon One provides connected fundraising. And what that means is that we look at things from what’s happening in a CRM, what’s happening with email and online payments and events, arts and culture giving days, peer to peer, a lot of different perspectives.

[00:07:30.760] – Tim Sarrantonio
And so what was frustrating to me when I stepped back is that a lot of the narratives that we were looking at in the broader world around charity were things like, ‘Edelman Trust says that nonprofit trust is down’ or ‘household giving is down in the United States according to USA today.’ And they’re citing data and things from 2019 or before! And that still is happening. I can go on Twitter and people are still citing data that’s from before the pandemic. So what we wanted to do in our partners at Fundraising Effectiveness Project, which is an initiative between the Association of Fundraising Professionals and GivingTuesday, which has data from us, Bloomerang, DonorPerfect, Keela, lot of different data sources, very, very objective, probably the most objective understanding of individual giving and largest data set of individual giving in the world.

[00:08:34.940] – Tim Sarrantonio
And so we wanted to say what’s actually happening from March 2020 onward, right? We’re coming up to two years. Amazing, right? It doesn’t seem… It seems like way more than that. This is probably what the last week as we’re recording this, the last week of normalcy that happened two years ago. And so what we wanted to actually understand is what has changed with donor giving behavior. A lot of times we hear it from the perspective of what maybe a board member thinks is happening or what we feel as fundraisers or marketers should be done. And what we wanted to set out and answer was, what are actually donors doing? What’s changing in their behavior? So we’ve been researching that heavily, both with Fundraising Effectiveness Project as well as the report that I’ve been working on forever, basically that we’re about to release.

[00:09:30.150] – Boris
So I’m excited about all this because I have looked up data and I have tried to look up trends in the past. And I do see papers from before 2019 referencing data from even before that by a couple of years oftentimes. And so it’s difficult to get a pulse, if you will, on how people are behaving today. And so I’m really excited to learn what it is that you guys figured out in this report. Can you give me the highlights? What’s happening?

[00:10:00.730] – Tim Sarrantonio
For reference for folks, a lot of times when you see these trends, it is also frustrating because sometimes they’re referring to panel data. And panel data is a very fancy term for, ‘it’s a survey.’ And so I actually I don’t mind that if it’s helping inform what’s a larger understanding of actual transactions. Because donors can lie, too. People lie on surveys all the time or they misremember information. Let’s maybe put it a little bit more positive.

[00:10:31.540] – Boris
Self-reporting always needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

[00:10:34.040] – Tim Sarrantonio
Exactly. So what we do and what we did was look at the actual transaction data. So Neon One alone had over $2 billion from 2020, 2021 to look at each year. So billions upon billions of dollars to analyze this. And what we’re seeing across the board is that when we look at how donors are actually acting, there was a long trend happening year-over-year of household giving going down. But that appears from March 2020 onward to be reversing, to be reversing, that people are coming back, people are being more generous.

[00:11:13.120] – Tim Sarrantonio
And also beneath the surface, from a data nerd standpoint, I actually don’t think that people were being less generous. They were showing it in different ways. They might be doing things on Facebook, they might be doing things in mutual aid groups or other GoFundMes and things like that. But what we’re seeing in the nonprofit space is people are coming back to nonprofits. They’re saying, I trust this with my money to actually make impact in my local community, in the world at large. So that’s a good trend.

[00:11:47.830] – Tim Sarrantonio
The concerning trend, though, is that retention continues to still be a problem. And that is, somebody’s given, and now they trust you again and again. And retention, especially of people who gave to you for the first time, is as low as 20% overall. I’m rounding a tiny bit, but 80.8% of your donors in the first year are likely to not come back. And so that is a concerning data point that we need to reconcile. If more people are coming back, but then we’re immediately losing them, what’s happening there? And especially given that data shows the cost per acquisition of a new donor is about $1.25 to obtain $1. If you lose that person, that’s trouble. But if you retain that person, it actually cost you 20 cents for that dollar. So retention is the way.

[00:12:46.760] – Boris
Absolutely. Yeah. And I’ve had several guests and conversations on this show about donor retention and how it is so much cheaper to keep a donor than it is to acquire a new one. And there’s only so many donors you could keep cycling through before you eventually burn out. Americans are generous, and this is a large country, and if you’re overseas, I’m sure there’s generous people everywhere, but it’s a little exhausting to keep trying to get new donors all the time and keep losing them.

[00:13:15.010] – Tim Sarrantonio
And it can be demoralizing, too. The thing is, that I feel what the opportunity we truly have here is to invest in an abundance mindset because people are generous. It’s that we need to look at them not as a transaction, but as a person. View them as somebody where we want to shift from a situational-giving moment to a transformational, identity-based giving moment. And that is ultimately where data and storytelling come together for that ultimate team up, right? Like it’s the Avengers of fundraising, if you will.

[00:13:55.230] – Boris
Sure. So you don’t need to twist my arm or sell me with metaphors on that. I’ll preach that all day. But let’s come back and break it down a little bit what you said in those big headlines, because there’s a lot there. So first of all, amazing that the trend is up in terms of household giving. I do wonder—and I don’t know how easily it is to test and so how deeply you guys were able to get into it, but response giving—emergency response giving is always higher than average, you know, everything is calm and OK giving. And we all faced a giant emergency. I talk a lot in storytelling where you’ve got your heroes and you’ve got your villains. And the bigger the villain, the more people can identify that villain as being horrible, then the more they’re going to rally around it, right?

[00:14:46.150] – Boris
To touch a little bit more on what I introduced before I brought you on in terms of Ukraine. Right now, the entire world is suddenly rallying around Ukraine. How much they’re doing is a whole other issue that I don’t want to get into right now. But Putin has made himself very clearly the villain to the Western world. And now there’s hardly a place in the Western world where you won’t find demonstrations and rallies and governments trying to figure out ways to support, right? Whereas he was the same person a couple of months ago and nobody did anything. And once this situation is over, which I hope it won’t take too long for it to resolve and in a positive way… how much is that going to be in the forefront versus a new thing coming up?

[00:15:28.480] – Boris
So the pandemic, and, in this case, so many organizations are getting a windfall of donations for Ukraine and for the work that they’re doing there. Is it normal to just expect that these are going to be spikes and then, well, people aren’t interested in the long run about supporting this kind of program? So they’re going to then drop right back off?

[00:15:51.970] – Tim Sarrantonio
Fascinating question. And there is data that dives into this, and we touch on this in the report, because we did see obviously there were spikes around the pandemic. There were situations around social justice and racial justice that happened around George Floyd. There’s more localized elements that might happen, such as Tennessee natural disasters that we saw just even a few months ago, or things that are happening with wildfires, so environmental disasters. So there is data that… And we will see it. I guarantee that we will see this happen in the Ukraine situation, too, where there will be that initial spike and then there’s going to be a sharp drop off.

[00:16:40.570] – Tim Sarrantonio
But then what happens, though, and this is where the light comes in, is that especially for organizations who are cultivating that relationship and keeping people in the loop that the people who especially are giving maybe over the course of their relationship, $500 or more, they’re coming back. They’re sticking around. That’s what we are seeing in the data. If we start getting into kind of the buckets… I don’t like thinking about people as transaction buckets, but it is a good starting point for at least wading through all of this.

[00:17:11.200] – Tim Sarrantonio
And people that are investing $500 or more, they’re staying around. Their retention is actually very healthy. It’s the folks under $500 where we’re seeing a lot of pretty concerning drop off there. And that’s regardless of different things, regardless of different missions. Though there are different impacts depending on the type of mission itself. But overall, there is that cyclical flow. And what we need to do is recognize that and anticipate that and adjust our strategy for that, too. Because once we drill even deeper, there are some really fascinating impact elements and strategies there, tactics there. But I still am confident that depending on the organization, if you stick with it, those people will stick with it too for you.

[00:18:06.230] – Boris
Awesome. And I obviously agree with everything you’re saying, especially when the data shows these things. It’s interesting that people who gave over $500 during the course of whatever the campaign or lifetime of the emergency was, that they’re the ones who are most likely to keep coming back. I talk a lot about this concept of donors feeling invested. The more they give of themselves, whether it’s their time or their money or their voice, whatever it might be, then the more invested they are. So the more they identify—and you’re leading to this, so I really want to do dive in—the more they identify themselves with your cause as someone who cares about that cause, as someone who is going to take action for that cause.

[00:18:50.420] – Boris
So in the case of Ukraine, is it that we care about Ukraine, or is it that we care to stop despots? Or is it that we care to stop all wars in general, right? And then how do we, I guess, as nonprofits hook into that sense of identity and keep that connection going?

[00:19:10.850] – Tim Sarrantonio
So just like humans in general, philanthropic identity is multilayered. And we do get into this in the report. There’s a whole chapter on the why of giving, and it talks about philanthropic psychology, which is an emerging field of analysis, primarily driven by Professor Jen Shang from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy out of the UK. I had the pleasure of taking a certificate course—and passing, thank goodness—otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about it. But I was really fascinated because they talked about the different elements of identity. And what you even just talking about there hit on several different types of identity that people might be drawn to depending on who they are and the organization that might be articulating that.

[00:20:03.950] – Tim Sarrantonio
Some people are going to identify because of their national identity, geographic identity. “I have a tie to Ukraine because my family is from there, because I know people there.” So there’s relationships. But then also they might be drawn to it because of the religious undertones that are definitely happening there, the antisemitism that is rearing up in some of it.

[00:20:31.230] – Tim Sarrantonio
But then it’s also going to be, some people might be drawn to it for more what it represents in the larger world: there is an attack on democracy, liberal democracy around the world that we’re seeing. So those people might actually not care too much about Ukraine itself. It’s more the larger thing that they’re worried about. So it’s not an easy answer because people are not easy, ultimately, other than the fact that people are generous. And that’s the underlying thing that is baked into our DNA, that philanthropic psychology understands that biology understands is that our brains are activated better—there’s more dopamine that comes in—when we’re generous as opposed to buying something on Amazon or something like that. So if we understand that core base, then we have a lot of things that we can do together.

[00:21:23.970] – Boris
Right on. I think identifying those reasons of why someone in an emergency situation, like coming back to the pandemic, is giving. What is it that they want to support within your work and within your mission, within your community? How do they identify with it? And we can ask them. And I know surveys aren’t always great, but in this case, self-reporting is probably the best way.

[00:21:52.640] – Tim Sarrantonio
Yes. Yes. And we see this all the time in situations because we see it with things like GivingTuesday. We see it with community giving days. We see it with peer to peer fundraising, where the initial connection might be light. But then you can cultivate that relationship by zeroing in, even with something as simple on your donation form online. What inspired you to give today? Make it unrequired—this is a tactical suggestion—make unrequired. And if somebody fills it out, even if it’s like, not that useful, they filled it out. So it shows a bit of a hand raiser there. And then if they actually put something useful in it, that can help inform your engagement strategy with them.

[00:22:38.460] – Boris
Yeah. And I think you can make it—you don’t have to make it required, of course, but you can make it even simpler. Leave an open-ended question, because open-ended questions give you a lot of interesting qualitative data. But make it a checkbox list of what are the things that you are most passionate about? And let them check off some of the different things that you’re working on. And then start to segment them, start to talk to them, because… there’s this disconnect where people think segmenting is very cold and analytical, when in fact, segmenting is a lot more personal because you’re able to talk to people about what they’re interested in rather than about what you are interested in.

[00:23:19.230] – Tim Sarrantonio
One of the interesting trends that I think we’ll start to see is that underneath the surface, the data is actually showing a really interesting spike in investment toward environmental and animal conservation organizations. A lot of different trends interfacing there, but ultimately that’s a fascinating one to explore. And in that situation, an example I like to use is, I went to an animal shelter and I adopted a cat, a dog, something like that. The segment could be as simple as adopted? in your CRM. Adopted, yes? And that’s it. That’s your segment. Then you can actually segment and say, “You, how is your furry friend doing?” Right? Like, you can personalize things because you know that person has a deeper relationship with your organization and that can be with any type of organization, any type of mission has a version of that. Segmentation is actually one of the most intimate things that you can start with from a tactical standpoint.

[00:24:23.490] – Boris
And also it shows that your donors that you care. That you are not just interested in getting their money and moving on, but that you are interested in them and building relationships with them.

[00:24:34.360] – Tim Sarrantonio
The term that Steven Shattuck at Bloomerang used that I was so jealous that he came up with it first: “seglumping” where it’s, “thank you for your donations/membership/volunteer interest/newsletter sign-up,” where it’s just you just shove all the engagement points into one kind of prey and spray situation. And that’s one of the worst things that you can do. A lot of times, donor retention is directly correlated with the communication strategy. Some of the top reasons people stop giving, if not all the top reasons, are communication centered.

[00:25:11.370] – Boris
So let’s then talk about this communications issue. What is it that organizations can do? What should they be doing? How is it done right?

[00:25:25.410] – Tim Sarrantonio
I would say that you start with that foundation of good data on a person, right? I remember working at one of my jobs where we had a donor-cultivation event, thanking people, and I printed out the name tags and a woman had crossed her name off that we had printed off and wrote something else. And I stared at it and she used her nickname, and I ran up and updated the database immediately like I was helping clear the wine glasses and stuff like that, and I just ran upstairs and entered it.

[00:25:58.870] – Tim Sarrantonio
Now, luckily, with cloud-based databases, you don’t have to run upstairs anymore. So what you start with is a good foundation of data hygiene. And then you start to build into what we were just talking about, Boris, that cultivation and personalization strategy. If you start there, then the data foundation bleeds into inspiring those stories. You have to then marry that with storytelling. If you just use data, you’re going to miss the soft skills that people and donors respond to. But if you just solely focus on just the storytelling, you actually might be telling the wrong story to the wrong people then, too. So it’s combining those two, and any size nonprofit can start with that.

[00:26:44.350] – Boris
And then how do we then best steward those relationships? So we’re identifying people, we’re segmenting them, we’re figuring out what stories to tell them. But then what do we do with that? How do we steward our new donors to keep them, to retain them much better than the average rate that’s currently out there?

[00:27:03.170] – Tim Sarrantonio
Continue to communicate with them. What we see is that people are not communicating enough. If you think that people are receiving too many communications from you, you’re probably not doing enough. And if you think that people are not wanting to give to you again, if you are properly communicating with them from a foundation standpoint on impact, on storytelling, you can ask them more. They will respond. Recurring donors, for instance, are more likely to give another gift than certain other segments. So somebody might even be giving you $10, $20 up to $60 plus a month. And then you can ask them again. Or they might leave you a legacy gift, for instance.

[00:27:50.070] – Tim Sarrantonio
In the report, we actually have time period analysis too—moments of giving—really geek out on that, even down to like, what day of the week and what time people are giving online: 11:30 a.m. Central on a Thursday, but that’s a random data point. But ultimately it comes down to, we’re not engaging our donors enough, actually, because our donors are not our donors. As Mark Phillips from BlueFrog Consulting in the UK likes to say, “Our donors are not our donors, we are one of their charities.” Average donors giving up to seven different nonprofits. So ultimately what we need to do is realize that we have to stand out to them on why we as a nonprofit will identify with them.

[00:28:45.310] – Boris
So, so on point. There’s this concept that people are people, and we need to relate to them as people. But then there’s also this mistaken viewpoint, I think that a lot of organizations have, which is this ownership of a donor that they are their donor to ask money from, versus this idea that as individuals, donors, human beings in general, we have so many different ways to spend our money. We could be shopping on Amazon, as you said before, we could be donating to I don’t know, what is it one and a half million different nonprofits now in the U.S. that are currently filed. Right?

[00:29:28.470] – Boris
So what is your unique value proposition to the donor? What is your relationship with them that’s going to tell them, yes, this is the right way to spend and continue spending their money, that this is the right investment for them to see the kind of change they want to see in the world. And if you’re not giving them that reinforcement, then there is either buyers’ remorse if it happens pretty quickly that you drop off, or there is basically just this disconnection of, well, that’s something that I did, but that’s not necessarily me because, well, that was just then and now I’m moving onto something else.

[00:30:03.150] – Tim Sarrantonio
There’s a lot of data that shows that even if a nonprofit received a donation from a donor, they might many times receive a follow-up communication that said, “Why am I on your newsletter list? I never had a relationship with you.” And it’s like, how many nonprofit fundraisers then look back and see them, “you gave to me last year.” When, actually, what you should be doing is not blaming the donor in that situation. You should be looking inward and going, where did things fall off? It’s not always your fault, but you should at least stop and go, what could I have done better here from a communication standpoint?

[00:30:39.950] – Boris
Yeah, I get emails all the time that seems like I’ve signed up to their list and I don’t remember because I haven’t heard from them. I haven’t gotten value from them. And so I assume that they’re just spamming me. And sometimes I’ll actually mark it as spam if I’m pretty sure that it is. Other times I’ll just unsubscribe because I don’t have a connection to you anymore.

[00:30:59.020] – Tim Sarrantonio
Absolutely. And so that’s where we need to identify the gaps in communication and start to fill those through. And you can do that in a wide variety of ways. You can use video, you can do webinars. Nonprofit fundraisers need to think about content production a lot more going into 2022 and beyond.

[00:31:20.600] – Boris
Yes, please. Thank you. So we’re at the half-hour mark now, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time and our listeners’ time today. I’m really looking forward to diving into this report. By the time that this episode airs, the report will have been out, whereas at the moment I haven’t seen it yet. So I’m actually super excited. This is a great teaser for me to get into it. But what are some of the metrics, I guess, that organizations can be looking at? Do you guys get into some KPIs, some Key Performance Indicators?

[00:31:52.120] – Tim Sarrantonio
Absolutely. So retention—we’ve mentioned that a few times. And one of the resources that we always fall back on for inspiration, here, is the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. And so again, that’s the largest analysis of individual giving in the world. And so there’s 200 different metrics that they pay attention to for their data scientists. But the reality is that a nonprofit professional can zero in on things like retention, acquisition. So how many new people are you bringing in? Are you keeping them? How many recurring donors are you setting up? That’s a really big one that nonprofits, especially in our research, we found small nonprofits in particular are very effective at setting up recurring giving programs and helping automate some of those processes off your plate.

[00:32:41.570] – Tim Sarrantonio
And then overall growth in giving, which is a metric that basically is the revenue increases and revenue decreases being reconciled. A lot of this stuff you can find on the AFP website, for instance, for Fundraising Effectiveness Project on how to calculate these things, too. There’s a lot of great resources there. But ultimately we need to move from thinking about things from solely a profit and loss, a P&L standpoint in our QuickBooks or what have you, and move into that overall abundance growth of projected revenue over multi-year capabilities. And that’s where we’re going to start to see success. Because then, you’ll know, this channel or this relationship approach is working. Let’s further invest in that.

[00:33:31.210] – Boris
Absolutely. And you started mentioning some resources. I always ask my guests for resources. You mentioned the AFP Global Project, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. What are some other tools and resources that you recommend organizations check out, nonprofit professionals check out to dive into this stuff further?

[00:33:49.650] – Tim Sarrantonio
So definitely the work that Fundraising Effectiveness Project is doing. I mentioned the philanthropic psychology course, especially if you’re interested in copywriting or understanding the deeper motivations of your donors. That’s a really good and valuable investment that I found. And I like that that covers the data side and the storytelling side. But there’s a great book, and I do have it here because we’re on video, so I can actually show: Hooked on a Feeling by Francesco Ambrogetti, and he is a fascinating guy, works for UNICEF. And he is kind of taking both of those sides and merging them, thinking deeply about data, but then thinking about feelings and storytelling. And so I love that book. I base a lot of my research that I did ultimately about the soul of what that book represents. Our report is just basically coming in and saying, “here’s billions of dollars of analysis that help round this out on all the different facets of donors.” But I love those three different resources because they guide me in my own work, too.

[00:34:57.120] – Boris
I’m looking forward to checking all of them out. I’m always looking for great books to read and courses. I love online courses. So I’m going to check out the certificate in philanthropic psychology, is that correct?

[00:35:09.140] – Tim Sarrantonio
That is correct, yeah. And they have a copywriting certificate, too. Really interesting work that’s Adrian Sargeant, Jen Shang, a lot of great, smart folks over there.

[00:35:16.540] – Boris
Phenomenal. I’m excited to add those to my own inventory and, of course, to share them with everybody that’s watching and listening. They are all going to be linked up in our show notes, so you don’t have to go looking for them. The other thing we’re going to definitely link up in our show notes is, of course, your report. When does that come out?

[00:35:34.980] – Tim Sarrantonio
So the full public launch of Donors: Understanding the Future of Individual Giving is going to be Tuesday, March 8, and that’ll be free to download. And it’s 87 pages of goodness. But then we’re creating a lot of supporting content for people to kind of guide through their own journey and kind of break that into smaller digestible chunks for people who are like, ‘that’s great, but I don’t necessarily have time to wait for an 87-page report. Can you give me something just on this?’ We’re going to be doing all of it.

[00:36:10.270] – Boris
I can’t wait to see it all. And I’m definitely going to download and do my own deep dive into all of the data and conclusions that you guys have come up with. If I have a chance, I’ll even do my own little summary and pitch for it.

[00:36:23.270] – Tim Sarrantonio
I would love a recap of your thoughts on it. I think you’d bring some really awesome insight to it.

[00:36:28.580] – Boris
Amazing. Thank you so much for sharing all that with us today, Tim. If people want to follow up with you, what’s the best way to reach you? Are you into getting in touch with folks?

[00:36:37.300] – Tim Sarrantonio
I love talking to folks. I love talking to folks. So LinkedIn—good spot. I’m very active on LinkedIn and on Twitter, but LinkedIn is a good, easy one because it’s just my name, Tim Sarrantonio. Pretty unique. But then, tim@neonone.com, drop me an email. Let’s connect. I don’t care if you’re using our product or not. That doesn’t matter to me. I just want to help. I want to help fundraisers become more connected, and that’s my mission.

[00:37:04.750] – Boris
Fantastic. And I hope people take you up on it. You and I connected on LinkedIn, and I’m so glad we did. I appreciate everything that you’re doing with this report and in general for the nonprofit space. And thank you so much for joining us today.

[00:37:17.600] – Tim Sarrantonio
Thank you. Thank you for having me. It was an absolute pleasure.

[00:37:20.850] – Boris
Awesome. And thank you, everybody who has tuned in. Whether you’re watching this on YouTube, on our website, on any of the social media platforms that we share this on, or you’re listening to it on your favorite podcast player, we try to make this as available as possible to every nonprofit professional that’s interested in creating more heroes for their cause.

[00:37:39.780] – Boris
I hope this episode has helped you do just that. If you like the show, please do leave us a review. If you don’t like the show, send me a note. Let me know what you didn’t like about it so that I can make it better. I’ll fire Tim. No, I won’t. But if you also want to be on the show, send me a note. Let me know. I’m always looking for great fascinating guests like Tim, and others who are in different aspects of this amazing industry and doing the important work that really needs to be done. Thank you everybody. We’ll see you again next week.

[00:38:11.950] – Tim Sarrantonio
Thank you.

[00:38:12.870] – 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:

  • You don’t have to have a data background to focus on, and make connections with, data. (5:15) 
  • The narratives around charity too often cite outdated data, from before the pandemic. It is frustrating to try to work without an understanding of what has actually changed with donor giving behavior in the last two years. (7:32) 
  • The Fundraising Effectiveness Project combines data from multiple initiatives and data sources to provide an objective understanding of individual giving. (8:12)
  • The Neon One report, Donors: Understanding the Future of Individual Giving, looks at transaction data more than “panel data” a.k.a self-reporting surveys. (10:34) 
    • The report examined billions of dollars in giving over the last two years.
    • It found that while household giving had been declining, that trend has been reversing since March 2020.
    • “People are coming back to nonprofits. They’re saying, ‘I trust this with my money to actually make an impact in my local community, in the world at large.’”
  • Retention of donors is still a problem; the data shows that over 80% of first-year donors aren’t likely to come back for a second year. (11:49)
    • To acquire a donor, it costs $1.25 for each $1 of donation. But to keep them only costs $0.20.
  • Data and storytelling can combine to create the ultimate transformational, identity-based giving experience.(13:17)
  • Emergency response giving is always higher than average. It is normal to expect that there are going to be spikes and drop-offs around events. (15:51)
  • The data seems to show that people who give $500 or more over the course of their relationship with a nonprofit are more likely to continue to support that organization. (16:50)
  • People give to charity for numerous reasons, but all of it is somehow tied into how that person identifies themselves. The more they identify themselves with a cause, the more action they will take in support of that cause. (18:26)
  • Philanthropic psychology, an emerging field of analysis, identifies multiple layers and elements of identity, including national and geographic, familial, religious, and political identities, and any of these can be tied to why a particular human is generous. (20:03)
  • Without asking people to self-report, it can be difficult to get useful qualitative data around which to build the stories that attract and retain supporters. (21:50)
  • Tim believes that segmentation of your audience, and then personalization of messages, is actually one of the most intimate things that an organization can do from a tactical standpoint. (24:30)
  • The top reasons people stop giving are centered around a failure of communication on the part of the organization. Successful communication requires 1) clean, precise data 2) a personalization strategy 3) impactful storytelling. (25:58)
  • Organizations that offer a unique value proposition to the donor, frequent follow up and connection, and perform ongoing internal auditing of their own processes and messages will have more success retaining donors over time. (29:28)
  • There are a number of key performance indicators for organizations, including retention, acquisition, overall growth, and how many recurring donors are being set up. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the largest analysis of individual giving in the world, looks at data through 200 different metrics. (31:52) 
  • Tim believes that calculating not just profit and loss but shifting to think about building and investing in relationships to secure overall abundance and growth over multiple years is where organizations will see the greatest success. (33:00)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Tim Sarrantonio

Tim Sarrantonio

Director of Corporate Brand, Neon One

Tim Sarrantonio is a team member at Neon One and has more than 10 years of experience working for and volunteering with nonprofits. Tim has raised over $3 million for various causes, engaged and enhanced databases of all sizes, procured multiple successful grants, and formulated engaging communications and fundraising campaigns for several nonprofits. He has presented at international conferences and is a TEDx speaker on technology and philanthropy. He volunteers heavily in his community around Niskayuna, NY.

Connect with Tim Sarrantonio

EP44 - Boris Kievsky - Featured

Episode 44: Nonprofit Website Trends for 2022, with Boris Kievsky

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.

[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
  • 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 Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief 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.

Connect with Boris Kievsky

EP41 - Stephanie Minor - Featured

Episode 41: Training Your Nonprofit Board to Tell Stories for Fundraising, with Stephanie Minor

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 41

Training Your Nonprofit Board to Tell Stories for Fundraising, with Stephanie Minor

In this Episode:

Is your nonprofit board making the most of your stories to connect others to your work? We know the power of stories to build empathy, understanding and connection to others. It’s critical to fundraising and nonprofit success as a whole.

Your board is likely made up of intelligent, successful individuals who care deeply about your work. Chances are, however, their backgrounds are not in storytelling for fundraising. So how do you equip them with the knowledge and skills to share your stories with the world and raise more money for your work?

Stephanie Minor of NPO Centric helps nonprofits with capacity building and board training. She joins us on the show to share her strategies and best practices to help your board get on board with storytelling.

[00:00:05.270] – 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!

[00:00:22.810] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. This week we’re going to, as many weeks, talk about storytelling, but from a different perspective. We talk about storytelling all the time on this show—how a nonprofit can and should present their stories to the world across their communications and fundraising channels. Today, though, we’re going to look at it through a different lens, and that is an internal lens. How your board, specifically, can get on board with storytelling as part of their commitment to your organization, to help you create more heroes for your cause.

[00:00:53.910] – Boris
To help us with that process, I’ve invited Stephanie Minor, the director of NPO Centric, itself a nonprofit, onto the show, to talk about how we can equip board members with the storytelling tools they need. Stephanie is a veteran fundraising professional, nonprofit executive and strategic development coach whose proven fundraising strategies, have won big grants and gifts for impactful nonprofit causes. Through her many publications and online courses, she teaches nonprofit leaders, fundraisers and founders the best practices from her career in leading and raising millions of dollars for nonprofits.

[00:01:26.410] – Boris
Stephanie is director of NPO Centric, as I said before, where she advances the work of nonprofits through capacity building and technical assistance. Stephanie describes her nonprofit superpower as focusing efforts and propelling success with straight talk, real life experience and contagious enthusiasm. I’m excited to have all of that onto the show. Let’s bring Stephanie on. Hi Stephanie.

[00:01:50.570] – Stephanie Minor
Thank you so much for having me.

[00:01:52.480] – Boris
Thank you for being on the show. I’m really excited to have you and happy to talk about the subject, which, honestly, I don’t know that much about. As someone who focuses on storytelling, basically, every waking day of my life, that’s not an area that I really delve into. So I’m really excited to discuss it with you and learn from you today. But before we do, I read your bio and your superpower. You sound pretty amazing. Tell us a little bit, what’s your story? How did you get here? And why are you doing what you do today?

[00:02:20.810] – Stephanie Minor
So I have been working in the nonprofit realm for about a decade. I worked at a homeless service provider, launched a capital campaign that was very successful. We were trying to raise $4 million, and we made it up to $5 million. So I’ve just been thrown into a lot of different situations and have had to figure things out for myself, done a ton of research, taken a ton of courses, taken things from the marketing world, and then weave them into the nonprofit world.

[00:02:46.980] – Stephanie Minor
And how I am where I am today is that when I was working in that homeless services provider, I entered a contest at the Regional Access Project Foundation. Like you said in the intro, I work for NPO Centric. It’s a program of that foundation. So we are a nonprofit ourselves, and they do an event called The Desert Fast Pitch because I live in the desert. I live in Palm Springs, California, area. And it was a Shark Tank-style, we stood on the stage, we talked for three minutes about our program and long story short, I won $22,000 for the nonprofit. And as I went through the experience, I said to my mother, “If the person who runs that program ever retires, I’m going to apply for that job,” because I saw just what a difference that program could make for nonprofits. Because we’re out here making stuff up as we go along a lot of the time. And we have a million hats on.

[00:03:37.060] – Stephanie Minor
And so I was so excited at the possibility of being able to help nonprofits. And so six months later, he retired. I interviewed, got the job. And here we are. It’s been an interesting ride, a fun ride. I love seeing nonprofits starting here and then growing and becoming sustainable.

[00:03:56.210] – Boris
That’s a great story. And congratulations on winning the competition and then setting your sights and achieving your goals there. That’s pretty incredible.

[00:04:03.310] – Stephanie Minor
It was fun.

[00:04:04.570] – Boris
Talk to me, then. Let’s focus in on what we want to get from you today, all the knowledge that I could possibly extract and share with our audience. That’s what I’m here to do. What’s going on in the nonprofit sector these days from your point of view? And specifically, of course, in terms of the boards and how they’re communicating and telling or not telling the stories of organizations, what’s happening?

[00:04:26.930] – Stephanie Minor
So I hear over and over again, a lot of problems between the board and then the leadership in the nonprofit. And as we know, people who are on the board, their heart is in the right place for the most part, they want to be there. They love the mission. They support the mission. They just may not have the same personality as leadership or they may not know where to start or what to do. Even the board members who work at banks—because banks have a policy, they have to put in a certain number of hours working with nonprofits—they want to be there. They get to choose what organization that they want to work with. Right?

[00:04:59.710] – Stephanie Minor
So I really have done a lot of talking to figure out where is the disconnect? Where is the disconnect? And what I see is that board members are not told from the time that they start with the organization, what is expected of them. We’re just out there, like I said, nonprofit leaders, founders, fundraisers, we’re busy. We’re just happy to have someone on our board. We scored a banker on our board or a lawyer or whatever doctor, whatever it may be. And then we have them on the board and what we don’t tell them, really what’s expected. And so they put their ideas out there and they may not always be in line with our ideas. And there’s twelve of them all with different ideas, and we’re all going in different directions and then feelings get hurt. People are rude, whatever that may be.

[00:05:45.090] – Stephanie Minor
So what I say is, we need to stop. It doesn’t matter if someone has been on your board for ten years, for one month, you have to let them know what’s expected. You have to. That’s the only way that we’re going to move past all of these bad feelings and all of the drama. And it’s a lot of drama. The board is in charge. The board is actually the real leadership of the nonprofit. They shouldn’t be in operations, but they have such a substantial role. How do we make peace? How do we help them tell our stories? How do we help them advance our missions? That’s what I’m seeing.

[00:06:17.150] – Boris
That’s really interesting, because I have worked, of course, with a lot of communications professionals, and I’ve indirectly, therefore, one step removed worked with boards or I’ve sent stakeholder surveys to them, but I hadn’t actually thought about it. And you’re absolutely right. Very few people are professional board members, right? They don’t have training in how to be a board member. They are professionals. They have their careers, they have their expertise, but they don’t know what is desired of them—never mind required of them—as a nonprofit board member.

[00:06:51.060] – Boris
And that’s something that a lot of I find communications divisions in nonprofits also have, which is not a lot of people have majored in nonprofit communications when they’re going into the role. Hopefully, if you’re lucky, they majored in communications in the first place or have experience. But oftentimes they didn’t even do that. They just want to come in and do good. Just like so many board members that you’re talking about, they want to come in. They want to do good for a cause that they care about, they don’t necessarily have the tools or the background to do so.

[00:07:21.840] – Stephanie Minor
Right. Yeah.

[00:07:22.910] – Boris
How do we get them on board? And specifically, then how do we get them talking about our organization and telling stories the right way? What does it look like when it works?

[00:07:37.730] – Stephanie Minor
Okay. So my first piece of advice—I’m going to start with advice—is to take a look at each of your board members and you as a nonprofit leader, professional, need to meet the board member where they are. So that means if you have eight people on your board, you’re going to have eight different approaches because they’re all different people, right? If you know that somebody is scared to death of fundraising, but it’s a requirement that they either give or get somebody to give or that they help with fundraising, you need to come up with ways to make it comfortable for them so that they can be productive so that they are not feeling nervous and stressed that they are having to fundraise at least they’re going to walk into it feeling comfortable, and you’re not irritated that they’re not doing what you want them to do, right? But you need to tell them exactly what that is. You need to take the time to have a conversation with them.

[00:08:27.150] – Stephanie Minor
And to me, the answer to a lot of these problems is to meet people where they are, and that’s not always easy to do, because guess what you have to do. You have to stop what you’re doing in our already busy days. Plan this out, have a conversation, think it through. And then the next big thing is to give them the tools that they need.

[00:08:44.950] – Stephanie Minor
Like you said, these are professionals. Or even if they’re retired, they don’t have what it takes to create these tools. If you’re going to ask them to post on social media, give them the graphics, give them exactly what you want them to say. If you’re going to ask them to go to a dinner and talk about your nonprofit organization, give them a story to share, make sure that they have their elevator pitch memorized, and they’re going to tell it a different way every time. And that’s fine. We need to let them know that’s fine. You just need to stick to the same highlights. So those are the answers. Meet them where they are. Let them give the way that’s best for them, their time, talent, treasure, and then give them the tools that they need to be successful, to tell the story, to share the message in a way that they are comfortable with.

[00:09:31.550] – Boris
So how do we do that? How do we train them? When do we find time? Especially, I would imagine, for a lot of organizations that are constantly strapped for resources, the biggest one being often money, but actually I would argue time, because we only have so many hours to do everything that we want to get done and have the impact we want. So if you’re talking about twelve different approaches to twelve different board members, that sounds really resource intensive.

[00:10:01.050] – Stephanie Minor
It does. I know. So here’s the bottom line. There are some things in your job, whether you work for a nonprofit or not, that have to be done. There are some things that you just have to do. This is one of them. You have two choices. If you’re struggling with your board, you could just continue to struggle. It’s never going to get better. You’re just going to wait it out till they get off of the board. But you don’t know. Maybe they’re going to stay, they get voted back on, or you can stop. Make a deliberate effort to stop and make this happen.

[00:10:30.560] – Stephanie Minor
And I hate it. I hate it. I hate that I’m saying these words to you, but it’s the truth. If you can just stop, gather everything, re-organize, get everybody their marching orders in a positive way. It will change everything. It will change the dynamic of your board. You’ll bring in other board members because they’ll see the enthusiasm of your board. It can reinvigorate everybody, including yourself as leadership. But it is you have to take the time to make it happen.

[00:10:54.440] – Stephanie Minor
And to start off, what you need to do is take a look at your board, go to the people who are kind of on your side, the people that you identify with. Get them on board with this plan, start off with them. They’re going to be a little bit easier, and you don’t have to do all of the work. If you’re lucky enough to have a director of development or somebody else, have them help as well. Everything doesn’t have to be on the CEO, executive director or the leadership. Let’s divide and conquer.

[00:11:19.710] – Stephanie Minor
And if you have somebody, if you’re lucky enough to have a really good communicator on your board, then you work with them, get the tools that they need and then have them kind of take this on for you. But the bottom line and again, I hate that I say it is, this is one thing. You just have to stop and make this happen. Otherwise you’re going to keep on getting what you’ve been getting.

[00:11:38.630] – Boris
So are we talking about setting times to speak with each one of them individually? Are we talking about activities that we could be doing at board meetings? Where do we find this time? And how do we structure it for most effective use?

[00:11:50.970] – Stephanie Minor
So I would say that what you need to do is start off with everybody at the board meeting. Okay. So just to make it simple, maybe set aside 10 to 15 minutes. Get the board to agree that 10 to 15 minutes, you’re either going to have a client come in and tell their story so they can absorb it. And then maybe the next board meeting staff is going to explain how to tell that story. Or if a client comes in, obviously, staff will have heard that story before, and then they give the board a one page document just saying, like, remember, this is the person’s name. This was their story. And this is how you’re going to share that information.

[00:12:23.220] – Stephanie Minor
So set aside 10 to 15 minutes at every single board meeting. And again, you have to stop and you have to make this happen. I say I’m going to do 20 things a day, and I only get three of them done. So we have to just make sure that the three that we get done are the most important things. And this is so important. So start there, get the board to buy in.

[00:12:41.660] – Stephanie Minor
And actually, what I have found over and over again is sometimes we’re expecting these board members to come into the board meeting and they’re there. They do their job, they pass the motions, they discuss things or whatever. But if you are not bringing clients in to share their stories, they get a little disconnected from the mission. So this helps in so many ways. Like I said before, your board is going to be reinvigorated. The clients are going to see they’re going to walk into a room of people who have their hearts open to them.

[00:13:05.790] – Stephanie Minor
Now, this only works with humans. It’s not going to work with a cat or a dog, but staff can still talk about those animals and show some pictures or whatever. Engage your board, and then they’re going to want to share that message. But I would start there. And then, like I said, get your ally on the board and then slowly work people in and you don’t have to do all this—you could do it over time or you could set aside—you’re going to set aside two good weeks and just make this happen. It’s up to you. Everybody’s individual. The bottom line is you have to start and you have to make this happen. It’s the only way things will change. The only way that you can teach them to share your message is to make sure that they understand what they need to do and then give them the tools to do it.

[00:13:45.170] – Boris
Okay. So I’m loving what I’m hearing so far. We dedicate 10 to 15 minutes each board meeting to having a client come in, some sort of… basically a live testimonial. For those of us meeting virtually these days, that’s totally fine. It’s even easier to bring them in on Zoom—

[00:14:03.110] – Stephanie Minor
Absolutely, yes. Yeah.

[00:14:04.370] – Boris
Or whatever platform you’re meeting. You might ask for permission ahead of time to record so that you could even have that available maybe for the board members and others to be able to play back later on and have it up there.

[00:14:15.922] – Stephanie Minor
Great idea.

[00:14:15.940] – Boris
It’s a great way to even build up your database or your inventory of stories and videos and everything else that you’ve got. So I’m really loving this idea. Once the board members have heard it, if I heard you correctly, you’re saying, then put it together into a one sheet for them so that they can go back and reference it at any time. Maybe they’re preparing to meet with somebody or going to a networking event. They kind of have that in the back of their minds as a little refresher so that they could reference it and talk about it.

[00:14:47.380] – Stephanie Minor

[00:14:49.070] – Boris
What happens if they don’t have these stories? Like how memorized should they have it? Obviously, you don’t want them to sound like they’re speaking words that aren’t theirs. But is there a chance that they might tell the wrong story?

[00:15:04.430] – Stephanie Minor
Yes. And that has happened, actually. But again, I would put that back on nonprofit leadership, and you all don’t hate me for saying that, but I’m just telling the truth. If we don’t let our board members know exactly what’s going on, they’re just going to make up what they think. So we need to make sure, for example, in the homeless service provider that I used to work for, something called transitional housing was going out of favor, and something called rapid rehousing was coming into favor. And we decided we were not going to do rapid rehousing because there were just lots of reasons. It took a long time to get the money or whatever.

[00:15:38.200] – Stephanie Minor
So one of the board members heard the word rapid rehousing and started telling everyone that that organization is now switching to rapid rehousing. Well, then it got back to leaders of the cities here or different places, and everyone’s in a panic, like, wait a minute, you guys are making this huge change. But it was up to us to make sure that you don’t just say what you heard in a meeting. We needed to make that a little bit more clear. So again, that was on us.

[00:16:02.030] – Stephanie Minor
I would not say that we want them to sound like robots in any way. And that’s again why it’s so important that you have these clients come in as often as you can to speak to them directly, because if somebody is telling me a story, there are certain highlights of that story that I’m going to identify with and what you heard from that story you’re going to identify with it a little bit different. Like, I’m a mother. So if the person speaking is a mother, I’m going to remember that.

[00:16:25.490] – Stephanie Minor
But you want to give—the tool you want to give to your board members is the facts. Let them tell the story that they heard from their heart, but just make sure that they have a little one sheet that kind of tells the facts and that they know how many people like that person you all are serving, or let them know how many people you serve a year so that they’re at the cocktail party and they can say like, oh, this nonprofit serves 8000 people a year. We help homeless, impoverished, because then they can connect to something that’s true. But then they can tell the story their way.

[00:16:56.530] – Stephanie Minor
Again, give your board members tools. I don’t care if it’s a copy post-it note, give them something that they can walk away with and look at later, videos. Give them graphics to post on social media. Make it easy for them to share the story the right way, the right way. You’re in control of what they’re getting.

[00:17:16.750] – Boris
So you’re talking about one-sheets, you’re talking about graphics to share on social media. And I’m kind of envisioning now almost a press kit that they might have access to at any given time. Is that what you’re talking about? Where there might be photos and social media posts and stories that they can pull from?

[00:17:32.750] – Stephanie Minor
Absolutely. So you can do this in many ways. You could have, like, I see some nonprofits, and I recommend that they always have a media page on their website. So when they’re sending out press releases, those press releases are held there, and then they also put pictures in there, right so that the press can come get the story and get it exactly how you want it to be told with the images you want. You don’t want them to go back and pull some images from ten years ago. You want them to use those images, another way that you can tell your story. That’s another story for a different day. But your board members can also go there, right?

[00:18:04.470] – Stephanie Minor
And then another nonprofit we set up like a Google Doc where development could put stories in there. They could put pictures in there. And then the board could just go in there and grab them, download them, share the story. Again, I love one-page wonders. Some board members right now are still a little bit older and they like paper. I don’t know how old you are, but I’ve been thinking we’re around the same age. I still sometimes like paper. I love the world of electronics. I love being online, but walking out with a piece of paper lets me like, I have something tangible that I can refer to and I can look back at and I can put in my pocket or my purse. If I’m going to network, I can be like, okay, what were those facts again? What was that lady’s name who came in or what are we calling her? Because maybe we’re not calling her by her real name. Make it easy. Just make it easy.

[00:18:47.970] – Stephanie Minor
And then, if you’re going to ask them again about social media, some of them are not even on social media, but some of them are. They have huge networks of people who are at the same level of life, who maybe are wealthy or maybe who are interested in volunteering or all of those things. We are missing out on getting all of that time, talent and treasure by not making it easy for our board members to share it with their network. It will just change everything. It will just change everything, and it will change everything pretty quickly. It’s pretty amazing. When the board gets reinvigorated, it’s amazing what can happen. Capital campaigns I raised $5 million, can happen.

[00:19:24.410] – Boris
So it sounds like, again, we’re meeting them where they are, whether they need something physical and a printed piece of paper or postcard or whatever it might be, or they need it digitally or both. Personally, actually, I’m of the generation where most of my peers prefer paper still or somewhere in between. Whereas ever since I was in my 20s or even earlier, I have had an aversion to paper. I am a digital-only kind of guy. I get mail and I put it straight in the shredder. I’m just that kind of a digital nerd.

[00:19:58.880] – Stephanie Minor
I’m glad that you’re saying that, because that leads me to another point. When we are thinking about how we’re going to share our missions, really, in any way, not just in fundraising, but sharing stories in any way. We have to stop and take a moment and remember, not everybody sees or experiences the world the way that we do and what makes you a good marketer or storyteller or whatever is to tell stories. Share your information in ways that touch the person who learns best by hearing, the person who learns best by seeing, the person who learns best by touching, the person who learns best by experiencing.

[00:20:37.670] – Stephanie Minor
You can’t just give one way. You have to give in all ways so that everybody who sees and experiences the world in a different way can feel your message the way you want them to feel it, and you’ll just be more successful if you can do that. And if you make it that a habit, that sounds again like a lot of work. But if you make it a habit, it’s not. You can turn… Let’s say that you did a video. You can turn that video into a social media post. You can turn it into a one-sheet wonder. There’s so many different things that you can do. You can share it on Pinterest one way, share it on Facebook another, share it on LinkedIn another, and it’s just still one piece of content. But you’re just tweaking it to touch everybody in the way that they learn and the way that they accept information so that you can be successful.

[00:21:22.010] – Boris
It’s very similar to what we do. For example, with the show, we record the video, we then pull the audio out for podcasts. We do a summary and show notes and takeaways and then post on social media and try to get it out to anybody meeting them where they are and modifying the format in whatever way is appropriate for that medium.

[00:21:40.770] – Stephanie Minor
Yes, I love it. That’s the best way to do. Again, if you guys only think of me for one thing, remember the phrase, meet people where they are. If you do that everywhere. If you got a teenager and they’re acting crazy, meet them where they are. Don’t try to put where you are on them. You’ll have more success meeting them where they are, meeting your aging parents where they are, seeing where they are. Same thing with the clients. Sometimes clients can be problematic. Take a second and stop your nonprofit. Stop and say, like, okay, where are they? Why are they acting this way? Oh, you know what? I forgot that they were just sleeping on the street three days ago. I’m coming with my executive director voice saying, you have to follow the rules, but I need to say, okay, why don’t they want to follow the rules? Where are they? And then I can approach them in a much different way and I can reach them that way. And it’s effective for all parts of your life.

[00:22:33.330] – Boris
So assuming now we understand and hopefully because you’ve explained it really well, I think most of us by now understand the importance and even the modalities in which we can present our stories and share them with board members so that they can then share them. I’m wondering, though, how many of these stories should a board try to learn or have access to? I feel like at some point there might be overwhelm and even confusion, if there are too many stories going on. How do we navigate that? What’s the fine line to walk?

[00:23:10.180] – Stephanie Minor
So if we’re agreeing, if you have a board meeting, some people only meet four times a year. Some people meet six times a year. Some people meet once a month. Right? If you can have that quick client story, because here’s the thing. If you have three clients come in, I’m a board member, and I’ve gone to three different board meetings. I’ve had three clients. The first one, I didn’t connect with them. I’m going to maybe remember it and mention it, but the second one. Oh, my God, I love that story. And the third one. Yeah, I like that one too, but I’m going to focus on that one that touched me. So you have to give them variety without being crazy. Don’t bring in five stories in the board meeting, bring in one. And then also, like I said, if you have the media page on your website, if somebody wants to share some information, they can go get the information there.

[00:23:50.300] – Stephanie Minor
And if you have somebody who’s a very good communicator as a nonprofit leader and founder, fundraiser marketer, you should be sharing stories. Your development team needs all the stories that they can get. They should be sharing those stories on social media. And you can let your board know like, hey, go check out our Facebook page because we always have new videos. We always have stories there, find what connects with you. The story is going to be easy for you to tell because everybody has their own biases. And so if they’re telling a story about, you know, they have a bias towards homeless men, but they have a softness for homeless mothers, then they’d be better off telling the story about homeless mothers instead of us forcing them to tell about homeless men.

[00:24:27.540] – Stephanie Minor
So again, you have to give them tools to find resources based on where they are at. If they are someone who doesn’t really want to do this, they’ll listen to the one story at the board and at least at the board meeting and at least they’ve got that. If you’re somebody who wants to share the message far and wide and it’s going to post on social media every day, then they should be able to go get stories on social media or go get stories in that Google Doc or go get stories from your media page again, just making it available for everyone, not forcing anything on anyone but having consistent stories. Like I said at that board meeting year round, it will just reinvigorate everything and give them resources to spread the message far and wide.

[00:25:07.900] – Boris
I can imagine that organizations that have multiple programs, which so many organizations do, they’ll want to vary it up and bring in one meeting, somebody, a beneficiary of one type of service or program. Next meeting, it might be a different one and so on and so on. And eventually I think if I’m understanding you correctly, the board members will connect to the ones that they connect to, and those are going to be the ones that they’re going to carry in their back pocket, if you will, for whatever the occasion is. I would imagine you could also even send out a survey ahead of time to your board, which kind of story you’re interested in from what program or tell them ahead of time. Maybe we’re really making great strides in this particular program or this particular area. So we’re going to bring in somebody to talk to about that. And prime the pump that way a little bit as well.

[00:26:00.100] – Stephanie Minor
Absolutely. Yes. Yes. Yes. So you definitely want a variety of your programs. You don’t always want to be like the homeless service provider. I’m just using that as an example over and over again. You don’t always want to tell stories about someone being fed from the street, right? If you have a children’s services center, you need to talk about that. If you’re getting people jobs, bring someone in who’s talking about that. And just a tip for you all, make sure that you have a backup for the stories, because sometimes clients flake, sometimes they get scared at the last minute.

[00:26:29.470] – Stephanie Minor
So if you’re promising your board that you need to make sure that you have that available. So what that might mean is you don’t want to have two people waiting outside and only one gets to go into the board meeting to talk, but have another medium ready say, like, okay, this month we’re going to share the story via video, because if Sally didn’t show up, we want to keep the momentum going, and it’s on us the staff to keep that momentum going. So have a video in your back pocket or have a slide show of pictures and just have somebody just narrate it so that they can have it, because that does happen, and that has happened. So make sure that you have that backup in some way.

[00:27:03.080] – Boris
That’s great advice. I’m so glad you brought that up, because I’ve also been in on meetings where clients have been brought in, and they weren’t necessarily prepped on storytelling. They didn’t know how to best present their story, and sometimes they would meander or go on too long or miss some really salient points. You and I actually have this in common where we help organizations figure out how to extract those stories, how to create and capture those stories. So I definitely recommend organizations prep all of their potential storytellers and have them go through a process of, well, how do we tell our story?

[00:27:40.830] – Boris
Maybe—what I usually advise organizations to do and help them put together, are little story surveys where you can send out a questionnaire to several different people within a certain program or demographic. However, you want to break it down, have them all fill it out. I actually did this with an organization a couple of years ago where we were doing a big campaign, and we wanted a few different types of stories. We sent out 10 different people, each type of story, they all filled it out.

[00:28:09.140] – Boris
And then we were able to select which one we wanted to film first and second and third, and then they already knew the structure. We could even go over it with them ahead of time because it was all structured in that survey, and they were much more prepared when it came time to shoot the videos on the day. And I totally love that you said, have that video already ready, because that’s a great way to rehearse someone’s story. You capture it, and just in case they don’t show up or they have an internet issue or whatever it is, you can say you know what? Unfortunately, so and so wasn’t able to make it. But here is the video version of that story. I love it. That’s fantastic advice.

[00:28:45.090] – Stephanie Minor
And then your board will be so impressed that you captured the video—that you have a—that’s impressive to them. And then one thing that you said that I’d like to go back to, if you find that you have a client there who gets in the room, they were perfect outside or when you met with them and they get in the room and they start freaking out or they forgot something, be the person in the room who’s like, yes, thank you so much. Or if they start talking, feel free to interrupt them and be like, you know what? Can you… Remember when you told me about your son Brad did this or whatever. Tell the board about that. And so you can direct them and they’ll be so excited, like, oh, yeah. And then they’ll start telling the story, and then everybody just gets engaged. Don’t let them meander.

[00:29:22.500] – Stephanie Minor
Remember, we want this to be a positive experience for the client. We want them to walk into that room and realize that these people are volunteering their time, treasure and talent. They care about me. They care about my life. They care about what’s going to happen to me. We want them walking and feeling that way, and we want the board still liking the client and not like, oh, when is he going to be quiet? So feel free to lovingly, gently interrupt them and get them back on track if you need to.

[00:29:46.530] – Boris

[00:29:47.120] – Stephanie Minor
That’s important.

[00:29:48.690] – Boris
Stephanie, this is all great stuff. We’re going to break it all down step by step. Everything that you and I have talked about today in our show notes. I do like to ask if our guests have any tools or resources that they recommend to others… to organizations that might just be starting or want to get further down this road. Is there a tool or a book or anything that you recommend that they go check out?

[00:30:11.220] – Stephanie Minor
So I love the book “Little Book of Boards” by Erik— I’m going to say his name. Hanberg. Hanberg Erik, I’m so sorry. I need to meet you one day so I can pronounce your name the right way. It’s very good. It’s going to tell the board members what they need to know about their roles. I’m going to provide some resources as well. I don’t know if you want to talk about that now or wait a second. Let me know.

[00:30:32.490] – Boris
That’s totally fine. I usually ask what your call to action is, and I’m happy that you have some resources that you want to provide, and we’ll be happy to link to those. What would you like our audience to do? What are the resources you want them to grab?

[00:30:45.550] – Stephanie Minor
Okay, so I’m going to provide a free resource that is going to help you with board orientation. It’s a checklist that’s going to tell you every single thing that you need to know with some good samples in there so that you’re setting people up for success. And just a reminder, even if someone has been on your board, when you’re coming to this point and you’re saying like, okay, enough I have to reset even though someone’s been on your board for a while, run them through the orientation to make sure that they understand the expectations. I’m going to make that a little bit easier for you.

[00:31:12.130] – Stephanie Minor
And then my other call to action is just to check out the NPO Centric—it’s npocentric.org website. We have a membership program there that’s pretty inexpensive where we give tons of tools. We’ve already got job descriptions written for you. We’ve got samples of fundraising appeals. We’ve got social media templates that you can have. I design them in Canva, and you can just quickly change the colors to make them your own. We tell you how to get a grant we literally have videos that will walk you step by step how to fill out a Walmart grant or prospectus from a funder, how to write an email sequence like a welcoming email sequence to someone who signs up on your website and then another one specifically for donors. You do not need to think of all this by yourself, and that’s what I learned along the way. And that’s why I’m so excited about the job that I have now.

[00:31:55.630] – Stephanie Minor
When I was in leadership at nonprofits… I don’t want you to tell me theory. Give me something so that I can get this done and keep it moving. I’m going to learn as I go. But don’t tell me something, like show me something. Give me a resource. And that’s what we have for you as part of the NPO Centric membership. So I highly recommend it. There’s also a private Facebook group. So you’re in there talking to people who are in the trenches with you, and you would not believe the great ideas and collaborations that come out of that group. So that’s what I have to offer. And I’m just excited to share what I was talking about today, and I hope that some nonprofits will follow this and report back to you about how it changed everything for their board and for them as a leader.

[00:32:37.750] – Boris
Yeah, I would love to hear from any organizations that check out this episode. What is it that you found most interesting? Are there any key points or ideas that sparked in your mind as you were listening to Stephanie talk about these things? The NPO Centric website is a great resource. I’ve checked it out. I’m not a member, but I’m sure that the membership offerings there are fantastic as well. So hopefully people will check those out as well.

[00:33:02.900] – Boris
Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us today. Sharing your knowledge about a side of storytelling that I haven’t really focused on before but makes total sense. And I’m so glad I’m aware of it now.

[00:33:13.780] – Stephanie Minor
Thank you so much for having me. You do such a great job, really. Thank you for putting out this podcast. It’s so helpful.

[00:33:20.430] – Boris
Thanks. And thank you for everyone who has joined us once again today. I hope that you did get some valuable insights, some strategic tips. Like Stephanie said, I also like to have everything as clear and actionable as possible. So we often start with theory, but we get down to the essential steps that people need to take, things that they need to know and consider so that they can take action so that they can really improve the way that they do things and activate more heroes for their cause. Thank you everybody, for joining us, and I hope to see you again next week. Bye-bye.

[00:33:53.070] – Outro
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:

  • Board members join because they care about your cause, but they likely don’t know where to start or what to do. They come with their own ideas which may not be inline with leadership, which can lead to conflict (4:26)
  • Stop the cycle. Meet board members where they are. Don’t assume or expect them to know what needs to be done or have the skills to do it. (7:37)
  • Give them the tools they need to tell your stories (8:45)
    • Social media posts text and graphics
    • Specific stories they can share online or at a dinner
    • An elevator pitch for the organization
  • Start by getting your board on board with the plan to train them. Identify those likely to agree with the plan and start with them. Bring in the people on your team who can help as well. (10:54)
  • Begin the training at a board meeting with everyone in attendance (11:51)
    • Get the board to agree that you’re going to take 10–15 minutes at a meeting to share a story, preferably from a client who can come in (in person or virtually) to tell their story
    • At the same meeting or the next one, you can have your staff explain how to best tell that story.
    • Put together a one-pager on the client’s story to make it as easy as possible to learn and share
    • Keep this meeting time set aside on a regular basis
  • Ask for your client’s permission ahead of time to record that story as part of the meeting so that it can be played back and used later. This is a great way to build up your databank of stories. (14:04)
  • Board members will identify with and focus on different parts of the story that resonate with them. The one-sheet is there to help them access the facts of the story and the organization as a whole, like how many people you are currently serving like that one client whose story they’re sharing. (16:02)
  • You can even assemble a press kit for each story, including photos, post copy suggestions, etc. This could be in a shared folder, or Google Docs. (17:16)
    • Keep in mind that some board members might still prefer hard copies, so have that available to them, too.
  • Different people connect to stories better through different modalities. So the more ways you can present your stories across different media, the better. (20:00)
  • How many stories should you share with your board? The key is to share regularly and keep in mind that different board members will resonate with different clients and stories. Giving them options that they can then refer back to, is your best bet. (22:51)
    • If you have multiple programs or multiple types of clients, try to bring in different story types for your board to hear and possibly connect to.
  • Sometimes clients can’t keep their commitment to speak to your board meeting. Have a backup option. If possible, record the story ahead of time on video, so that if the client can’t make it to the meeting, you can play the video instead. If you don’t have a video, have a slideshow ready. (26:18)
    • You can also prep the storyteller and help them rehearse the story ahead of time.
    • You can send out a story questionnaire to clients ahead of time that helps you identify the stories and helps frame the story structure for the storyteller.

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Start implementing!

    • Check out NPO Centric’s website for their membership program that can give you a lot of tools to help your nonprofit.
    • Download Stephanie’s Board of Directors Manual Template

About this week’s guest

Stephanie Minor

Stephanie Minor

Director, NPO Centric

Stephanie Minor (she/her) is a veteran fundraising professional, nonprofit executive, and strategic development coach whose proven fundraising strategies have won big grants and gifts for impactful nonprofit causes. Through her many publications and online courses, she teaches nonprofit leaders, fundraisers and founders the best practices from her career in leading and raising millions of dollars for nonprofits. Stephanie is Director of NPO Centric, where she advances the work of nonprofits through capacity building and technical assistance.

Connect with Stephanie Minor

EP35 - Boris Kievsky - Featured

Episode 35: What Nonprofits Can Learn from IKEA to Increase Support & Impact, with Boris Kievsky

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 35

What Nonprofits Can Learn from IKEA to Increase Support & Impact, with Boris Kievsky

In this Episode:

Can asking your supporters for their help and input actually raise the amount they’re willing to support your nonprofit’s work?

There’s a phenomenon in psychology, studied and demonstrated by behavioral economists, in which people consider something they’ve taken part in creating to be worth more than the same thing made by a professional. This cognitive bias is called the IKEA Effect

In this episode, Boris discusses strategies for nonprofits to capitalize on the power of the IKEA Effect to form a stronger connection with supporters, increasing your perceived value and raising more money for your work.

[00:00:07.250] – 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!

[00:00:24.210] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. On today’s show, I’m going to dig into a cognitive bias — a known, seemingly illogical bit of human psychology — that nonprofits have to understand and take advantage of if they want to grow their community and their support base. Many are already doing it, are taking advantage of it without realizing it (including probably your organization one way or another) but they’re not using it nearly to its potential. And today, I really want to dive into all the ways that you can do that to maximize your support base and create more heroes for your cause.

[00:01:02.730] – Boris
Before I do, though, I’d like to tell a little story — and bear with me for a couple of minutes — because I promise, it is actually relevant to what we want to talk about. This weekend, as most people in the U.S. were celebrating Halloween, I attempted to assemble and hang an IKEA set of cabinets for the fourth time. It’s the KALLAX, if you guys are familiar with all the different IKEA ones, where you could configure it into different, kind of, arrangements of drawers and shelves with doors and knock doors.

[00:01:33.570] – Boris
And I’ve assembled dozens probably, by now, of pieces of IKEA furniture over the years. This one didn’t seemingly present a challenge either, to put together at least. I put the two KALLAX boxes together, and then it was time to attach the mounting rails on the wall. If you’re familiar with the system and relates, okay. If you’re not, I’m not trying to advertise IKEA here, but they have these special metal rails that you attach to the wall, and then you can just hang the cabinets onto the rails.

[00:02:04.710] – Boris
Easy enough in theory. Of course, good practice says you should find studs to drill into and to screw the mounting rails into. And I did try to find those… but this wall, as it turns out, doesn’t seem to have studs, at least not in the area that I wanted to hang. The wall is actually adjacent to the garage, so the other side of the wall is inside our garage, the outside is leading towards our den. And it’s a long wall where we wanted to have two, kind of, cabinets on the bottom with large doors and drawers; and then up top, we wanted to have hanging, these additional cabinets to put stuff away out of view. Because, you know, when you have three kids in the house, there’s always things everywhere, and you want to find ways to stow them nicely and hopefully in an organized fashion.

[00:02:51.510] – Boris
Anyway, maybe because it’s the other side of the garage door — the garage wall – but this wall was clearly built differently somehow, and there were no studs for me to screw into. So, I went back out to the hardware store and bought toggle bolts. Which when you push into a wall, there’s a little butterfly thing, or a plastic thing that you could pull back, and it really presses against the back of the wall, keeping anything from pulling through or ripping down. I bought the bolts, drilled the hole, and pushed the toggle bolt in… and hit the garage wall instead.

[00:03:27.990] – Boris
So, apparently there’s a gap between our den wall and the garage wall, and it’s not long enough for the toggle bolt to actually go in and be able to spring open. I tried a couple of different types of bolts, none of them worked. Go back to the hardware store again. This time I buy plastic anchors and metal anchors to screw into the drywall that will hopefully hold a lot of weight. They’re rated 75 pounds each, there’s four per cabinet, two cabinets, but each one would then, theoretically, be able to support 300 pounds —which we have no intention of actually testing — but, should do.

[00:04:08.010] – Boris
So I got those in, and using them, was able to attach the rails to the wall about an inch lower than the ceiling, or actually, where the cabinets would hang about an inch lower than the ceiling. I got the cabinets up with a little bit of heft and some assistance. I was able to actually get them onto the rails and then noticed something a little odd again. Whereas the back of the cabinet was about an inch down from the ceiling, the front of the cabinet was actually literally touching — pressed up against — the ceiling.

[00:04:46.230] – Boris
Now, this would not have necessarily been a problem. I could have let it go, if not for the fact that we want doors on these cabinets and the doors swing out. Which I tried, just to confirm, but makes them actually bump into the ceiling and can’t even open. So unless I’m willing to cut open a section of ceiling, which I’m not prepared to do, I had to think of something else. Either lower the cabinets— which might make them look even stranger, hanging off the wall lower down — or find a way to, kind of, make them vertically level.

[00:05:19.170] – Boris
So I wound up coming up with a solution, which was to use washers. I put washers in as spacers between the wall and the railing, in order to try to get it flush, level with the… Well, 90 degrees to the floor and ceiling, and so the top of the cabinets will be more parallel with the ceiling. That meant, of course, going back out to the hardware store, buying longer screws, buying all kinds of washers because oh yeah, of course, the wall is not consistent to itself. I need a different number of washers in different parts of the wall… quality construction I live in. And after multiple experiments, was actually able to get the rail up relatively straight, relatively vertically straight, and mount the cabinets onto it, in such a way that they were parallel to the ceiling, and parallel and lined up with each other.

[00:06:15.510] – Boris
And the final test… was I able to put the doors on? And voila, hallelujah, they finally opened. Now, you might listen to this story and either think, “why in the world, A) is he telling this story? But B) why didn’t he just call a professional, either to put them up in the first place or when it didn’t work the first time, call someone who knows how to do these things… a handyman, a carpenter, a drywall person, I don’t know. Somebody who actually understands the principles of these types of construction and can do it quicker and probably better in the long run?”

[00:06:52.950] – Boris
Or you might be thinking of a similar experience that you had. Whether it was like me, putting together some piece of IKEA and maybe having extra parts at the end. Or having a Lego set that was incredibly challenging to put together, like the one that one of my kids loves to do. And the interesting thing is that whatever you undertook, as long as you were able to complete it, you’re probably looking back on it with pride. As I do, now every time I walk through that room, basically to the den, I look at those cabinets and I think “there’s something that I was able to do, there’s something that I achieved”.

[00:07:34.230] – Boris
And it actually makes me value them more than if I’d had someone else assemble them and put them up. Which is a little bit odd, but luckily, this is not evidence that I’m crazy (nor is it evidence to the contrary, of course). But luckily for me, this is a phenomenon that has been studied and actually aptly named The IKEA Effect, and this is the cognitive bias that I want to focus on today.

[00:08:03.750] – Boris
A litte over ten years ago, behavioral economists Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely set out to examine this phenomenon that had actually been observed and used by marketers and companies, like IKEA, for decades. In their experiments, they had individuals who were not particularly skilled at assembling furniture or other tasks, to assemble IKEA furniture or build a Lego set that was complicated or fold origami for the first time. They were then asked how much they would pay for the resulting creation, the product of their efforts, and how much they would pay for the same item created by a professional.

[00:08:40.770] – Boris
So if you’ve got some work of origami that you created versus someone else created that is a professional that clearly looks better and more structured, more well-built, whatever it might be, in case of furniture. Overwhelmingly, the participants agreed to pay more — as much as 63% more — for the one that they created, even though their final product was not as well done as the professionally created one, and they were able to see that and admit it. Then they took people who were not part of the creation process and brought them in and asked them the same question about the value of the object. They were asked the value they would assign to someone, to an object, that was professionally assembled versus one that an amateur was assembling.

[00:09:30.750] – Boris
And guess what? They didn’t have the same bias, they preferred the professional one. It seemed to them worth more and more valuable. Well, this is perhaps a strange phenomenon, but if we think about it in a few different ways, we can actually understand it. And nonprofits can harness that same cognitive bias, as it’s called in behavioral science, to create stronger connections and raise more money. The fact is that once someone has participated, as the study shows, in the creation of something — and in your case, the furthering of your mission or the creation of a program — their personal narrative, their identity, expands to include that they are now someone who supports your cause.

[00:10:13.830] – Boris
And with that new identity, they’re more likely to keep supporting through volunteering, amplifying and donating, and raise their support level as they feel more invested and a stronger connection to the results. Positive changes that they want to see in the world. So the more you can make them a part of the process, the more you could involve them in helping you understand what people want and deliver on those things, the more they’re going to take ownership of it, the more — there’s another effect called The Endowment Effect — the more they’re going to endow your work with value and therefore feel it’s more valuable to support.

[00:10:54.450] – Boris
So here are a few ideas that I put together that will hopefully get you thinking about how you can capitalize on the power of the IKEA Effect to create more heroes for your cause. If you will, ways to engage your current and possible new supporters in the work that you’re doing and get them more and more invested in it. The first way is to simply offer more volunteer opportunities. Even in a time like a pandemic that we’re going through now, where not everybody is able to, or interested in, getting together to do something in person, to volunteer.

[00:11:27.630] – Boris
There are ways to get them to volunteer online, to do certain things on your behalf. It will somehow forward your mission. This is a good time to point out that next week, when we get back to our regular type of interview show, we’re going to have on the show Dana Litwin, who is a volunteer engagement expert and will be talking to us about some of the ways that we can activate more volunteers online to get them more connected with our work.

[00:11:56.010] – Boris
The second way is to create behind-the-curtain experiences. If you’ve ever gone to see a Broadway show or any kind of theater, really, and then gone backstage to see how it all works, there’s a certain level of mystery to it. But when you get back there, it doesn’t just go away. It’s not “oh, it’s a trick.” There are no illusions, per se. There are ways that we make things happen in theater and are actually fascinating to see. “Oh, wow. That’s how that puzzle came together. That’s how Mary Poppins was able to fly.” Right? Those are the behind-the-curtain experiences or meet the cast.

[00:12:31.230] – Boris
Well, in your world, you can invite them — physically or virtually — to see how their support is helping further the cause. Helping to create certain results in the world and let them participate in that feel-good moment of service delivery. There was an organization, it still exists — the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization — that I was a part of when I was in high school. And every year, they probably still do this, they have a Passover food drive where they will assemble care packages for folks who cannot go out and buy their own Passover goods, whether they are not able to leave their house or they can’t afford all of the different things that it takes to have a proper Seder, which is the celebratory meal on Passover.

[00:13:20.370] – Boris
So they would invite high school students, like myself and my friends, to come and put the packages together. And then for those of us that had cars, which in my last year of doing it I did, actually go out and drive these packages, deliver these packages to the folks who needed them. Let me tell you, that was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I still recall knocking on doors and elderly people opening the door and seeing this package and the gratitude in their eyes and in their voices was just so incredible for me to experience that, it probably laid a strong foundation for all the other volunteer work that I’ve done since then.

[00:14:04.230] – Boris
It is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to firsthand witness the accomplishment of a mission in some small way. Which, by the way, you could also do virtually. I didn’t have to necessarily go there to drive. If you are delivering goods like that, for example, maybe you can have a camera and have that moment captured on camera. When someone receives the benefit of a donation or some kind of support. Right? Then you could share that out with the people who helped make it happen.

[00:14:38.130] – Boris
The next thing that you could do is a variation on the behind-the-curtain experience, which is invite them to Town Halls. There, supporters can get an inside view and possibly the opportunity to play a part in anything, from the planning of a new program, to the direction of the entire organization. So if you think about your board, for example, they take part in a lot of the decision making and setting the direction for your organization.

[00:15:05.070] – Boris
They are also the most invested supporters for your cause and for your nonprofit. Well, what if you could offer, basically another level of that, to other supporters. To people who do care about the success of your mission. Maybe they’re part of the community, and you can poll them on what services they want, or how they want something delivered, or how something’s working for them, and let them then have that voice that gets incorporated. Now, the danger is, of course, ignoring them if you do ask for suggestions, because then they’ll feel disenfranchised. But this is essentially enfranchisement. Where you’re drawing them in, making them feel like part of the process and the solution. Again, more invested. They will be more likely to want to support it going forward.

[00:15:52.590] – Boris
The next idea is to help connect your supporters to beneficiaries. Now again, in the case of the deliveries that I was doing, it was a very direct experience where I could interact with one of the beneficiaries, and it doesn’t have to be that person-to-person. Although by the way, that could also be done online, where you could set up calls between beneficiaries and benefactors, where there could be some sort of interaction and some sort of personal connection.

[00:16:20.430] – Boris
There’s another organization that I volunteer with, where I get to work hands on with a beneficiary and see their transformation over time — which I can’t take full credit for, but I do feel a sense of pride in — and want to keep supporting. So whether it’s through in-person or indirect through digital means, connectivity, or just through great storytelling, where you could tell the story of the impact that my work or my support has been responsible for, in a way. Then you’re going to once again make me feel more invested in the work that you’re doing.

[00:16:59.070] – Boris
Similar to how every time I walk by the IKEA shelves or there’s a project in the basement where… required some creative plumbing after certain contractors left things, let’s just say, not done. It took me several trips to Home Depot, but I was able to get it done. And every time I go down to the basement, even though most people can’t see it, and to be honest, it’s crude and not pretty, I still feel a sense of pride and accomplishment every time I go down there. So connecting someone to the results of your work and in this case specifically to beneficiaries, forges a really strong bond and makes them want to keep supporting you and donating more.

[00:17:37.290] – Boris
The next one is to give people more agency. What do I mean by that? I like to say that good storytelling, especially on websites and in digital media in general, is a choose your own adventure. Not a linear novel or movie that you can’t touch. Similarly, when we’re talking about trying to engage our supporters, if we give them options of how they want to proceed on their hero’s journey with us and how they want to support the work that we’re doing, which might be, of course, asking them if they would prefer to volunteer or to donate or both.

[00:18:15.810] – Boris
And oftentimes we ask them to donate after they’ve volunteered and to volunteer after they’ve donated. Right? Both of those are, one can easily lead to, or trigger the other. So that’s one way to give them more agency. Another way is even when just asking for donations, which program do they want to support or which result do they want to see? One of the ways that you can really boost your donations is to just simply tie specific numbers, so $50, for example, to specific results. Like supply school supplies for an entire classroom of kids for a year, or a month, or whatever it might be. $50 might not be realistic for a whole year.

[00:18:59.890] – Boris
So if you can tie that, and then show me that my donation has had that impact. Hopefully even connect me in one way or another, and again, it doesn’t have to be direct one-to-one or in-person. It could just be through video or other types of content, storytelling. Connect me to the beneficiaries and the results that, the impact that it’s had on their lives. Well, now I feel like I decided what to do. I.E. Support this particular program or make this particular donation and it had this result, something that I could feel good about and creates reinforcement for me going forward.

[00:19:41.710] – Boris
The last one that I want to share today is, well, if you know me and this show, then I’m all about storytelling. And as I mentioned, the choose your own adventure stories. You have to tell the right kinds of stories, better. As much as possible, use stories to connect your supporters actions to visible, tangible (as much as possible), results in the world.

[00:20:04.210] – Boris
Tell them the stories of impact that their time, their money, their support, whatever way it came in helped make possible. And whatever you do, don’t say, “hey, we did this”. Don’t even just say, “we couldn’t have done it without you”. Be direct. Say, “you did this. You achieved this. You donated this and it created this result” as much as you possibly can. There is a caveat that I want to touch on real quick, which is, don’t ask for too much. Whether you’re creating a volunteer opportunity or you’re asking for a donation.

[00:20:37.870] – Boris
If you ask for too much and/or promise a result that won’t necessarily be achieved, then you’re going to have the opposite effect — the Disenfranchisement Effect — where I’m going to, let’s say I wasn’t able to put together those shelves and hang them, those cabinets. Then every time I walk by there, I’m going to feel like, “oh, this was a failure”. It’s a negative association with the entire process, with IKEA, with mounting things, with my house, whatever it might be. Right? All the opposite effects from what you want to have with your organization’s supporters.

[00:21:11.470] – Boris
So make sure that it’s a donor size problem or a volunteer size problem, that can be achieved. And then, of course, tell them how much their work was able to do, how much change it was able to create in the world. You don’t have to remember all of this and you don’t have to take extensive notes. Of course, we have show notes for everything that I’m talking about in this episode. I also have a blog post called The IKEA Effect on the dotOrg Strategy website that you could check out. Again, it’ll be linked in the show notes for this.

[00:21:46.270] – Boris
If you’re interested in learning more about how to incorporate behavioral science in your organization, in your work, I highly recommend that you check out Episode 19 with Dr. Beth Karlin, where we talked about several different cognitive biases and elements of behavioral science, psychology, behavioral economics that you can use and should be, at least, aware of in your communications and your work as an organization.

[00:22:13.870] – Boris
Be sure, of course, to check back next week where we’re going to have our interview with Dana Littwin, talking about the ways that you could do the first thing that I talked about today in terms of increasing supporter investment, which is more volunteer opportunities online during times of pandemic or all year round.

[00:22:32.590] – Boris
In the meantime, if you enjoyed this episode and I really hope you did, please be sure to subscribe to the show on YouTube or your favorite podcast app so you can know when new episodes come out and please leave a review on iTunes, so that more people can discover this program and we can help them activate more heroes for their cause as well. As always, thank you so much for all the work that you do to make the world a better place for all of us, and I look forward to seeing you again next week. Bye bye.

[00:23:02.410] – 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:

  • Boris shares a recent personal example of the IKEA Effect. (1:12)
  • Placing a higher value and attachment on items that someone has built themselves is known as the IKEA Effect. (7:45)
  • Once someone has participated in the furthering of your mission, their narrative expands to include that they now support your cause. (9:56)
  • Invite your supporters to participate in the feel-good moment of seeing how their support is helping further the cause. (12:30)
  • It’s powerful to experience the accomplishment that comes from a mission being completed in some way. (14:04)
    • An example of this being seeing someone receive a donation, whether it’s in-person or digitally through a camera.
  • Allow your supporters to have a voice. Taking part in processes and solutions for your organization leads to greater investment. (14:45)
  • Connecting someone to the results of their work creates a bond and leads to continued support and donations. (16:20)
  • Provide supporters with options regarding how they want to proceed on their hero’s journey and how they want to support the work being done. (17:55)
  • Connect your supporters’ actions to visible and tangible results in the world using stories about the impact that their time, money and support made possible. (19:55)
  • Asking for too much or promising a result that is not likely to be achieved results in a negative effect. (20:37)
  • Cognitive biases and elements of behavioral science, psychology, and behavioral economics you should be aware of as an organization are discussed in Episode 19 with Dr. Beth Karlin. (21:56)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Boris Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief 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.

Connect with Boris Kievsky

EP34 - Boris Kievsky - Featured

Episode 34: Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way (part 3 of 3), with Boris Kievsky

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.

[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?

  • Start implementing!

About this week’s guest

Boris Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief 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.

Connect with Boris Kievsky

EP29 - Boris Kievsky - Featured

Episode 29: Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way (part 2 of 3), with Boris Kievsky

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.

[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?

  • Start implementing!

About this week’s guest

Boris Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief 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.

Connect with Boris Kievsky

EP27 - Elizabeth Ngonzi - Featured

Episode 27: Navigating the Nonprofit Digital Divide, with Elizabeth Ngonzi

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 27

Navigating the Nonprofit Digital Divide, with Elizabeth Ngonzi

In this Episode:

The nonprofit funding landscape continues to shift in response to the changing landscape in the pandemic and post-pandemic era. At the same time, there is a growing digital divide between those that are quickly adapting and adopting new strategies and those that are in danger of losing the ability to achieve their mission.

Elizabeth Ngonzi, founder and CEO of the International Social Impact Institute joins Boris this week to talk about how some nonprofits are staying ahead of the changes and new opportunities to connect with communities and funders alike. We also discuss how LinkedIn is fast becoming a critical platform for nonprofits, and how professionals can improve their skill sets to help their organizations and themselves.

[00:00:18.780] – 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!

[00:00:19.720] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. This should be Episode 27 that we’re broadcasting today. And it is with a friend of mine whom I’ve known for a few years now. We first met doing a Candid—it was a live stream, and back then an in-person—panel. Since then, we’ve formed a pretty good friendship. We do a lot of very similar things, so we have a lot in common and a lot that we want to talk to you about today. So let me introduce to you guys.

[00:00:50.870] – Boris
Elizabeth Ngonzi. She usually just goes by Liz. She is the founder and CEO of the International Social Impact Institute. She’s also an Adjunct Assistant Professor and the Faculty Program Developer of a new exciting program at NYU that we’re both going to be talking to you about today as part of what we’re going to talk about. But primarily we’re going to talk about Liz’s area of expertise, which is social media, storytelling, online fundraising, all of the things that we love so much. Liz’s bio reads that she is an international social entrepreneur and educator who helps purpose-driven leaders and organizations to clarify, develop their stories for increased impact.

[00:01:30.940] – Boris
She is the founder and CEO of the International Social Impact Institute, which through initiatives with the King Baudouin—I hope I pronounce that correctly—Foundation US, CIVICUS Global Alliance, Nelson Mandela University in South Africa, the Resource Alliance in the UK and others — create opportunities for and amplified the voices of social impact leaders from historically marginalized communities around the world.

[00:01:54.460] – Boris
As an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Fundraising at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU, she teaches digital storytelling, innovation and fundraising and planning and executing virtual events and fundraisers that inspire and activate support. Both of which are part of the Professional Certificate Program in Digital Fundraising she recently developed. Liz’s superpower is leveling the playing field for change makers and social impact driven leaders from historically marginalized communities. With that, let’s bring Liz on to tell her story.

[00:02:25.900] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Hello, Boris. Thank you so very much for including me today. Hello, everybody. I’m so excited to be here with you.

[00:02:33.340] – Boris
Thanks, Liz. I’m excited to have you. It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been talking about getting you on the show,

[00:02:37.940] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:02:37.940] – Boris
And we finally had a chance to make it happen.

[00:02:40.620] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. No, it’s great. I’m excited to be here with you. And you did such a great … First of all, thank you for pronouncing my last name correctly. Most people botch it, right? Even if they know me forever, they do. So thank you for doing so. And I’m so glad you’re now part of the NYU program with us, which we’ll get into later. But should I go ahead and tell folks a little bit more about that?

[00:03:02.500] – Boris
Yeah. Your bio speaks volumes of the caliber of work that you do. But let’s find out a little bit more about you and your story.

[00:03:10.740] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I think what most people don’t know is that, kind of like, storytelling is in my DNA, right? My late dad, Dr. John Ruganda, Uganda’s preeminent storyteller. He was a playwright? You can find his Wikipedia page, you can find his books on Amazon, is someone who really was looking to tell the story of Africans at a time when we were going through independence and so much was going on. So I’ve got him on one hand. And then my mom was with the United Nations Development Program for 30 years, retiring as the Deputy Director of Communications.

[00:03:46.000] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And she used to travel around the world reporting and sharing about the different projects that they were supporting in developing countries. So this is how I grew up learning about all of this, learning about stories, meeting really incredible people, having these incredible experiences. So when I graduated from college, I went to work for corporate America, my parents were like, “What? That makes no sense.” I did that for ten years. And then after working as a management consultant, I actually worked in technology sector as well, in marketing and in sales.

[00:04:21.390] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And I decided that I wanted to really work with nonprofits and teach them, kind of leverage what I’d learned in the private sector to help them. It wasn’t storytelling at the time. It wasn’t what I called it, but it was really helping them to build their brands, to be able to reach their supporters and raise funds. And we were actually even helping organizations create websites, back in 2004 for their events. We had a company that we outsource to in Uganda. They used to create little websites when you didn’t have all the sites you have now that you can use to host virtual events and to market them—market events—we literally were doing that. And so I’ve always been thinking about digital on how to integrate it into the things that I was doing to help, specifically nonprofits at this point.

[00:05:10.600] – Boris
I love the fact that your father was a preeminent playwright? And it’s something that as long as I’ve known you, I just learned a few minutes ago, part of me wants to just geek out about theater and theater history.

[00:05:25.680] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
You’re a theater nerd right?

[00:05:27.360] – Boris
I am a theater nerd all the way through. I mean, that’s what my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are.

[00:05:33.750] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I don’t know. I never sort of thought, you know, there’s so many times when you talk about it.

[00:05:39.720] – Boris
One of these days, we’re going to get into all of it.

[00:05:41.040] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:05:41.880] – Boris
Today, let’s talk about your work and, from your perspective, what’s going on in the nonprofit sector these days. Particularly, of course, the elephant in the room, that’s pretty much taken over the house is, of course, COVID-19, which has shifted so many things to virtual, to digital, to online, something that you and I have been preaching for a long time that now has been sort of this mad rush for everybody to try to get in there and figure out what they can and can’t do. Talk to me. What are you seeing out there at the moment?

[00:06:13.630] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. It’s been a rough 18 months. Right? And for a lot of organizations that really weren’t prepared for this in terms of being able to easily move their programs, their general engagement, whether it’s with funders or other stakeholders online. And they’ve really suffered. Right? And quite frankly, those of them hasn’t been able to adapt, and we’re already sort of like, you know, stretched thin financially, had to dissolve or they had to merge with other organizations

[00:06:46.650] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
The organizations that were able to quickly come up to speed, and it’s interesting, my digital storytelling course just went gangbusters in terms of registrations at Covid because we were just trying to figure this out. And so, I’ve seen that those organizations that not only figured out how to bring their fundraisers online, figured out how to really engage their supporters through live stream, and these sort of like, Facebook lives, LinkedIn live, and so on and so forth, those are the ones that are really starting to come out of this. But the other audiences or I’m sorry, the other organizations that really have done a great job here, the ones who’ve identified new offerings online.

[00:07:27.920] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so an example of that is I had a woman in one of my courses who worked for Film at Lincoln Center. Film at Lincoln Center literally had a month to basically move its film festival online, you know they had the catalog move online, and they did some in-person events through drive-throughs and things like that. But what they did was effectively create a Netflix offering. So they have the streaming service, which creates a whole new revenue stream down the line for them. And so I just thought it was just genius.

[00:08:00.010] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Now I understand that there are smaller organizations that are going to be watching this. But I always say, let’s learn from the organizations that have some of the budgets or the kind of the resources that we don’t have to figure out… they’ve already created a blueprint. How do we then emulate what they’ve done in our specific space?

[00:08:15.920] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So that’s one example, another example that an organization need, that’s really embrace digital is JCC Association in North America. Another one of my students is a head of marketing for them. And in the past, they’ve held their JCC ProCon event, which is an annual event in Florida for a couple of hundred people and adults to senior leaders, a few hundred people. This year, they were able to bring it online and attract about 3000 people. And so what happened by doing that was that they were able to get junior professionals, senior professionals, and leaders to be able to participate in this professional development conference and bring folks together who’ve been separated during COVID, because JCCs are actually physical locations. Some people hadn’t really seen each other. So in this virtual training, they brought folks together, and it really helped to boost morale. And it got people to feel like they’re part of something bigger because now they’re able to actually participate in this great training conference.

[00:09:19.220] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So those are a couple of examples that I’ve seen of organizations really embracing digital in an effective way. It’s not… it’s one of those things where you’re like, the technology is actually relatively inexpensive. The problem is, it’s the culture. So there’re organizations—like whenever I’m working, with my students, the course I teach at NYU—we essentially create a digital fundraising and marketing plan for their organization, and we always start with a SWOT analysis.

[00:09:51.880] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And inevitably, one of the biggest challenges or weaknesses they have is organizational. Meaning that they have a culture that does not embrace change. And we’re living in a world that you have to be able to adapt to change because things are happening so quickly. They were happening quickly before the pandemic. But you better believe they’ve been accelerated, right? So we have to really think about how do we change our cultures and how do we attract people or how do we change our mindset to be able to embrace this digital—because digital is not going away. Digital has been here for a while. And Boris, you and I talked about this, back in 2009 when I pitched my original course to NYU. It was just an online fundraiser course… I pitched it because I recognize just from my own clients back then, the huge budgets they had for Galas we’re going. They’re gone because of the economic downturn. So it was like, you have to now go online and really rely on online a lot more to be able to engage with the supporters that they need. Right?

[00:10:52.400] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
We didn’t have all the different social media platforms we have right now, but I did recognize that as a space that they really need to embrace. And I’m sure that’s where you are as well. And so, looking at where we’re at today, it’s not that different from were 11, 12 years ago. It’s just that it was didn’t seem as important because then we went back to normal. But I gotta tell you, normal is going to be hybrid from now, probably from now on.

[00:11:17.240] – Boris
I want to talk about a few of those things because I think you touched on several really great key points. The first in terms of the new opportunities, that the digital rush, if you will—it’s kind of a new gold rush feeling in the nonprofit space and finding new ways to leverage platforms that aren’t expensive anymore because technology, as you correctly said, the average cost has gone down and down. I recently actually came across and now own access to a tool where you can launch your own Roku channel.

[00:11:53.980] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:11:55.260] – Boris
Yeah. So I am actually now looking for a client that wants to launch their own Roku channel, talking to one of my clients about it right now. You talk about the film festival going online. Yeah. Here you go…

[00:12:10.790] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:12:10.790] – Boris
Put your channel on Roku, tell your subscribers where to get it. They could watch either in live set up…

[00:12:17.620] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:12:17.620] – Boris
Or in a format where it’s just on loop or something I programmed, and people can pick their own— “oh, now I want to watch this” kind of like Netflix or HBO Max or any of those.

[00:12:28.430] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. Whatever it may on.

[00:12:30.850] – Boris
The technology is so there. And wow, what a great way to find more people, provide more value, oftentimes with the content that you already have, because a lot of organizations have so much video content already.

[00:12:40.700] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
There you go. Exactly. That’s the thing. It’s like. Okay, so my hope is, and it’s not necessarily the case. But my hope is this 18 months that we’ve had to basically be at home and had time to reflect.

[00:12:55.100] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
It’s really helped organizations to think about new ways to leverage their existing assets, because why look outside when you actually have so much internally that you haven’t been leveraging? Right? So you record this thing, you have these assets and you just put them away, but actually they have value. You just have to know how to use them. Right?

[00:13:15.220] – Boris

[00:13:16.010] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Absolutely. And I didn’t know about this new tool, that platform, but that’s incredible to be able to launch your own Roku channel just like that. Think about it. Think about who owned media, who is able to rate that 20, 30 years ago. That was impossible.

[00:13:35.090] – Boris
Yup. Today we could compete with the Rupert Murdochs and Jeff Bezos of the world really,

[00:13:41.370] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:13:41.370] – Boris
Owns so much of the media and the Disneys and Netflixes. And if our message is more relatable and more relevant to our audience, then why not? Why wouldn’t they tune into us instead?

[00:13:59.580] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I agree with you. Completely. I definitely agree with you on that.

[00:14:04.980] – Boris
It’s funny. Also, you mentioned the JCC conference. It’s awesome that you spoke to them. They have all internally gone through their own kind of revolution as well. And a year ago, almost a year ago, at this time, I was presenting to the leaders of JCC Global and all the different JCC leaders. And I got to talk to them in Russian, too, because now it doesn’t matter that I’m not physically there. The fact that I speak Russian, and there’s JCC all over Russia, and the former Soviet Union allows someone like me to go speak to them. It also allows them to reach Russian speaking Jews here in the US for extra support.

[00:14:43.880] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:14:44.430] – Boris
It works both ways. The definition of community has completely changed, and you hit the nail on the head. If you don’t change, you will die. It’s Darwinian at that. There’s been such a proliferation also of nonprofits that have started over the last year and a half and even before that, but it’s accelerated. And I feel like and Liz, maybe you have a different opinion on this, but you kind of touched on it that in a little while, it’s going to be too much, and we’re going to have to start merging organizations or folding them.

[00:15:20.220] – Boris
So it’s whomever can actually use the best tools today to reach the most people today. Those are the ones that are going to thrive. If your mission is important, you’ve got to be there.

[00:15:30.290] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yup. It’s actually where you started. It already started. I had hosted a live stream, LinkedIn Live, with Candid, a couple of people from Candid last May, I think it was. And estimates, or the research indicated that about 50% of organizations we’re going to either, they’re going to go away or they’re going to have to merge based on what happened with the pandemic. Right? And we didn’t even realize how long the pandemic was going to last. Right? And effectively, we’re still in the pandemic. We’re not post pandemic. We’re still in it.

[00:16:03.910] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So we’re in that process right now. We haven’t seen what’s come out. And you mentioned that there’re new nonprofits starting. But it’s not no longer just about nonprofits. There’s social enterprises. The individual is telling about that young man from Italy who has 110,000,000 TikTok followers. Right? He started his to account, like in March of last year. So in less than 18 months, he’s even able to develop this following. Now, imagine if he decided he wanted to support a cause or he wanted to support specific communities. He has 110 million people. He can say, “Hey, I want you to support this particular thing.” How does a nonprofit compete with that that has a thousand followers?

[00:16:51.090] – Boris
Yeah. Partnerships with influencers, I think, is a big thing. It’s a little risky at the moment, because the influencer… you never know. Let’s say that young man from middle, he does endorse an organization. And then, you know, a few months from now, he does something.

[00:17:05.810] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Right? No, of course, that’s the challenge. But the same thing that you have with ambassadors, right? Organizations have ambassadors. But I’m saying that he can either be a partner or he can be a competitor. That’s what I’m saying. So when you’re thinking about a competitor in the real world, right? You’re thinking who’s around me physically. When you go online, that’s anywhere. Right?

[00:17:29.310] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I as a donor… I mean, I gave money. I made a donation to an organization in Cambodia last week. I don’t know anything about them, but it was because someone had… it was a thank you to somebody who would helped me.

[00:17:42.510] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And I said, please let me know the cause that you like. She said, this is what I’m interested in, so I made a donation to them. And I also made a donation to an organization here in New York. Right? So as a donor, I have a lot of options because I can do that online very easily.

[00:17:57.360] – Boris
Absolutely. We talk a lot about that the competitive landscape has completely opened up. And you were never really just competing with other organizations in your neighborhood. You are also competing with the Amazons of the world, the Facebooks who want your attention. The Amazons who want your money. Right? The discretionary spending hasn’t exceeded the growth of opportunity for me to spend my money at any given moment.

[00:18:24.750] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:18:24.750] – Boris
It’s making that connection to your specific target audience and making a really relevant and resonant connection that’s going to make the difference wherever they are around the world.

[00:18:35.840] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Absolutely. At the of the day, you brought up a good point. It is about story, right? You have to tell a great story, and you have to be able to differentiate yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re on every platform. Doesn’t matter if you have follows. You don’t have a story that’s compelling, you don’t have a way of engaging with folks in a way that makes sense to them. Right? Because when we’re telling our story, we need to tell it within the context of what is going to be of interest to your audience, to our audience.

[00:19:03.860] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And we tend to forget that we tend to communicate in terms of what’s important to us. And a lot of nonprofits can actually communicate that way. But it’s really important for us to think about what do the audience want? What does the want the audience want to know about us? What’s going to engage with them? What is going to activate them? Because ultimately you’re communicating, you’re trying to activate them. You’re trying to get them to do something. And so it’s important that we take that into consideration before we think about the channel we use. So we need to be really clear about the “what” we’re communicating, the “why” we’re communicating “with whom” we’re communicating.

[00:19:38.040] – Boris
Yeah. I mean, there are, well, six storytelling questions that we all learned in fourth grade and, well, most of us learned in fourth grade. And they are absolutely key to telling any story. What do you advise? Like, where should nonprofits be thinking at the moment to set themselves up for success going forward? Maybe they’ve been doing some of this? Maybe not. But since the landscape has completely changed in so many ways, what should they be thinking about right now to be effective going forward?

[00:20:13.440] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I think, that first and foremost, it’s time to really take stock of where we are and who we are. And what are story’s all about. Is our story relevant for today? I wrote a piece for Candid last summer about—it was about digital storytelling. I spoke about the fact that foundations we’re starting to shift their focus. They’re starting to think about issues around social justice all around COVID-19 relief. And so organizations really need to recast themselves to be relevant within that context, that they wanted to be able to engage those foundations.

[00:20:47.430] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so, along those same lines, I think that we have to think about who are we in this post-COVID or COVID era and ongoing COVID era, as opposed to what we were pre-COVID because it’s going to be different. The realities are different. The way that we even engage with people. The way that we’re online versus in person programming. And so and so forth. We have to really think about what’s going to really resonate with the people we’re trying to serve, the community we’re trying to serve.

[00:21:18.120] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
But also it’s going to resonate with those that we’re trying to engage, bring to come and support us. So that’s one of the things is really rethinking. Who are we? Right? We need to really rethink our purpose, our unique value proposition, which requires some soul searching, right? Some nonprofit soul searching, even for us, is people working in this sector.

[00:21:40.640] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
The next thing I’d say is that it’s really important that we understand that we need to diversify our fundraising. I think that a lot of organizations found—and this happened in 2008, 2009 as well—they were so reliant on just a few funders and even one instance, just one. And when that goes away, you’re done. And in a situation like this, it’s really about having diversified funding sources so that if one goes away or if you lose corporate and whatever, then at least you’re still able to stand. And so that’s also something that I think organizations need to think about. So you’ve got the corporates, you’ve got the foundations, and the foundation is actually the most stable. And then, of course, individuals, you’ve got high net worth, but then you’ve got the individuals for online.

[00:22:26.550] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And those folks who can really support you on a monthly basis, you don’t want to just get a one time donation. You want to really look at recurring donations. So it’s important we look at that. And I also say you’ve got to start internally. I didn’t even talk about this. I believe that you have no right to ask anyone for money to support your organization if you yourself don’t get to that organization. So I always say what I work in the clients, the board—you know everyone expects the board, the board—senior leadership, and quite frankly, even throughout the organization, it’s important that everyone has skin in the game. It’s not necessarily that they have to make these big donations, but there’s something they’ve got to bring in so that everyone’s clear that they’re actually, everyone’s a fundraiser in your organization, everyone’s part of the mission. So they should feel that they’re an investor in it, as well. So it’s also looking at how you can take advantage of or leverage the internal to your resources to be able to support the organization.

[00:23:22.260] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And then finally, I would say that—I’m not paid by them, but—LinkedIn. I wrote an article about it. I believe it’s on your site. Linkedin is such an important platform right now. You know, Boris, I’ve been at this a long time. So I’ve got accounts on every platform. I’ve used all of them. I’m on ClubHouse, I’m not even going to talk about ClubHouse right now. But LinkedIn, if you are serious about engaging with professionals, if you’re trying to engage with foundations… there are only 10% of them that have websites.

[00:23:56.660] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so you’re going to really try to figure out how to connect with their employees, and that’s where you’re going to find them, because 900 million people have accounts on LinkedIn. So it’s important for you to really take advantage of that platform. Not only as a site like, a lot of people use LinkedIn in the past as a resume site, but it’s literally like your secondary and some of instances, your primary organization’s web presence. So, like, a landing page.

[00:24:26.510] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And it gives you an opportunity to showcase any of your thought leadership. It gives you an opportunity to present any of your projects and your impact. And then it also gives you an opportunity to bring all of your stakeholders together connected to that page. So that when you’re applying for a grant, whatever foundation and their doing research on you. They’re conducting to due diligence, they get to your digital profile, they’ll say, “Oh, so-and-so is part of the board. So-and-so as part of this. We know that person. We trust that person.” Otherwise, you’re just sort of like this little organization that they don’t know much about.

[00:24:59.840] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
The other thing is that when you’re then conducting research and you do find whichever company or whoever you’re trying to connect with, if you don’t necessarily yourself as the fundraiser or know that person or have a connection to that company or organization, there might be someone within your ecosystem, within your network, connected to your page who can make that connection for you. So it’s really important to have those connections set up. And then finally, I would say that you can take advantage of the training. They have so much going on on LinkedIn, and all nonprofits, qualified nonprofits get 50% off of their products. And so, great research tool, great place to build a brand.

[00:25:42.950] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And of course, you and I love LinkedIn Live. I did my first LinkedIn Live with you. So, LinkedIn Live, and also using the LinkedIn event sites. Those are amazing the invitation sites, because those themselves create a whole new landing page for your event that lasts a very long time. And so I’m super excited about it. I wrote a piece about it for Nonprofit Times, and in it there are tons of resources so that you don’t have to be like, well, how do I do this? I present a best practice. I give you the resource to be able to implement it. They give you other resources that you can use to leverage LinkedIn.

[00:26:24.020] – Boris
Those are all great points and tools that people should be absolutely thinking about. Speaking of LinkedIn events, the first LinkedIn event that I was a part of was the one that we just did for the NYU.

[00:26:39.740] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Oh, I didn’t realize that.

[00:26:39.740] – Boris
Yeah. I had never been a part of a LinkedIn event, and I was really impressed with the reach that it got. Especially, you were able to, we were all able to tag each other in the post, and the reach was phenomenal.

[00:26:53.130] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:26:53.130] – Boris
So many sign ups for that. I was genuinely impressed. And I’m looking forward to using the platform for that kind of thing again.

[00:27:00.780] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Right? It’s awesome. And the thing is, a couple of things that this really takes advantage of is, you see, when someone sends you an invitation, you get to see who’s actually already invited. And that helps you, because we’re all about peer pressure. There’s peer pressure, right? We want to be where the cool kids are. Right? So you’re like, “oh,” I’ll say. “Oh, Boris is going to that. Okay. That must be cool. I’m going to participate in that.” Versus receiving an invitation in my inbox. And I don’t know anything about who’s attending. I don’t know anything. I’m like, “oh, I don’t know. I may not be that into it.” So it gives the opportunity to use that social proof in terms of wealth is going.

[00:27:38.130] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And then within this site, once you just get into the event, you’re able to then also access any resources that the event organized or share. So we shared, like, articles. We shared that you’d written or I’ve written. We shared videos, anything we want. Polls…

[00:27:57.070] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And by the way, just because the event is over, it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to communicate. I think you saw I posted a post-event post yesterday, and that site is live. Next month, if we want to add something else, we still can. So it’s really great because we already know what they’re interested in because they signed up for this event so we can continue to communicate with them through this particular channel.

[00:28:22.340] – Boris
Yeah. And it still gets plenty of reach and can be constantly updated. It’s pretty great. I think we should actually link to that event as an example for people in the show notes, along with all the other things that we’ve been talking about and LinkedIn for nonprofits and all of those things, we are also going to link to that event so that people could check it out, see what that was about and how it worked. You could deconstruct it, if you will, and see for yourselves.

[00:28:47.320] – Boris
The power of LinkedIn networking in general… I think for a while LinkedIn was this kind of sleeping giant, if you will. Where, you’re right. It was just resumes essentially, a virtual resume platform and people trying to network to each other to just be able to get a job or something like that. Now it really is a connection tool. And organizations that have a message can find people whom it’ll resonate with on there. And your idea that you mentioned about maybe partnering with organizations with companies, for-profit businesses, right? They’re all on there. Any for profit business.

[00:29:25.140] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And here’s something that I should mention, you know, when you’re updating your LinkedIn profile. One of the questions that ask you, “Are are there any causes you’re interested in? Are you interested in volunteering? Would you be interested in board service? Would you like to mentor?” So, when you have a certain level of account in LinkedIn as a nonprofit organization, you can find those leaders, those folks who are looking to volunteer for cause like yours, who’re looking to be on a board like yours. And so it’s really helping with that kind of outreach, because we fill it out and we don’t even think about it. I’m like, “Oh, yeah, whatever.” But they’re actually their making it easy for nonprofits or whoever is looking for that information to be able to look for it, to find it.

[00:30:09.240] – Boris
So. We’ve teased this event that we did, and the program. We’ve mentioned the program a couple of times. I want to be respectful of your time and our listeners time, but I definitely want to talk about this because it’s so exciting. Tell us about this new program at NYU.

[00:30:27.030] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Okay. So as I mentioned to you, I started teaching NYU well, at the time, the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising. And we merged—we were absorbed into the Center Global Affairs four or five years ago. But given how much like interest that was in my course during COVID, the directors kind of realized that there was probably something here. And I’ve been talking about. I’m like, we need to expand this program. And so they asked me to create a program that would basically take what I developed as an overall course that helps an organization to develop its digital fundraising and marketing strategy, looking at the different channels and then break that into the different, break each one into a course. Right?

[00:31:18.700] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So we have you talking about high impact websites. I’m team-teaching with another woman, with Cheryl Gentry. We’re going to be teaching a course on virtual events and fundraisers. And then we have Kat, well, she already came. Right? So…

[00:31:34.960] – Boris
Yeah she will have been on…

[00:31:37.520] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
So she’s talking about social media. And of course, with GivingTuesday as part of that. And then we have Dane Wiseman, who’s going to be covering—it’s actually a course he already teaches on—basically social media metrics, and analytics. And so these are the different pieces that we need. So it’s a certificate program. You can complete it within a two-year period, or you can just say, I’m just interested in one particular course, and you can take it. And they’re six to seven weeks each. It’s really easy to manage. And they write to me once a week.

[00:32:12.480] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And not only is it great content, but literally you walk away… you’re have something, a tool that you can then use for your ongoing campaign for your organization. I’ve had some students who used it as a tool to get a job. It’s like an auditioning tool. And quite a number of folks also, they implement a lot of what’s covered throughout the period of the course in real time. So it’s very practical. I’m so excited to see what we’re going to be doing with your course, and I’m going sit in on it myself. I want to learn what you’re doing.

[00:32:50.250] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And so I’m just really excited about it, because what we found, if you look at the Giving USA report, overall, giving is a slight bump up. But online giving is going up significantly, right? Even over the last three years, it’s gone up by 32%. And so we’re really helping organizations to fully embrace how to do it effectively, because during COVID, folks just scramble to do it, right? But now we’re saying here’s how you can really develop a strategy around it. Here are some tools. Here are some of the wisdom we’ve garnered. Here are some examples and case studies. I’m going to have to see JCC Association coming into my course to do a digital engagement case study. I think it’s really exciting, and I’m really glad to see that we’re able to support the sector this way, because this is really necessary. I’m not saying the other topics and fundraisers are not necessary, but this is definitely very timely.

[00:33:50.040] – Boris
Now, with everything being virtual at this point, do people need to be in the New York Metro area to participate?

[00:33:56.060] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
No. The whole program is virtual. The whole program is virtual. In fact, I’ve had students as far from as far as Singapore, in Canada, from Hawaii, so they don’t have to be in New York. The course is pretty much in the evening, so they have to be able to either wake up really early for the different time zone or whatever the adjustment is. So people do it. It’s definitely worthwhile.

[00:34:24.260] – Boris
I’m really excited to be a part of it. First and foremost excited that I get to be an adjunct instructor, professor, whatever it is. Instructor, I think.

[00:34:38.140] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah exactly.

[00:34:38.140] – Boris
It’s kind of a lifelong dream for me to be teaching at a university, and especially one like NYU. Having grown up in New York, it’s iconic to me, of course. And I’m excited to teach all of these things that I’ve been trying to teach organizations. I’m going to teach other people how to really use them and hopefully partner with nonprofits to help redesign their websites and improve things for their own conversions, to activate more heroes for their cause, as I like to say all the time.

[00:35:06.910] – Elizabeth Ngonzi

[00:35:07.470] – Boris
And anyone who completes it, they can get that certificate and put it up on LinkedIn to showcase themselves and to showcase what they’re working on.

[00:35:16.120] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And that’s a really good point you bring up, because, Boris, here’s the thing. If you think about our sector, there are not many people with those digital skills. And when I say with those digital skills… with the digital skills, with the formal training. And so, it is a true differentiator. Once you put it in there, you go from being a fundraiser to being a fundraiser with this digital aspect or marker with this and and so on and so forth. So people, again, like I said, they use it to get new jobs, but they can get promotions or whatever it is that they want to be able to do.

[00:35:52.760] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And we’re building this in such a way that yes, it will, it benefits nonprofit organizations. But if there’re social enterprises that are interested in this, they’re welcome. So are foundations because we’re really looking to support social-impact driven organization.

[00:36:08.090] – Boris
I often answer, when I’m asked, why is it that nonprofits are usually significantly behind the rest of the field when it comes to digital adoption and usage? That it’s partly inherent to the way that nonprofits are formed. It’s not usually by people who graduated with digital marketing skills and now want to start a nonprofit. Although there are plenty that have done that, and that’s fantastic. It’s usually people who graduated with different kinds of degrees and now want to put them in the service of good or are joining an organization that they believe in, but they don’t have that digital marketing or that website development or digital fundraising kind of background to them.

[00:36:52.290] – Boris
And so they’re kind of left to fend for themselves or hire consultants or hire expensive people in house. This program can really help level that playing field for organizations and super excited about that.

[00:37:04.350] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah, I know. I agree a hundred percent with you, and it’s exciting to see that, because I feel like, this will really move the needle significantly. I’ve already seen it, right? So it’s not theoretical. It definitely will, and it has. And you know, really, to my knowledge, this is the first offering of this type at a university.

[00:37:29.720] – Boris
So, I’m hoping that a lot of people at least check it out. We’ll definitely link to it in the show notes, so that people go see the program and all the information.

[00:37:36.960] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
And also to see the webinar. The webinar, as you guys be a terrific job and let them see the webinar, too.

[00:37:42.050] – Boris
We’ll definitely be linking to that. As I said before in the LinkedIn event, so that you can deconstruct how we did it and how we got so many people there in the first place. And we’ll also link to several of your articles, your Nonprofit Tech for Good pieces. And you mentioned that the blog itself is a good resource for people, I believe.

[00:38:02.800] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah, it’s a great resource. Heather, who runs it is awesome. It’s a great resource.

[00:38:07.600] – Boris
So we’ll definitely link to that. What is your call to action to any organization, any nonprofit professional, because organizations don’t listen, but professionals do. At this point, they’ve listened to our interview. What should they go do now?

[00:38:22.580] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Upskill their digital skills. And not just because it’s self serving, but really it’s no longer good enough for you to be like a terrific fundraiser, a terrific market. You need to have digital. It’s not a nice to have. It’s an essential. So absolutely make those investments, whether it’s a store program or elsewhere. Absolutely make that investment because this isn’t going away. Digital is not going away. And if you see, I don’t know if you can see the book, there’s a book behind me, which is The World Is Flat. Thomas L. Friedman.

[00:38:56.480] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I read that in 2005. I think it was, and I was really looking at kind of differentiating myself too, what I was working on. And I realized that as professionals, as organizations, as companies, we have to constantly think about how we reinvent ourselves to be much more relevant. And if you’re known for real basic things, basic skills, you as a professional can be replaced or you as a nonprofit or you as a company, can be replaced. The more that you can really move up the food chain, the more that you can go to more value-added kind of offering, and this is one of them. The more in demand you will be.

[00:39:36.550] – Boris
Inevitably, you’re paid for the value that you can bring to an organization. Basically.

[00:39:40.910] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah. So that’s what I would say.

[00:39:43.730] – Boris
Awesome. Liz, if people want to connect with you, by the way, I should probably say Liz is not a flat-earther. If anybody took that out of context.

[00:39:54.280] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Oh. Okay. Yeah.

[00:39:57.710] – Boris
But if anybody wants to connect with you, what’s the best way to do that?

[00:40:00.940] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I’m @LizNgonzi on every platform, and they can also email me en33@nyu.edu.

[00:40:09.560] – Boris
Fantastic. I’m sure a lot of people will have questions. I want to follow up with you. I’m really grateful to you for coming on the show today, Liz, and sharing all this valuable knowledge and having this immensely important discussion with me.

[00:40:21.190] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Thank you for inviting me. It was so fun. This is really, really a pleasure for me to do this with you.

[00:40:28.580] – Boris
Awesome, Liz. I’m sure we’ll have more things to talk about, and maybe we’ll have you on again.

[00:40:32.670] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Yeah, bring me back.

[00:40:34.010] – Boris
Maybe the other myriad things that you and I could dive into.

[00:40:39.030] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
We could talk about plays, we could talk about theater.

[00:40:41.770] – Boris
Oh my goodness. I’m sure there are nonprofits focused on theater that would love that conversation, but maybe we’ll do that as a side note.

[00:40:49.780] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
I’m doing a presentation for arts organizations in the UK in two weeks, in Digital Storytelling.

[00:40:59.750] – Boris
Send me a copy?

[00:41:00.300] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Not that unlikely.

[00:41:03.750] – Boris
Actually, maybe an episode specifically for arts organizations would be great, because I do have several arts organizations clients, and they have some particular challenges.

[00:41:12.600] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Oh they really would have gone through it. Really.

[00:41:20.740] – Boris
Yeah, absolutely. All right, we’re gonna do that.

[00:41:22.700] – Elizabeth Ngonzi
Okay. Awesome.

[00:41:23.870] – Boris
All right. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today on the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Please, please follow us on all the social media platforms. Subscribe to this podcast. And if you love interviews like the one we just had with Liz Ngonzi, then please go ahead and subscribe and leave us a review so that more people could discover it. Thank you, as always, for all the work that you do to make the world a better place. I’m Boris Kievsky, and I’ll see you next time.

[00:42:06.180] – 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:

  • Over the last 18 months, some organizations did a great job quickly responding to the Covid shift to digital in their fundraising and programming, while others could not. (6:13)
  • Small organizations can learn from larger ones, following their blueprint and applying it to their own organizations, even if at a different scale. (8:00)
  • With the cost of technology dropping, the biggest differentiator between nonprofits adopting digital today is not financial, it’s cultural. Those that cannot adapt and embrace change may be forced to close or merge. (9:19)
  • Nonprofits have to think about new ways to leverage their existing assets and generate new content. Most any organization can now compete with the large media companies in the world in terms of distributing your content. If your content is just as relevant to your audience, they will be happy to access it in the same ways they get their current entertainment. For example, it’s now simple and affordable to launch your own streaming channel on platforms like Roku. (11:17)
  • Your community is now potentially anywhere in the world. Geography is not as important as relevancy and accessibility. (14:04)
  • There are many new influencers with tremendous reach. These can either be competitors for attention or great allies for nonprofits whose causes they care about. As with all partnerships, though, you have to be careful with whom you partner. (16:09)
  • With the increased competition for resources, building genuine connections with your audience makes all the difference. It all starts with a great story that resonates with your audience, is in sync with their interests, and differentiates your nonprofit from the competition. (18:25)
  • Covid has changed, and continues to change the world. What worked before the pandemic may not be what’s most effective now. (20:47)
  • The funding landscape has also changed. Relying on a few high-level funding sources is perilous in times like these. It is far better to diversify, including seeking out smaller recurring donations. (21:40)
  • In connecting with foundations’ employees, organizations should take advantage of LinkedIn. With 900 million accounts, it is a great platform to reach people and organizations that may be interested in your work. (23:22)
    • Only 10% of foundations have websites, but many have employees who are active on LinkedIn.
    • It allows nonprofits to showcase their thought leadership, their work and their impact.
    • Development professionals can research prospects on LinkedIn and connect with them directly or through someone in their network that can make an introduction.
    • LinkedIn events are another great tool on the platform, creating a landing page around an event with social proof based on who else is attending. You can continue to add things to the event page, and the page will keep reaching your audience long after the event is over.
    • Take advantage of the training. LinkedIn offers 50% off of their products for qualified nonprofits.
  • There is a new certificate program in Digital Fundraising at NYU that offers courses in digital storytelling, virtual events and fundraisers, social media, analytics, high-impact web design, and more, taught by industry experts. (30:09)
    • The entire program can be accessed virtually.
    • Each class will have practical applications
    • The certificate is a great way for nonprofit professionals to distinguish themselves in the field

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Elizabeth Ngonzi

Elizabeth Ngonzi

Founder / CEO, International Social Impact Institute

Liz Ngonzi is an international social entrepreneur and educator who helps purpose-driven leaders and organizations to clarify, develop their stories for increased impact.

She is the founder and CEO of The International Social Impact Institute, which — through initiatives with the King Baudouin Foundation US, CIVICUS Global Alliance, Nelson Mandela University in South Africa, The Resource Alliance in the UK, and others – creates opportunities for and amplifies the voices of social impact leaders from historically marginalized communities around the world.

As an adjunct assistant professor of fundraising at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU, she teaches Digital Storytelling, Innovation and Fundraising, and Planning and Executing Virtual Events and Fundraisers that Inspire and Activate Support, both of which are part of the professional certificate program in Digital Fundraising she recently developed.

Connect with Elizabeth Ngonzi

EP24 - Michael Hoffman - Featured

Episode 24: How to Use Video to Engage Supporters, with Michael Hoffman

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 24

How to Use Video to Engage Supporters, with Michael Hoffman

In this Episode:

The worlds of online and even traditional media are crowded with information and misinformation. Competition for attention is at an all-time high and trust, arguably, at all-time lows. Creating genuine connections and convincing people to support your cause only gets harder every day. One of the most effective mediums for conveying stories that drive empathy and action today, is video. Once reserved for big-budget galas, video is increasingly accessible. In fact, most of us carry powerful video cameras in our pockets all the time.

This week’s Nonprofit Hero Factory guest, Michael Hoffman, is on a mission to make capturing a nonprofit’s communities’ stories through video as easy as visiting a website or pulling out your phone. Michael joins Boris to talk about why video works, best practices, and how to get the most out of your nonprofit’s stories to create more heroes for your cause.

[00:00:18.750] – 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!

[00:00:20.970] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today, we’re going to talk about something that I’ve been passionate about for many years, even before I ever got into the world of nonprofits. As many of you know, if you’ve been following the show or anything that I’ve done, I talk a lot about Hollywood and filmmaking. And while the Hollywood storytelling formula can really be applied to most any type of communication. Video, specifically, of course, Hollywood focuses on more than all.

[00:00:46.770] – Boris
And there’s some reason for that, of course. And today we have a guest that has done a lot of things in the world of nonprofit, nonprofit consulting and marketing. But he is now focusing on video specifically. So I brought him on to talk about why he’s focusing on video. What is it that’s best practice, if you will, for nonprofits to be thinking about at this point. Let me tell you a little bit about Michael Hoffman.

[00:01:12.660] – Boris
He is the CEO and co-founder of Gather Voices, which is a technology that automates the creation, management, and publishing of video content. He is also the founder of C3 Communications, a digital marketing strategy for nonprofits and the founder of the DoGooder Video Awards, which honors the best social cause videos each year. Michael teaches marketing at the University of Chicago and is an internationally sought after speaker and trainer who is a trusted advisor to nonprofit leaders on engagement strategy, which coincidentally is what we’re going to talk to him today about.

[00:01:46.710] – Boris
When I asked him his superpower, Michael says it’s enabling nonprofits to tell powerful stories that put donors at the center. And when nonprofits become the mentor to the donor hero, powerful things happen. Which I completely agree with. So with that said, let’s bring Michael on to the show.

[00:02:05.280] – Michael Hoffman
Hi there.

[00:02:06.330] – Boris
Hey, Michael, thanks for joining me today. How are you doing?

[00:02:09.180] – Michael Hoffman
Thanks for having me. I’m doing great. I’m doing great. I’m glad to be here.

[00:02:12.600] – Boris
So as I just read to everybody, your bio, but as I always like to say, can you tell us your story?

[00:02:19.070] – Michael Hoffman
Sure. Yeah. Well, I love that the show—thank you for having me on—and I love that the show is called the Nonprofit Hero Factory, because we need to put the other people in—constituents in—that role of hero. Right? And not the organization and that… and create lots of heroes for the cause. So I just love that because it absolutely corresponds to my world view and the things that I work on and teach and all of that.

[00:02:47.040] – Michael Hoffman
So and all of that just briefly started… I was a nonprofit fundraiser for years in Washington, D.C. I then spent about six years doing venture capital Internet companies. I took that experience to start a digital marketing agency just working with nonprofits, social causes. So, C3 is still around doing great work. And I’ve spent a lot of time with organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and Make a Wish and others helping them with everything from web, video, and strategy.

[00:03:19.590] – Michael Hoffman
And I’m doing what I’m doing now at Gather Voices because it became painfully obvious to me in the seat of a consultant that we just couldn’t scale video production the way that organizations really need in a world where video is so dominant. And so I and some other folks thought about what what could we do to help there? And we came up with technology instead of just services to be able to do that.

[00:03:49.380] – Boris
That’s awesome. I mean, I’m a huge advocate of technology and creating or implementing tools that already exist in order to augment an organization’s efforts so that they can create greater impact without utilizing relatively similar levels of resources that it would take if it was the hand-to-hand combat on the ground. So it’s great that you’re focused on this, but why video specifically?

[00:04:17.030] – Michael Hoffman
Yeah, one of the things that I did when I started C3 Communications, which was 15 years ago, was really focus on video production for nonprofits. And that was because at the time broadband had just become something that wiped out dial up Internet. And the Internet really changed from a service that just connected people and had a lot of text and email and other things to a distribution platform for video. And we knew that that was not only coming, but that would really come to dominate.

[00:04:55.440] – Michael Hoffman
And so when when I built the agency, we built it with a strong video production and storytelling at the core. In fact, my co-founder of C3 Communications is a guy named Danny Alpert, who is a top social issue documentary filmmaker in the country, making really important films for television and around social issues. And so we really thought, well, this is what organizations need and will need, even more so in the future. So I’ve always had video as a centerpiece of what I’ve been interested in, and we’ve only seen that become more prevalent. Right?

[00:05:32.160] – Michael Hoffman
And it’s, you know, a lot of it’s driven by these devices that we have in our pockets that we still call phones, but they’re really supercomputers with professional video cameras in them. And we, you know, people are getting really comfortable making and watching videos on their devices. And the question is, well, how do we leverage that for our causes?

[00:05:56.180] – Boris
So how do we leverage that for our cause? Why—and video is great and I love video for so many different reasons—but the same story can be told many different ways. Right? And you could use different media to tell a story. The technology that we have today, you’re absolutely right. We have all of these tools that are so readily available to us and that we’re increasingly comfortable using. The Internet can, of course, facilitate all of the different media that has pretty much ever existed in one way or another.

[00:06:28.810] – Boris
Of course not… not the same as, for example, going to a museum or seeing a live show. But why do you think video is the best place to focus when collecting stories versus just, say, a text form or some kind of written content?

[00:06:45.250] – Michael Hoffman
Right. I mean, I think it’s really starts from just the impact. We see that video gets 1200% more shares than images or text on social media. And we see that 88% more time is spent on websites that have—web pages that have video on them than web pages that don’t have video on them. Right? And we know that you can get 2 to 3 times the click throughs in your emails when you put a video thumbnail in that email, because people are much more likely to want to click to watch that video than to some other link where what they don’t know what they’re going to see.

[00:07:21.700] – Michael Hoffman
So that’s really the big driver, is that we need to engage people around our causes. And video is the kind of content that’s engaging people more. So that’s the one level. I think another level is that we’ve really seen a bunch of trends come together, one of which is the lack of trust in institutions and media and government. And so we’re in a world where the brands aren’t trusted the way that they used to be. And really people trust people and peers.

[00:08:00.010] – Michael Hoffman
And so I think it’s another thing that’s happening is we have to step out in front of our brand voices with real people and those real people, and the stories from real people that are authentic, that feel like they’re not manufactured by a marketing team are the things that work better as well.

[00:08:20.980] – Michael Hoffman
So if you sort of take the video working well and you take the authentic stories, part of real people working well and you put those things together, you know, that’s what we’re focused on because that’s where we see the impact.

[00:08:36.490] – Boris
Absolutely. I’m so glad you shared all those numbers and statistics on how much more effective video usage is in terms of creating heroes, in terms of creating engagement and connection. You know, aside from a one-to-one conversation in person, a one to one conversation over the Internet with video is probably the second best way to actually make a connection with a person. And watching someone is very different than just reading their story, because if their story’s well written, you can convey all the emotions and the imagination gets stimulated and it can be really, really powerful.

[00:09:14.500] – Boris
But seeing someone who has experienced something and seeing their facial expressions, hearing their emotion in their voice is just always a much more immediate driver of empathy. Releases that oxytocin like nothing else so that you trust—and that’s a huge thing that you just mentioned. Social proof and trust building factors are critical these days with so many people claiming so many different things or vying for attention. That connection that you could make through a good story well told is going to make all the difference every time.

[00:09:52.360] – Michael Hoffman
Yeah, and I think there’s another layer to it also, which is that everyone who’s affiliated with your organization or your cause filters that work through their own life experience and story. And so you sitting in a kind of a marketing fundraising communications seat, we are trying to think of what people might want to hear, what might move people. But when we simply give up on that and say, well, if we collect the stories from real people and let them tell their authentic journey that got them to care about this, that’s going to be unique for each person that we get that from.

[00:10:33.910] – Michael Hoffman
And that’s what’s going to resonate with different people. They’re going to say, I didn’t realize this was such a huge problem in the world and I didn’t realize I could do something about it. And then I found this organization and they helped me realize that I actually had a lot more power and influence and impact than I thought I could ever have. And that’s exactly that hero’s story which the Hero Factory is saying. I need you to look at yourself not as an ordinary person in the ordinary world, but someone who can actually do heroic things through the organization.

[00:11:14.980] – Michael Hoffman
And so the organization will help you reveal the power that you have, that you didn’t even realize you have. Right? And like getting the more people that can tell that story, the more proof points, the more trust that that has. And as you said with video, there’s a realness to it. People can feel whether that’s real or not, with video in a different way.

[00:11:40.270] – Michael Hoffman
And we’re so lucky as organizations today. We’re so lucky because when I started See3 years ago, everything had to be beautifully shot and expensively produced and all of that. We don’t have to do that. I mean, there’s good reasons to do that sometimes and to have a kind of pyramid where you have a few pieces of tentpole content during the year, let’s say. But you can do so much with the devices in your pocket, with the webcam that we’re both using, like that’s new and that’s really powerful.

[00:12:14.530] – Michael Hoffman
And that gives small organizations an edge. Because, you know, I always say this to organizations that I that I work with. You know, if Nike can tell a story that’s going to make you cry and they sell shoes and clothes, like think about what you can do with the real issues and real people and stuff that matters. You know, it’s it’s like we have such assets in this world of nonprofits in terms of storytelling, and we just have to let them out and be less worried and guarded about those real stories, because sometimes real stories are also a little bit messy.

[00:12:50.480] – Boris
Absolutely, there’s a few things that I’d love to touch on that you just spoke about. So one of the things that I teach organizations and help them figure out is their content source map, basically. So a lot of organizations have a small if even a dedicated marketing team. And they’re often overwhelmed trying to get all of the stories together, trying to create the stories, think of the stories, as you were just saying. And so I walk them through a process where I help them identify all the different types of people that they could possibly source stories from that are connected to their organization already, whether they’re donors or board members or volunteers or beneficiaries of their services and various points in between.

[00:13:35.330] – Boris
Those are all going to have, as you said, a different point of view. Right? In filmmaking, we have different angles and different POV shots. So everybody’s point of view is going to be slightly unique, at least slightly unique. And it’s going to have its own connection that people who are similar to them might resonate with. The other thing that you were talking about with the technology and whether we need professionally produced video… completely agree, again.

[00:14:03.420] – Boris
Yes, there’s that what you call tentpole content at maybe a gala. You want a professionally produced video that looks like you’re doing high-quality work. But oftentimes that level of production is counterproductive when it comes to a direct appeal. You want that raw kind of emotional energy, that unfiltered look, rather than something that’s smooth and polished because it’s harder to connect to something smooth and polished than it is to just a person talking on whatever device it is, not looking perfectly lit with a green screen like I’ve got in here. And it’s actually more effective for some campaigns.

[00:14:42.660] – Boris
So I want to touch on two things now that kind of spawned from that. The first is, we now have, I think, the opposite problem of what we had when you started to See3, like you were saying, where video was difficult to make and expensive to make. And everybody is now jumping on the video bandwagon and Facebook is flooded with video. They used to promote it more. I think they still do promote it more in the algorithm.

[00:15:09.810] – Boris
Instagram is all about the video. Obviously, TikTok is nothing but video. So now there is almost too much out there. How does an organization, first of all, prioritize which videos they put out and second of all, figure out where they could use those videos most effectively?

[00:15:30.930] – Michael Hoffman
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the right question. We think the world, we see a world totally awash in video. Right? And you kind of go, well, ah, we had sort of peak video? And the answer to that, I think is no, that we’re not even there yet. And I say that because when I go and see a speaker’s page at a conference. Right, all the different sessions, session listing, mostly it’s just a bunch of text. And I’m not hearing from those people who are speaking or when I get emails from nonprofits. I’m on many email lists, so I can see what everyone’s doing. How often is it just a big block of text? And “most often” is the answer to that. And so there’s so much room to put video in the places that we’re trying to engage people.

[00:16:23.310] – Michael Hoffman
So I think on the one hand, don’t be scared away by the noise that there is. There is a lot of noise out there. And you also have to know who’s your audience. And and so you have to go where your audience is.

[00:16:38.490] – Michael Hoffman
You know, I’ve had so many organizations. I’m sure you’ve had this experience as well, where organizations like, you know, we want to be on TikTok. And you say, well, your average donor is a 70-year-old woman. Is this where you think you’re going to increase that market? And it’s like, “well, we want to have younger donors.” It’s like, great, let’s go for 50-year-old women this time. You know, I mean, you have to be strategic about these things and really say, well, who are we targeting and why and where do those people live online and what ways and what are the things that are going to connect to them.

[00:17:21.630] – Michael Hoffman
One of the things that we’re excited about in Gather Voices, where we have technology that can get lots of video from lots of people, is that, there’s no downside to getting as many people as possible to tell their story. Because a couple of things happen there. One is you get all this content. You don’t have to use all of it, but you get a lot of content regularly instead of chasing after content that you need in that moment.

[00:17:50.100] – Michael Hoffman
The other thing is simply asking someone to share their story strengthens the relationship that you have with that person. And I think this is a really important point. It’s like the content itself is useful because of how it could move others. But the asking for the content is powerful in saying you care about what these people’s experience are. You care about what they think, you care about who they are and you’re lifting that up. So I think the idea of building video collection into lots of touch points that you already have is a much better long-term strategy than let’s chase some people because we have this initiative coming up.

[00:18:34.230] – Michael Hoffman
And so when I say long term, I think of like, every donor… on a thank you page, it says click here to record a video and tell us why you care about this. You know why you care about this cause, like what brings you, right? Like just creating a culture of saying, we want to listen, we care what you think. You know, that can have real impact.

[00:18:55.470] – Boris
Absolutely. Though you have to be careful that when you say we care, we want to know what you think, that you can actually respond to that as well. There’s … the only thing worse, I think, than not asking people for their input and and helping them feel like a part of the movement, a part of the cause, a part of the community is to ask them and then ignore them.

[00:19:18.000] – Michael Hoffman
I totally agree with that. I totally agree. And I think, you know, that doesn’t mean that every video lands on your homepage. Right? There are lots of ways to make people feel and genuinely care of what they think. And the value of it is so powerful as well, just in terms of intelligence. Like to really understand what’s the intersection between these different people in their lives and in the organization that we care about.

[00:19:47.610] – Michael Hoffman
You know, I like what you were saying about thinking about all the different storytellers. It reminds me of work that I got to do with Make a Wish, where and the production quality issue, where you make a wish for many years had one story, which was this wish story where you have the wish kid getting their wish and everybody’s happy. And it’s like a really great story. But that was it. Like that’s all you ever saw about Make a Wish was like that big reveal moment of that which kept getting their story.

[00:20:18.390] – Michael Hoffman
And you know what the problem with that is? That resonates with some people. But mostly you look at that and you go, that’s great. You have it all figured out. What do you need us for? Right? Like, there’s no there’s no sense of need in there because the organization’s already done this thing that’s powerful and has impact. And I can watch from the sidelines and it’s fine. But it also doesn’t show my role. If I’m a volunteer or I’m a donor, what do I have to do with that?

[00:20:46.560] – Michael Hoffman
It doesn’t look like anything. It’s own contained thing. And so what we did with Make a Wish was really say to them, you have permission to tell other stories even though you want to be child centric, which was like, this weird child centric, kept them in that box because they’re like, oh, we can’t tell stories about anybody else. It’s like, no, that’s not what we mean by child centric. Child centric means it’s all on behalf of the kids.

[00:21:10.770] – Michael Hoffman
That doesn’t mean you can’t tell their stories. So a great example was once they once they really internalize this idea, they did the most incredible video and I will find it for the shownotes. It’s the most incredible video of a volunteer. Because Make a Wish, which is one of the few organizations where the real work gets done by volunteers, a lot of the real work gets done by volunteers. And so they had this volunteer and the guy at the beginning of video, he’s like, I get really weirded out by sick kids.

[00:21:40.230] – Michael Hoffman
Like, I don’t think I can be in a room with somebody who’s really sick, you know? And but then I went in and I met this kid, Noah and I, we fell in love. It was like the most incredible thing. And then he tells this whole story about how he did this, rebuilt this kid’s house so that the kid could get access to the outside with his wheelchair. Right? But they would have never thought that it was OK to have a volunteer go, “I don’t know about this being with the kids thing.” But what that ended up doing was giving voice to the same emotional journey that so many other people had, which is why “I don’t want to get involved, because I don’t think I can deal with it” and how he got through that and how he experienced it.

[00:22:28.000] – Michael Hoffman
And that led to more volunteers, right? That’s what they needed, volunteer recruitment. So you have to tell the stories of the people that you want to activate. Again, if you have a story and there’s no donor agency in that story, that doesn’t mean the whole story has to be about the donor. But if there’s no sense that it was the donor that made it possible. Then no donor is going to get activated by it, right? And if there’s no sense of the volunteer, the volunteers are going to activated by it. So I don’t know. Tell me if that’s in line with your experience.

[00:23:00.320] – Boris
Oh, that’s absolutely my experience. That’s absolutely what I teach day in, day out. You know, people will respond to other people who are more like them, who are in a similar position to them, who feel the way that they do. And you need to definitely empower them and make it seem like you can become a hero. And we are not the heroes.

[00:23:22.880] – Boris
The nonprofit is not the hero. And I think that’s how it was coming off on that Make a Wish video that you’re talking about before you guys came in. That the nonprofit is the hero. “Look at the great work we do and oh, you should help us.” Rather than, “our volunteers are heroes who make these wishes come true. And you can also be volunteer even if before you may have thought that, oh, it’s really difficult to be in a room with sick children.” You reminded me of that Sally Struthers campaign so many years ago that said, for the price of a cup of coffee a day, you could feed every child.

[00:23:58.970] – Boris
And it was very effective, I’m sure. But at the same time, it turned a lot of people off. When that commercial would come on, it was so sad and so manipulative that people would change the channel. And that’s not necessary. You don’t have to just, in that case, it really was exploit the beneficiaries, exploit the people who are having the problem in order to say there is a problem and you can help.

[00:24:25.640] – Michael Hoffman
The other piece about that. I think that doesn’t work is that the ask has to be commensurate with the challenge. If I say to you, millions of kids are dying in Africa of hunger and you can give me the price of a cup of coffee, there’s a mismatch there. It’s like, yeah, I don’t think I’m going to really have a big impact on that problem, you know? And so I think that’s another piece of it. But I love what you just said about about Make a Wish and that because that was actually the first thing that we did with them was their mission statement said, Make a Wish, grants the wishes of children.

[00:24:59.960] – Michael Hoffman
And we were like, no, make a wish, doesn’t it? Thousands, tens of thousands of volunteers and donors grant the wishes of children. That’s who does it. It’s Make a Wish that makes it possible. But it’s the heroes are not it’s not the organization, because then you put your donor as the sidekick and nobody wants to be a sidekick. Nobody wants to be Robin, sorry.

[00:25:21.560] – Boris
That’s true. That’s true. Although I was just randomly reading an article that Matt Damon did want to be Robin and kept auditioning and they kept turning him down. And in the end, it’s really a good thing because the guys who did play Robin never actually went too far in their careers. Sorry, total side note. Let’s come back to…

[00:25:43.570] – Boris
All right, video is powerful. Appeals from and in stories from people on all different levels within the organization are vital and can be used super effectively. What makes a good video story? What are the elements that a story on video specifically? And I mean, I could talk for days about this stuff… from your perspective and what’s been working for you guys, what’s necessary in there for it to be effective?

[00:26:11.810] – Michael Hoffman
Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a couple of levels of that. I would say. Let me just start with production side of things. You know, people we don’t need fancy produced video, but we need good sound. So I would say if you’re going to focus on anything, you know, it’s sound and light and sound, especially. That people will watch bad video with good sound. They will not watch good video, bad sounds, it’s too frustrating.

[00:26:35.570] – Michael Hoffman
So just simply having quiet places, an external microphone, that’s very inexpensive, other ways to get good sound. So I would say that just as a production note. Go ahead.

[00:26:47.540] – Boris
Let me pause you right there, because absolutely. And I learned this in Hollywood so many years ago that’s number one thing. Do you advise organizations to send out external microphones for things because not everybody has one?

[00:26:59.480] – Michael Hoffman
Not necessarily. I mean, I think it depends on the circumstance. So I think if you’re recording at an event, you better have a setup that will deal with the surrounding noise and things like that. One of the things we’ve done in our software actually is we have when you when we get people to record themselves using their own phones, we have a frame of their face in the middle. And people are like, oh, so that they put their face there.

[00:27:25.610] – Michael Hoffman
And I was like, yeah, but really. So that they size it right, so it’s close enough to get the good sound. And so I think, I think there’s ways to get good sound, but it’s definitely something to make people aware of. And if you can, you know, the other thing we’ve built into the software is also a warning that says it seems loud in there. Maybe you want to move to a quiet place.

[00:27:46.670] – Michael Hoffman
So I think again. Depending on the use of the of the things, it sometimes makes sense to send equipment out to people not always necessary if you give them the right framework to do it.

[00:27:58.570] – Boris
OK, so we’ve got sound. We need great sound. Absolutely. What else?

[00:28:02.470] – Michael Hoffman
Yeah. I mean, the other thing is just a compelling personal story with no fluff. I think there’s a there’s a tendency in people who fancy themselves video makers to have like intros, and things that take some time to get into it. And that’s nice if you’re sitting down to watch Game of Thrones or something. But in our world, online mostly get right to it, like jump right in to whatever that piece is, and cut your story so that, you know, that you that you grab people in the first few seconds because you can lose people so fast online.

[00:28:40.440] – Michael Hoffman
You know that’s that’s an example. So, so that’s really I mean those are the big things I would say. I think when you let people tell their own authentic stories, you get a mix of things. But that’s 99% of the time better than the story you’re going to try to manipulate or craft.

[00:28:58.810] – Boris
Interesting. I worked with an organization here in the New York metro area where we were trying to find videos and video stories, basically soliciting stories. And what I found helpful in that case, and I don’t know if you guys do this… Before they ever actually turned on the camera, we had them write out answers to certain questions that would trigger a storytelling formula. First of all, a beginning, middle and end, if you will, with that conflict or not conflict, but challenges, whatever they might be, and also get them really thinking about those elements before they start.

[00:29:35.540] – Michael Hoffman
Yeah, I love that idea. I think that’s a great idea. And another way to do that is also and that creates some ease’s is more in the social proof vein, which is showing other people’s stories. And so people go, oh, that person did a video, I can do a video. That person tell a story. I see how they told the story about how long it is. So, again, modeling that behavior that you want from them.

[00:29:57.760] – Boris
That’s an awesome idea. I actually hadn’t thought of that. I use templates and other things, but why not give somebody a model to say, hey, here’s a sample video of the kind of testimonial that we’re looking for, the kind of story that we’re looking for right now. It’s about the right length. Here are some questions that you can think about, and now go.

[00:30:15.400] – Michael Hoffman
What’s your version of this? Because I think that’s what holds people back. A lot is going in their minds, “I’m not sure what Boris wants from me.”

[00:30:24.250] – Boris
A blank canvas.

[00:30:25.720] – Michael Hoffman
And so the more you can make people feel at ease with that, the better.

[00:30:30.510] – Boris
Really cool. So if organizations haven’t started doing this and right now, as we all know, the pandemic is surging again, so it’s difficult to get out and go video record somebody. And there are plenty of tools like Gather Voices being one of the best ones that I’ve seen personally. I enjoyed playing with your platform. Where should they get started? How should an organization get started in collecting these stories?

[00:30:57.810] – Michael Hoffman
I mean, I think the first piece is just a leadership, an organization-wide belief that it’s important to do it. So number one is like a commitment. We’re going to do it like that’s gotta—that’s where it starts. And then there’s no excuse whether you have technology or not. There’s no excuse because everybody has these devices, the shoot powerful stories. So the idea of asking people, starting with your closest circle, starting with your board members, starting with your long-term donors, starting with your, you know, the staff. It’s like just start where it’s easiest to start and work your way out from there.

[00:31:38.080] – Boris
Awesome. So I ask everybody if there are any tools that they recommend nonprofits check out, is there anything that you think would help them in this vein?

[00:31:50.470] – Michael Hoffman
Yeah, I mean, I think one, I will just say we give a lot of free content away at Gather Voice on these subjects. So there’s just a ton of content on our blog and things like that and on LinkedIn and other places where we publish, really just trying to take what’s working that we see working and sharing that. So I think that’s one piece. And then I think that there’s a bigger—so that’s around video. I think in just in terms of organizational development and growth mindset, I’m really at this moment, I’m really into this book called Scaling Up by Verne Harnish.

[00:32:30.700] – Michael Hoffman
It’s really a management book, but it’s really all about just being organized and how you think about growth. And I think so many nonprofits have a scarcity mindset. And if they really take some pieces of what quick growing businesses do, they can think differently about it. And that puts some of these tactics like getting more video from people at the forefront, because you really have to start thinking about how do we get our story out there more aggressively? How do we grow? What does that mean? You know, what are we trying to accomplish and what’s the path to get there and being more organized about it? So, yeah, there’s there’s there’s a lot of great tools out there.

[00:33:16.120] – Boris
Awesome. We’ll make sure to link to all of those in the show notes, as well as the video that you said you were going to send us that you guys helped create for Make a Wish. When folks are done watching this, besides, of course, subscribing to my newsletter and leaving a great review for this podcast, what should they do to follow up with you?

[00:33:34.240] – Michael Hoffman
Yeah, so I’d love to hear what you all think and what you’re doing. I mean, I think you see this also Boris, we learn as much from the practitioners out there as we do doing the work that we do. So follow me on or connect with me on LinkedIn—so you can just look up Michael Hoffman and Gather Voices there. Also, you know, that’s really the best way. And I’m just michael@gathervoices.co, and so send me an email.

[00:34:03.460] – Boris
And if people want to check out Gather Voices, do you guys do some sort of a trial or how do you do that?

[00:34:10.060] – Michael Hoffman
We have a ton of content on our website that shows how it works, how other people are using it, what what it all is. And then you can get a demo really easily. So you can do that right from the website. It’s gathervoices.co

[00:34:24.430] – Boris
Cool. Thanks so much, Michael, and thank you all for joining us today for the Nonprofit Hero Factory. I hope you got some great tips and things to think about when it comes to gathering your stories on video or however you prefer to get them all together. They’re crucial to activating more heroes for your cause. Thank you, everybody. We’ll see you next week on the Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:35:04.640] – 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:

  • People are increasingly comfortable with video, whether watching or appearing on camera. The question is, how do we leverage that for your organization’s cause? (5:43)
  • Video gets 1200% more shares, 88% more engagement and 2-3x the click-throughs. (6:46)
  • Video is better at sharing an authentic journey, building empathy and trust than most other types of content online. (9:02)
  • Your goal is to inspire more people to believe they can be heroes by sharing the stories of how your organization has helped others become heroes. (10:45)
  • If Nike commercials can make you cry, imagine what real stories about real issues can do. (12:14)
  • Although it might feel like there’s a lot of video today, there are still a lot more opportunities to incorporate video into communications, as long as you know your audience. (15:18)
  • Simply asking someone to share their story strengthens your relationship with that person. (17:50)
  • The Make-A-Wish Problem: Touching stories are not enough. Narratives have to empower the would-be supporter. (23:22)
  • In video, sound quality is more important than video quality. Audiences prefer to watch a poor quality video with good sound, over a great-looking video with poor sound. (26:11)
  • Fancy video techniques are no substitute for compelling personal stories—and sometimes distract from them. (28:02)
  • Give people an idea of what to say in your video with examples and templates to follow. (29:35)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

  • Start implementing!

    • Get started: There’s no real question of whether you have the technology or not anymore. It’s just about your organization’s commitment to start asking for stories from your closest circles and working out to your broadest ones.
    • Connect with Michael: You can connect with Michael Hoffman on LinkedIn or send him an email.

About this week’s guest

Michael Hoffman

Michael Hoffman

CEO, Gather Voices

Michael Hoffman is the co-founder and CEO of Gather Voices, a technology company that automates the creation, management and publishing of video content. He is also the founder of See3 Communications, a digital marketing agency for nonprofits and founder of the DoGooder Video Awards which honors the best social cause video each year. Hoffman teaches marketing at the University of Chicago and is an internationally sought-after speaker and trainer who is a trusted advisor to nonprofit leaders on engagement strategy.

Connect with Michael Hoffman

EP22 - Boris Kievsky - Featured

Episode 22: Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way (part 1 of 3), with Boris Kievsky

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 22

Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way (part 1 of 3), with Boris Kievsky

In this Episode:

What does it take for a nonprofit to tell a great story? In this episode we’ll start at the beginning: 16 fundamental questions to ask yourself about your organization, your goals and your characters before you start crafting a story.

We know that great stories are the most effective way to connect with others, take them on a journey and inspire them to action. A nonprofit has potentially hundreds of stories to tell. Hollywood tells thousands every year. No two are identical, but they all have fundamental elements in common. In this series on Hollywood Storytelling Tips for Nonprofits, we’ll focus on those elements and how they can inspire your stories and take your storytelling to new levels.

[00:00:00.880] – 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!

[00:00:16.100] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, I’m Boris Kievsky, the host of the show. I am the self-described Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy. Most weeks I have guests on to talk about the various things that they’re seeing out in the world of nonprofit in terms of marketing, communications and fundraising, ways that organizations can improve their reach and their impact, activate more heroes for their cause, as we love to say on this show.

[00:00:44.270] – Boris
Today, the episode is going to be a little bit different. I don’t have a guest on this week. Instead, what I’d like to do is talk to you a little bit about what I focus on and the Hollywood storytelling formula, and how that could be applied for your nonprofit’s communications in order to really hone in on the exact audiences that you want to reach, get them to resonate with your messaging, and then hopefully take the actions you need to make the world a better place, making them a hero along the way.

[00:01:15.880] – Boris
I want to start with one section, which is laying out the plan for your story. So, every story that you’re going to tell, before you ever tell it, you should already have many of the questions answered before you even put one word down on a screen or record something into the camera. And today we’re going to talk about what those early foundational aspects are that you should know before you get going.

[00:01:46.490] – Boris
The first one is really knowing your audience. Now, every client I’ve ever had, whether for-profit or nonprofit, I always ask them, who is your ideal avatar, your ideal audience? And every single one of them without fail says, oh, my offering, whether it’s my product or my service, it really can be applied to everyone. Everyone can benefit from it, whether they’re eight years old or a hundred and eight years old.

[00:02:15.170] – Boris
And that may be true, but not all of them will be able to take the actions you need them to take. In fact, not all of them may even be capable, like an eight year old, of actually signing up for something or enrolling in something. And an 80 year old might not have the ability to really navigate their way around a computer—because I do focus on digital—in order to even access your content. That’s just the broad scope of it. But really, no two people on this planet are identical, not even identical twins. And no two groups of people can really understand each other as well without a lot of experience with each other, a lot of contact with each other. Right?

[00:03:00.800] – Boris
In fact, that’s some of the issues that we have in the world today is people don’t necessarily even speak the same language, even though they might be neighbors. And I don’t mean language as in English versus some other actual language. I mean contextual language. I mean frame of references that they have to which they could resonate. I can’t talk to my teenagers the same way I could talk to my fiancée. I can’t talk to my parents the same way that I could talk to my grandmother. Right?

[00:03:29.540] – Boris
Everyone has different frames of reference, different vocabulary that they use for certain things. I’m always learning new vocabulary from my teenagers. So you really have to know your audience before you can even start trying to communicate with them.

[00:03:44.660] – Boris
And then, once you do know who they are, you do have to speak their language. You have to try your best. Even though my teenagers will sometimes laugh at me for trying to use terms that they use, if they don’t see that it’s their stepdad who’s actually trying to use those terms… if they just see some content on a website that somebody is saying or on social media, then they won’t necessarily have the same reaction they do when they laugh at me, but—or cringe sometimes.

[00:04:12.440] – Boris
But my point is, if you can’t use the same terminology that they’re used to, if I say certain things that they don’t really understand, because that’s not how kids talk today, they’re going to disconnect. Similarly, if I try to use the language of today’s teenagers to talk with people, my generation, Gen X, they’re going to think either I’m trying too hard or they’re not going to understand it, like I sometimes don’t understand the ways that the kids speak today. So you have to speak the language of the people to whom you are trying to connect—with whom you’re trying to connect.

[00:04:48.070] – Boris
The next thing that I encourage everyone to know before you even start to tell your story is to understand what the takeaway is. In other words, every story takes someone through a journey by the end of which they should be different than they were when they started. That difference isn’t part of the takeaway. It could be if you’re talking about fables, right. Aesop’s Fables or whatever they might be, it’s the moral of the story. But it could also be the practical tools that they can now incorporate into their lives, into their own world. So, for example, every time that I do a podcast or every time that I do a presentation or work with a client on any given session, by the end, I want them to have some takeaways that they can, well, take with them on their journey onwards.

[00:05:36.580] – Boris
So always know your takeaways. What do you want people to experience and how do you want them to feel at the end? What do you want them to think? Or what practical tools do you want them to have in their quiver or their toolbox, whatever you want to call it, whichever metaphor you prefer.

[00:05:55.790] – Boris
Next, you really need to consider your own motivation. In other words, why are you telling this story? So we talked about the takeaways and maybe you could do this before you even think about the takeaways. But you as an organization have goals. They’re part of your mission, I hope. With each story you tell, you have a motivation to maybe capture the attention of a particular kind of audience or to get them to take a certain action or to get them to feel a certain way, perhaps, or to contribute to your cause in one way or another.

[00:06:28.810] – Boris
So before you even start, as lots of actors like to say on sentence, become cliche when they’re talking to a director, what’s my motivation? How do I interpret what I’m trying to get at? Because that’s going to really impact my performance. I can say the same line 100 different ways, but if I know what’s driving me, if I know what my goals are with this, why I need to say it in this moment, then I’m more likely to deliver it in a way that’s going to connect with the material better. And hopefully have the impact that I want—we call them tactics all the time in acting—have the impact that I want on my audience.

[00:07:09.570] – Boris
And then know your objective. So your motivation is why you’re telling something to this person, your objective is what you want them to do at the end of it. Oftentimes it’s going to come in the form of a call to action, which I’ll talk about in another section of this series. But in this case, I just want you to think about what is it that you want them to do by the time they’re done consuming this story, whether it’s in audio format and video or online, whether it’s social media or on your website or anywhere in between, what is it that you want them to do when they’re done?

[00:07:47.290] – Boris
And then there’s your super objective, which you also have to know. So your super objective may oftentimes just be your mission. It is overall the change that you want to make in the world. It’s everything that guides you. It’s your guiding light, if you will. There’s so many metaphors for this concept because it’s so prevalent in society.

[00:08:08.570] – Boris
In a play or in a movie, there might be lots of different scenes. And these—each scene tells its own story or part of a story in one way or another. But each character throughout the movie or throughout the play has what’s called a super-objective because in each scene to have an objective, something they want to do, but that objective has to somehow be in line with the super-objective. Because you don’t want to waste any time in a story going off track. OK, so your super objective is what’s your ultimate goal? For this avatar, for your series of stories, for your overall storytelling online or in any other format that you tell your stories.

[00:08:55.160] – Boris
And then consider the context. Now, I spoke a little bit earlier about how everyone has a different context. Everyone has their own personal experiences, their own histories, whether you grew up in the suburbs or you grew up in a big city, whether you grew up in the Midwest or the Northeast, whether you are in high school or in college or a successful professional with 30 years of experience, you have different context. Even talking about the same exact thing.

[00:09:24.640] – Boris
We could talk politics to everybody, but we have to be careful in all ways and we have to consider what context are they in and what’s going to resonate with them. So context is not just your experience, but also what’s happening in the world around you right now. If it’s politics that often changes from day to day and it also changes from area to area. Right? What resonates with someone today might actually alienate them tomorrow. Some of the same tools, some of the same terminology that we use one day might actually in a few years or sometimes seemingly overnight, have a different meaning to it. And we can’t talk to people the same way over time that we did a few years ago. So you have to consider your context and the audience’s context, specifically, how are they receiving this message at this time?

[00:10:20.640] – Boris
And then you want to know what makes it interesting. So there are lots and lots of stories out in the world and there is new stories being told every single day. But what is it about your story that right now, to this audience, is going to make it interesting? It’s going to hook their attention, hopefully, and keep it all the way through the story? They’re going to be able to connect to it for some reason or other. They’re going to be intrigued by it. What is it about this story that’s going to make it interesting to this audience?

[00:10:58.170] – Boris
And then what makes it relevant so interesting is about peaking curiosity, relevancy is about really connecting on an emotional level or on some sort of level where I need this information right now to improve my world, which might be as narrow as my life or my day, it could be as broad as improving my entire community. So what’s relevant about this story? And hopefully that’s connected to your mission and the lives of your audience at the same time.

[00:11:36.020] – Boris
So now that we’ve laid out the plan for our story, we figured out the types of people we want to be talking to, what’s going to make this interesting to them, what effects we’re going to have on them? Now, let’s talk about who these people really are, OK? Who are the characters in your story?

[00:11:56.180] – Boris
The first and perhaps most important one is your hero. So who is the hero of this particular story, this particular chapter of the story? However you want to look at it, you want to have a specific avatar in mind for this particular story that you’re telling. Again, as I said earlier, everyone is not going to resonate to the same pieces of content in the same ways. So in this particular case, who is the hero for this chapter that’s going to help you make the world a better place? And to be honest, it has to be that you’re going to help them make the world a better place at the same time, there needs to be some sort of affinity for your mission already by this time, if you want them to take the next step in the hero’s journey.

[00:12:45.380] – Boris
So, at any given time, you might have different heroes that you want to speak to. You might have your donors, you might have your volunteers, you might have your beneficiaries, your board, whomever it might be, but you can’t speak to all of them at the same time. In the same way, it’s OK to have different pieces of content targeting different people, really structured for and styled for different people that you want to be talking to. So with this story, who is your hero?

[00:13:19.620] – Boris
Similarly with this story, who is your storyteller? Now, most stories that I’ve seen by nonprofits and by a lot of for profits, to be fair, seem to be coming from this ominous third voice, this disconnected party. And that’s OK, but honestly, what was the last time you really connected to a company rather than to a human being? If a company like Nike spends enough money to try to get their campaign out, to “Just Do It.” It might be inspirational, but the ones that are most inspirational are the ones where you see a person on the TV screen or whatever screen you’re consuming it on, whom you can somehow identify with. Maybe it’s someone you aspire to be, or maybe it’s someone who you already see as a colleague or an equal doing the thing that you want to do.

[00:14:10.460] – Boris
It has a very powerful effect. So. It’s often helpful to identify yourself as the storyteller or whomever is writing the story as the storyteller so that it’s not just some random, ambiguous thing talking to me, but it’s actually a human, telling me about the experience. Now, this could sometimes be your hero, but it doesn’t always have to be. So a hero may be telling their own story in the form of, say, a testimonial or an article that they’ve written about themselves and their experience with the organization… making the world a better place, of course. But you might have someone who is interviewing your hero or you might have someone who is just talking about the hero. They have a particular point of view. They have a frame of reference as well. And if you can, it’s great to identify them so that I understand who’s telling me this story. And I could take it from there.

[00:15:11.290] – Boris
The next character that you want to identify as clearly as possible is your villain. Now, not every time will your villain be a human being. It might be a politician if you’re into that sort of work. But it might just be a situation out in the world. Your villains could be time. It could be about global warming and time is running out. There could be apathy that not enough people are interested and caring about something. It could be actual malicious intent, at least the way that you see it perceived by someone else out there or a group out there.

[00:15:52.200] – Boris
The clearer you can name your villain, the more likely I’m going to be able to respond and see whether or not I think that that’s a villain as well. The bigger your villain is, the more people it’s going to draw together, right? There’s an expression me against my brother, my brother and I against my cousins, my cousins and I against the world. I think it’s I may be misquoting it, but I believe it’s an Arabic expression.

[00:16:16.950] – Boris
And what that means is the greater the enemy, the more people it will unite. Unfortunately, this is a tactic that a lot of politicians do use and it tends to split people. But if used well, it’s not about dividing people. It’s about bringing them together around a great cause and a way to save the world.

[00:16:38.300] – Boris
Next, you want to give your hero a cape. What is the Cape, what is the Mjolnir’s hammer, if you’re into Thor or Iron Man’s suit or Spider-Man’s Web shooters… what is the item or the tool or even the knowledge, the skill that you’re giving your potential hero that they didn’t have before?

[00:17:00.370] – Boris
In a way, this is one of the benefits of your programing. I talk a lot in my work about the features and benefits of your programing and how to get those across, because people want a transformation in their lives. They don’t want to give you money. They want to make the world a better place, their world a better place, something that they care about. So what is it that you do that’s going to empower them more than they could, perhaps on their own in a better way that they could on their own? What is it that you allow them to do that, they can’t do without you as easily, as quickly.

[00:17:38.740] – Boris
Then you want to know what is your heroes kryptonite? So, switching a little bit here between Marvel and DC Universe. I hope you guys will forgive me, but Superman was the most powerful humanoid or whatever you want to call them, since he’s not from Earth in the world, in the world of DC, comic books in general and of course, in the Earth that they were talking about the Superman lived in and it became boring.

[00:18:04.190] – Boris
It became too easy to predict that Superman’s going to win because he has no weaknesses. And so the creators of Superman came up with kryptonite. It is this item, this meteorite, this rock from Krypton that when Superman is exposed to it, makes him lose his powers like he would when he was home before his planet blew up. So what is the kryptonite that your hero is facing?

[00:18:33.570] – Boris
What is it that right now is keeping them from becoming a hero? What is the fear that they have about stepping up and taking action, which oftentimes is what holds us back from becoming heroes in the world? Is it that they’re lacking some bit of information? Is it that they’re lacking some accessibility access to something or is it that they’re just afraid?

[00:18:55.320] – Boris
Once you know what their kryptonite is, then you can help them overcome that kryptonite. You can overcome their objections, you could overcome their fears in order to get them to step up and be the hero that they do really desperately want to be if they can just get past this. So know what their kryptonite is.

[00:19:14.110] – Boris
The next thing you want to do is give them a guide. Now, in the world of the hero’s journey. Every hero gets these calls to action and they reject those calls to action over and over again. Eventually, they take one up. We’re going to talk about calls to action, another section, but most of the time they can’t do it on their own. Very few of us could do anything really on our own.

[00:19:39.210] – Boris
We need the world around us. We need the people around us, our support team. Right? It could be our family. It could be our coworkers. It could be whomever we rely on in order to be able to do the things that we do. On the hero’s journey, the hero will often meet a guide. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker had two very prominent guides. He had Ben Kenobi, Obi Wan and he had Yoda. Each of them in different movies, gave him some sort of instruction, gave him some sort of empowerment, made him a more capable hero out in the world.

[00:20:18.380] – Boris
So Luke wanted to be a hero before he ever met Obi Wan, but he didn’t know how to do it. He didn’t have the ability to stand up against the forces of evil in his universe. He meets Obi Wan Kenobi and Obi Wan tells him there is a way you can do it and I can help get you there.

[00:20:37.910] – Boris
In another movie, he becomes Yoda, who needs to take him to the next level. So who is the guide that’s going to help your hero become the person that they want to be? Be as successful as you both want them to be. Then you want to introduce your supporting characters. So in Star Wars, there’s a big team around Luke Skywalker. In Harry Potter there is Hermione and Ron and Neville and all of the others who rally together and help Harry achieve the goal of defeating Voldemort. I’m not superstitious and do say his name.

[00:21:23.430] – Boris
So, who are the supporting characters that will help your hero in the face of adversity that have maybe done this before, that have in one way or another decided that they want to go on this journey together? Right? There is the proverb, the African proverb of if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together. Who is it that’s going to join me if I’m the hero on this journey and make sure that I can succeed?

[00:21:50.650] – Boris
Those are the characters that need to be in every possible story. Now, you can’t always identify each one of them. Clearly that’s OK. But as much as you can think about whom these characters are and how you’re going to include them, weave them in to your story framework in order to capture their attention, encourage them to actually take the actions, make them feel and believe like they can succeed and whom or what they might need to overcome in order to do so.

[00:22:24.300] – Boris
Those are all of the things that I encourage you to think about before you even start writing your story. We’re going to keep this short and we’re going to make this a series that you guys can come back to over time if you do want all of these tips. And then there are 46 of them that I’ve assembled into an ebook, Check out the show notes for this page and you can download the whole thing so that you could reference it any time you want.

[00:22:46.410] – Boris
If there’s any way that I can help you with your storytelling, these are all of the questions that I help an organization go through these and all of the others that are in this ebook in order to figure out their Hollywood storytelling formula. Once you figure out the ways to tell your story and what your overarching story is, then it’s so much easier to be able to generate your content in a way that’s going to find—really target the audience that is going to resonate with it and is then going to be able to take the actions that they want and that you want to create a better world together.

[00:23:21.940] – Boris
So thank you for tuning in. This is just part one of the series on Hollywood storytelling tips for nonprofits. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please make sure to subscribe share this. And more than anything, I’d really love right now a review. This is your call to action. I’m asking you if you enjoy this type of content, help more people discover it by sharing your thoughts on Apple podcasts, on YouTube, on Google podcasts, on Spotify…

[00:23:50.150] – Boris
Wherever you consume this type of content, that’s where people who are like you. And we’re going to talk about this in another episode. People who are like you are probably in the same places consuming the content in similar ways. And so you sharing your information, your preferences and your interests and your appreciation for things like the show is going to help more people discover it there as well. Thank you so much for everything you do to make the world a better place. I’m Boris Kievsky and I will see you next time on the Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:24:22.270] – 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:

  • Before you endeavor to tell a story, you need to know the answers to several questions. (1:15)
  • You can’t effectively communicate with your audience if you don’t know exactly who they are. (3:00)
  • Every story takes someone through a journey. At the end of that journey your goal is to impart the audience with takeaways that make them a different person than when they started. (4:48)
  • Your organization should have goals which are part of your mission. Which of these goals will this story advance? (6:28)
  • Considering the context in which your story is being received. (8:55)
  • The hero of your story may be the person reading it or the person it’s about, but it has to be clear. (12:45)
  • Identify your villain. It’s not always a person, it could also be a situation in the world. The clearer you can name your villain, the more likely your audience will agree and want to join your effort. (15:52)
  • What is the superpower your nonprofit gives its heroes to make it easier for them to take on the problems in their world? (16:38)
  • What’s your hero’s Kryptonite? What’s holding them back from becoming the hero they secretly want to be? (17:38) 
  • How will you be the guide or guru that helps the hero on their journey? (19:14)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Start implementing!

About this week’s guest

Boris Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief 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.

Connect with Boris Kievsky

EP 19 - Beth Karlin - Featured

Episode 19: The Science of Creating Heroes for Nonprofits, with Dr. Beth Karlin

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 19

The Science of Creating Heroes for Nonprofits, with Dr. Beth Karlin

In this Episode:

Over the last few decades, there has been a sea change in the way we understand human behavior and guide or sway people to making decisions and taking action. This wave of research—observation and experimentation—has come to be known as Behavioral Science. Dr. Beth Karlin created the See Change Institute and devoted her career to help organizations use this power for good.

In this episode, Beth joins Boris to discuss why and how organizations should apply the principles of behavioral science to their communications and campaigns. From messaging that increases action-taking, to fostering a sense of identity around your cause, we break down dozens of ideas and strategies to activate more heroes for your cause.

[00:00:18.610] – 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!

[00:00:20.720] – Boris
Welcome back, everybody, to another episode of The Nonprofit Hero Factory. Thank you so much for joining us again this week. We’ve got a fantastic guest. This is a wonderful person and friend of mine who happens to be a brilliant scientist, behavioral scientist. Her name is Dr. Beth Karlin. I’m going to read her bio. She is the founder and CEO of the See Change Institute, the Research and Practice Institute devoted to studying and shaping behavior change for the greater good. Her current projects, focus on health, equity, media representation and community energy programs.

[00:00:54.920] – Boris
Beth earned her B.A. in Psychology, Master’s in Public Policy and a Ph.D. in Social Ecology with an emphasis in social psychology. She probably lives in Los Angeles without a car. Beth describes her superpower as applying behavioral science, insights and methods to understand, measure and influence behavior. And with that, let’s welcome Beth onto the show.

[00:01:16.310] – Boris
Hi Beth.

[00:01:17.750] – Beth Karlin
Good to see you, Boris.

[00:01:19.370] – Boris
Great to see you this morning. Thanks so much for getting up so early in Los Angeles to do this with me today. So I read your impressive bio. Could you please share your story with us a little bit?

[00:01:31.100] – Beth Karlin
Sure. I actually started my career right after college in nonprofits. I worked at a volunteer center and I spent the next decade in education and I love the work I was doing. I ended up, after about eight years as a high school activities director, and I started to realize that I could have as much influence on young people and my students outside of the classroom as in. So I started thinking a lot about the power of culture to influence people.

[00:01:56.570] – Beth Karlin
And I just found myself making balloon arches during the day and then reading The New York Times about climate change on the weekend and just said, I want to go to there. I realized that, I mean, my undergraduate was in psychology and I always studied psychology, but I realized that culture matters and that understanding and influencing people to take action for huge issues like genocide and social justice and climate change could be done through behavioral science. So I went back to school and got a PhD.

[00:02:24.320] – Beth Karlin
I did my dissertation work primarily on residential energy efficiency, which sounds super boring, but it’s really trying to understand how the information ecosystem within our homes could help us improve our behavior. And then on the side, I started studying media. I worked with organizations like Story of Stuff Project and Invisible Children. And then afterwards, after a brief stint in government and academia, I started teaching so that I could just keep doing this work with nonprofits and government organizations without having to worry about the overhead or that red tape of the government or a university to do so.

[00:02:59.930] – Boris
That’s so awesome, Beth, I know you’ve worked with a lot of great organizations doing some really amazing and impactful work, I think, especially in the long run as it ripples throughout other areas. Let’s take a half-step back real quick. And for those that might not know, might not be geeks like me, for example, what is behavioral science? How would you define it?

[00:03:21.380] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, so behavioral science, it’s kind of the cooler, newer nomenclature for what it used to be called social science when we were younger.

[00:03:30.050] – Beth Karlin
But behavioral science is really the empirical study of human behavior. Human behavior and its influences as well as its causes. So behavioral science broadly encompasses the fields of psychology, sociology, political science, education, behavioral economics and informatics and human factors, and probably a few more that I missed. But really anything, any study that’s looking at how do we behave, what influences that and what can we do about it?

[00:04:00.170] – Boris
That’s a great definition. And so as part of that, there are two sides to it, right? There’s the theory and the methods.

[00:04:07.130] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, the way I think about, and my training, as you said, is kind of broadly interdisciplinary. It’s in something called social ecology. But if you think about any discipline, whether that’s biology, ecology, psychology, any discipline has kind of two things. One is the level of analysis that it studies. So kind of the theory that encompasses it about what matters. And the other are the methods that are used to solve it. So if you think, if you’re studying a pond, right, a hydrologist would study the water, a geologist, the rocks, a biologist, the fish and ecologist studies the pond.

[00:04:44.000] – Beth Karlin
Similarly, any discipline and science always has kind of theories or ideas about what matters and how independent variables affect dependent variables and then methods that are used and every behavioral science discipline might use different methods from qualitative research into experimentation, conjoint analysis, things like that.

[00:05:03.290] – Boris
So you’ve done a lot of work, I know, with nonprofits, and I was excited to actually work with you on one project. How can, do or should nonprofits be considering and incorporating behavioral science into their work and their communications? What aspects of it really apply?

[00:05:22.040] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, kind of following what we were just talking about. If you think about these two sides, theory and methods, one, the first is applying behavioral insights into your work. There’s a lot of things that we’ve learned collectively over the past decades, centuries. If you go back into philosophy before they were actually calling it science, a lot of the ideas about what it means to be happy and why we care and virtue date back to Aristotle.

[00:05:49.220] – Beth Karlin
But if we look more recently into published annals of literature, you can look at what’s worked. So if you’re trying to send out an annual donor letter and increase the number of people that participate, there’s research on that. There are insights on how people respond to gain and loss, how people respond to information, how people respond to color, to normative information about what others are doing. So applying behavioral insights into your work, there’s significant evidence.

[00:06:14.750] – Beth Karlin
There’s some of the work I did I spent, as I said, a brief stint in government participating with the social and behavioral sciences team in the White House. And a lot of that work was applying behavioral insights into different governmental programs with the hope of increasing participation rates and improving outcomes.

[00:06:30.140] – Beth Karlin
And then the second side of it are methods. So you can apply these insights, you can go, “oh, I heard this thing that if you do X, it will lead to Y,” but test. So there’s this idea of trust and verify, right? There’s this old adage, “only half of marketing works; we don’t know which half.” That’s lazy. You can test. Right?

[00:06:47.780] – Beth Karlin
So you can apply behavioral insights and then make sure that you’re going in place and test it, testing. Also, the other goal is customizing. While there are kind of broad insights and broad ideas about how humans behave, every different area, region, behavioral context is different. And so understanding the unique attributes of the community that you’re reaching and the problem that you are trying to solve will help you apply those insights more effectively.

[00:07:17.080] – Boris
So how can… can you give us an example of how a nonprofit might use behavioral science in some of their campaigns or some of their even grant applications? How does it factor in?

[00:07:30.640] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, so, I mean, one of the things that I’ve done a lot of research studying is social norms. So, for example, we found when I was in graduate school, a couple of my colleagues, we put out, we had done a conference and we’re just trying to improve literally the number of people that filled out the conference survey after we all have that problem, right? Any of us who put on events. And we put in we added one letter, one sentence into the letter that said in the email that went out that had been going out for years, that said, “dear person, thank you for coming to the conference. Please fill out the survey.” And we said, “join 70 percent of people who fill out this,” “join people, the other people who are filling out the survey.” And we saw a statistically significant of five to eight percent bump in the percentage of people that were filling out this conference survey. That finding has been replicated so many times. Actually, one of the original behavioral insights team studies in England that they brought over to the US when we launched it here, was looking at adding that same kind of sentence into the letter that the IRS sends to people who pay their taxes. It works there.

[00:08:33.460] – Beth Karlin
There was a company called OPOWER that was founded on the fact that sending that normative information, if you’ve ever received a bill from your energy utility that tells you how much you’re using compared to your neighbors, that was started by somebody who had read behavioral science research that was published right here in California showing that learning how much energy or water your neighbors used influence your behavior. That company, OPOWER, after about a decade was sold to Oracle for five hundred and sixty five million dollars.

[00:08:58.300] – Beth Karlin
So the power of this to to save enough energy in homes that you can value a company at that amount. And there’s other things on the report. But that was really the core principle. So you can do things like that. Also looking at some of the research we did in those some of those same reports, those same energy reports, we started studying imagery. So we found—this finding has been replicated in other places—that if you replace a photo without people, most of those reports had photos of like… water heaters and light bulbs, and if you put people in the photos, it increased people’s likelihood to click on the information and to take action and increased their likelihood to engage.

[00:09:38.330] – Beth Karlin
Also, if you are doing donors, this is research that Paul Slovic conducted going back and others going back a few decades called “Compassion Collapse.” That if you are trying to get people to donate to support a cause that affects people showing actually one person is more effective than showing a group of people.

[00:09:55.550] – Beth Karlin
So those are just a few. But there’s a ton of behavioral insights that if you apply and when you taken together, if you’re getting a percent increase here and a percent here and two percent here, you can see how those add up to really huge increases in the response to any of your campaigns.

[00:10:10.220] – Boris
And this is why I’m such a huge fan of the type of work that you do in behavioral economics and behavioral sciences as a broad subject because it directly affects user experience and story. It’s the story that we’re telling. It’s the way that we present certain stories and how we frame it so that people respond in a way that they might not if we didn’t use some of these tools and concepts. So it really gets into our core, the core of our psychology and social norms and triggers for us to then activate the good that we want people to to take.

[00:10:43.670] – Boris
I remember a similar study to the one that you’re talking about where and this is being done to this day. They they put cards in bathrooms, in hotels. You remember that one about trying to get people to stop just throwing their towels on the floor every single day?

[00:10:58.880] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, That was Noah Goldstein and Vladas Griskevicius ran the initial study on that.

[00:11:02.840] – Boris
And similarly, it was this not quite peer pressure, what do you call it? The desire to be like other people who were staying in that same room before you. So just by saying, “the previous people who stayed in this room used the same towels for…” I think they said two or three days or something, that sentence, crucially, just changed everything in terms of how often people would have their laundry done.

[00:11:28.100] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, and that was really interesting because actually saying people who stayed in this room was more effective than people who stay in this hotel. So it’s just this like this desire for consistency. We desire consistency with our past behavior and with others around us. And, yeah, that’s been found in so many different domains.

[00:11:43.880] – Beth Karlin
And I think what you said, the story really matters. And and that’s why it’s important that we don’t just, that you understand the context of your audience and your nonprofit and your brand, because if you just apply these because your brand, your nonprofit has its own story and so you have to remain consistent.

[00:12:00.170] – Beth Karlin
One of the studies, and I love when something I do fails as much as when it succeeds, because that’s when learning happens. We applied some huge body of work on personalization and the importance of personalization and kind of creating a relationship, and we worked with a major utility and we worked on a really more personal, casual, friendly, like trying to really build rapport letter as a welcome program. And we attenuated effectiveness with some of the changes we made.

[00:12:25.920] – Beth Karlin
And what we realized, and we followed up and did some qualitative research and reached out to people would receive them—a small sample of people like 10 or 20, you don’t have to spend a lot of money doing this—and we found that… and I got some of the ideas for the language in there from work I had done with Invisible Children, who had huge, great response rates to their messaging and had this fun brand where they they had I remember them. I did my first survey.

[00:12:49.110] – Beth Karlin
They rewrote the survey invites and I was like, I know how to read a survey and they just made it cute. They made it on brand for them. They were like, we love you, you love us. Tell us about it. Ten minutes, easy, breezy. Right? And I was like, kind of cheesy, but it worked, right? They got this huge response rate that email literally got… somebody screenshotted it and posted it on The Invisible Children Facebook was like “easy, breezy, Ben Keesey, anything for you.”

[00:13:13.020] – Beth Karlin
So I tried to apply these insights thinking, like, this is there’s a huge body of work on this. It worked here. But what I found when we talked to people was it didn’t match the brand, that messaging didn’t match the story of that energy utility. People don’t want their energy utility to say “easy breezy” because that’s not the brand. That’s not the narrative. That’s not the relationship you have.

[00:13:32.790] – Beth Karlin
So it’s really important that you can pull these insights, but really think about what is authentic for you. And that’s why that idea of thinking about story and thinking about relationship matters. And that’s where I caution against just like writ large applying behavioral economics insights, is that you really need to take caution and think about who you are and what relationship you have. And if you don’t like it, if you want to be more fun, then you’re going to need to spend a couple of years building that and kind of changing your brand, changing the story of who you are and how you relate to people until you get to the point where you can start saying easy breezy.

[00:14:07.860] – Boris
Because there are definitely some companies I know in the great large industries that do exactly that. They they go counter the norms and attract people who are like, “Oh, this is so much more personal. It’s so much more interesting.” There’re insurance companies, health insurance companies that do that, that say, “Oh, we’re not like some big random organization out there somewhere. We’re just people and we want to have interactions with you and be sure that you are doing well.” And it is really effective. But I really like, what you’re talking about personalizing, because even if you have your brand voice, you don’t have to talk to everybody the same way, nor should you. And so can you talk a little bit more about not applying one overall strategy or approach to everybody that you’re trying to speak to?

[00:14:57.570] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, so kind of persona or segmentation and just to that point. So those companies I’m a member of, one of those health insurance companies.

[00:15:05.262] – Boris
Me too.

[00:15:05.010] – Beth Karlin
I have Oscar. I love Oscar. I love that. Like they sent me Band-Aids and I forgot about it. I just put them in my in my medicine cabinet. And then I hurt myself and I took out the Band-Aid. I opened it and it was like super cute and said, “Charlie bit me.”

[00:15:19.860] – Beth Karlin
And it literally made me laugh out loud. I loved it. Also, that attracts—so the thing in a competitive marketplace, Oscar is attracting people like us who love that brand. Right? So there’s so there’s kind of a fit there. Right? Like people are finding themselves with Rocket for their mortgages and Lemonade and Oscar and going to Zappos to buy shoes because they’re attracted to that. So there’s a little bit of a reciprocation there. Right, because they’re drawing in people who want that.

[00:15:44.340] – Beth Karlin
So you will find that when you put your brand out there, you’re telling the world who you want to work with you. So Oscar knows straight out they’re not getting as many people that maybe want a little more staid, buttoned up type of health care company. There are people who think that that is not what a health care company should sound and look like. Right? So, when you really put your brand out front and center, you’re going to start getting the segments, the customer, the market segments that are attracted to you.

[00:16:09.450] – Beth Karlin
That’s kind of the thousand true fans methodology. That said, once you have customers and or what would you call for nonprofits?

[00:16:18.760] – Boris

[00:16:19.860] – Beth Karlin
Beneficiaries. Thank you so much, Boris. You might still want to segment them. Also, you may be serving really wide groups. So I work now with Medicaid providers and they do serve a large number of different audiences.

[00:16:32.850] – Beth Karlin
And so you might, it’s really important to look and say what are the commonalities and differences? And can I further customize and personalize to different groups? And that’s often called audience segmentation. And there’s different ways to do it.

[00:16:44.370] – Beth Karlin
You can—design thinking, says you kind of go in a room and like, think about who you think your different audiences are. I’m a scientist, so I’m going to say, again, trust, try that, and verify. I think the best way to do that is inductively, not deductively. So you collect data, run a survey and then look, how you can work with somebody to statistically analyze how people fall into groups on their own. What you’ll often find, is that people are not being grouped as much by demographics. You might not have, like, older women and younger men. You might have people who really crave certainty or people who are really focused on security or people who are working from home or people who travel on the weekends. And it depends on what your industry is. Right? I do a lot of work and energy. And so we find that people cluster based on their lifestyle and how much they… how much time they spend in or out of the house, whether they have children…

[00:17:37.590] – Beth Karlin
And some of that will follow along demographic lines, but it doesn’t have to. And the power right now of the Internet and of all the information we have is that we don’t have to rely on those old segments. So if you think about media, for example, when we were thinking about, if somebody was marketing for a Jimmy Buffett concert 30 years ago, the main thing you would think the best predictor of being a Jimmy Buffett fan was whether you were a man maybe between 50 and 65 in a southern Atlantic state.

[00:18:06.120] – Beth Karlin
But now we don’t have to think that. We can go… we can go, the best predictor of a Jimmy Buffett fan is someone who likes Jimmy Buffett on Facebook. And the second best predictor is someone who’s been tagged in a photo with somebody who like Jimmy Buffett on Facebook in the last six months. Because our Facebook friends don’t actually predict our behavior but the people we’re tagged in photos our real life friends, do. So you can start looking for newer ways.

[00:18:26.760] – Beth Karlin
You don’t have to think about just grouping people, because not only is that less effective than it could be, but in this day and age, it’s a little it’s a little off tone. Right? We don’t want to be putting people into socio-demographic buckets and saying this is what old people and young people and white people and black people think. So if we can find even new ways with interests and values in order to group people, you’ll be even more effective.

[00:18:48.500] – Boris
So let’s dig a little bit deeper, actually, now that you brought that up. When it comes to being a Jimmy Buffett fan, at some point, does that become part of one’s identity? How do we focus on people’s identities and getting them to self-identify, if you will, with our causes using the techniques that you study and implement?

[00:19:12.110] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, identity is huge. Right. Identity is a really powerful thing. And the thing is, we all have multiple identities. So what you’re trying to do is often prime… prime an identity. Right? So that it feels self-salient to the person. So if you ask me, Beth, what’s your identity? At any given time, I might be focused really strongly. Right now, I feel really strongly. My identity is a behavioral scientist because you’re interviewing me as one, right?

[00:19:41.970] – Beth Karlin
But I participate in a nonprofit organization called Reboot that’s for Jewish people. And so my identity, I’m very much Jewish in that environment. There’s other environments where I feel very much like a woman or a voter, or I might identify really strongly with my politics or a blood donor. And so one way is just to literally prime and push identity. So research has shown, for example, with voting appeals that if you ask people, “will you be a voter tomorrow?” As opposed to people—they had 11 percent increase in getting people out to the polls—over a message that said, “will you vote tomorrow?”

[00:20:17.900] – Beth Karlin
And the latter, will you vote tomorrow? Actually, grammatically, it just sounds much cleaner to me and tighter. I’d much rather say, will you vote tomorrow, or maybe come out and join us and vote, or join—that’s why social norms also work. “Join the 80 percent of people in your precinct who voted last election.” Right? But just “be a voter” is another way so you can prime social norms by saying there’s a group of people that do this.

[00:20:39.770] – Beth Karlin
And we see a lot… there were a lot of issues in the past couple of decades around messaging strategies that did the exact opposite. If you look at some of the youth drinking—and it’s really turned a corner—you used to get the message when you were a young person that everyone else was drinking and it was horrible and you shouldn’t. And if you notice, the messaging has changed. It’s “not every kid drinks.” So there’s this identity out there that is positive, that’s not drinking in college, right?

[00:21:06.200] – Beth Karlin
It’s not just focused on… we often think that we think and we think that the best messaging strategy to somebody that is one that really focuses on outcomes. Right? Because we’d all like to think that we’re like Mr. Spock, which is like measuring, carefully calculating what’s best for us and what’s best for the community. But we’re much more like Captain Kirk. We’re just rash and brash and we care about what we look like. So really, anything that you can do to make the behavior observable, to make it salient, to make people think that others are doing it, to make people think that others approve and not make them think—

[00:21:39.440] – Beth Karlin
This is important because I’m starting to sound manipulative. You have to use real data. Right. So for a behavior, for example, like—and this is research that Gregg Sparkman’s been doing at Stanford and now at Princeton—for a behavior that’s not yet normative, like, for example, being a vegetarian, you can’t say “join 80 percent of vegetarians.” So you can’t communicate a social norm that says this is a big identity. What you can do instead is communicate what’s called the dynamic norm to say more and more people are giving up meat, more people are eating or are going participating in Meatless Monday.

[00:22:11.270] – Beth Karlin
So you can talk about how something’s trending or shifting. And then again, the most easily you can just say be a voter, be a blood donor, be one of us. And that means thinking about what is the identity that are affiliating your supporter with. Right? What is their identity? What is a hero for your nonprofit look like? Who are they? Is it be a proud progressive? Is it be a voter? Is it be somebody who cares about…? Is it be a champion for charter schools in Delaware? Right? Like figure out what that identity is. What is that hero? What is that persona? And then do what you can to kind of craft that and then you’ll find those people. They’ll come to you and then you reinforce it. You reinforce it to them individually. And you reinforce it to them collectively. “You’re a part of a group of people that do this.” And that will start to kind of become a positive, virtuous cycle.

[00:23:05.090] – Boris
So I love all of this stuff, but I want to take it a half step back, because not everybody is going to instantly identify themselves as a voter, or decide that they want to be and now are a vegetarian or something along those lines. But there is the foot-in-door phenomenon where we could try to get them to self identify on a smaller scale and then slowly bring them up further. Am I think the right thing with Robert Cialdini’s work?

[00:23:32.570] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, yeah. There’s kind of. Yeah. Laddering, or the foot-in-the-door effect. Yeah, you can. So if you ask people to do a small behavior and then you come back and ask them to do a larger behavior, they’re often more likely to do that. There’s also kind of a door-in-face where you can come in with a really big appeal. And when somebody says no, you can ask them to compromise. Ironically, both of those can be effective again under certain circumstances.

[00:23:57.020] – Beth Karlin
Yeah. So, I mean, you can you can try and ladder or build. I think often there’s there’s a saying I learned back from way before I went back to school, which was like “participation precedes donation.” So one of the best things you can do in terms of an initial behavior is ask people for their thoughts, for their advice. People love giving advice. We love being smarter than each other. Right? So you can just engage people and say, you know, “what do you think matters in education? What do you care about?” And then from something they said, we really have this desire, as I talked about, for consistency. So if you get somebody to talk about caring about something, you might be more likely to get them to do something. I would also just say—just caution that, your cause, no matter what it is, isn’t for everyone. So you’re better off building a base.

[00:24:45.350] – Beth Karlin
I really, when I was in graduate school, as I said, I was really focused on climate change. And I started getting really interested in climate deniers because it just “What?” “Why?” “Who?” “Grrrr! What can I do about it?” And then I was in social movements class and and I think it was my social movements professor said in class, like Martin Luther King, to our knowledge, historically never addressed publicly the KKK. He never spoke at KKK meetings. He didn’t go after that group. He built a base. And so I think you need to focus on, like, you know, think about concentric circles.

[00:25:26.280] – Beth Karlin
Right. So there are some people that, like are not worth your time going after even for that starting behavior. So really figure out like, who those concentric circles are, who—I hate “low hanging fruit,” but there’s this idea of like don’t preach to the choir. But the choir is not meant to be preached to. I’ve never understood that. The choir is like on the stage singing to your congregation. Like train the choir. Right?

[00:25:52.360] – Beth Karlin
So you can get so you can again start getting people to communicate with each other and then, yes, train them with behaviors. There’s just again, behavioral science is really messy. There is a risk with that laddering or foot in the door called moral licensing. That there’s a phenomena that we can do one good thing—that when we do one positive action, we kind of pat ourselves on the back. We are morally licensed and we’re less likely to do another.

[00:26:20.140] – Beth Karlin
So this is where it’s kind of hard because there is significant evidence that foot in the door, that laddering works and there’s an equal body of work that says you might get somebody to go, “Oh, cool, I already helped your nonprofit, buh-bye! I’m going to go eat ice cream now.”

[00:26:37.780] – Beth Karlin
And so you want to be careful at how you do that and you want to reinforce and build reinforcement. And the way to do it is not just incentivize but to build identity. So with everything they do, connect them to you, build something that connects them to you.

[00:26:51.090] – Boris
Beth, this has turned into a fantastic master class. Thank you so much. The…what you were saying before about you can’t please everyone. You can’t go after everyone. You don’t need to go after the climate deniers. In my mind, basically to to reduce it really simply, “haters gonna hate.” And you don’t need to try to convince the haters to start loving. You can actually even use the fact that there are so many haters out there to recruit more people to your cause because you need masses to counterbalance the masses out there.

[00:27:24.510] – Boris
I don’t want to monopolize too much of your time this morning. I really appreciate it. But we’re talking around behavior. And I really want to get to B.J. Fogg’s behavioral model, the B=MAP. How do we get people to take actions? Because ultimately, whether or not a nonprofit succeeds, depends on people stepping up, becoming heroes, as we like to call them, and taking actions that further the mission of the organization. Hopefully further the mission that they feel an affinity for towards themselves. But how do we apply this B=MAP towards getting people to do more good?

[00:28:03.760] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, so B.J.’s a psychologist at Stanford, and he’s put out a number of different, really great theories. And one of them is this framework that says behavior equals motivation, times ability, times a prompt. And it’s a simple model. I don’t think it includes everything that you could possibly manipulate or use. But what he’s talking about is, is that to get somebody to act, they have to be motivated in some way, which is largely true, although it is really possible to get people to take actions without being strongly motivated if there are corollary motivations or if you just make it easy for them. “Easy, popular and fun.” As another behavioral scientist, Ed Maibach at George Mason says, just make it easy, popular and fun. And those are that’s kind of his model, which also has a lot of empirical evidence. And they’ve done a lot of great work.

[00:29:00.010] – Beth Karlin
But B.J. talks about: Motivation, make sure that they’re motivated in some way to engage in the behavior. Ability, that relates to, kind of, self efficacy that they have, that they feel that they are able to engage in that behavior. And I think self efficacy is really interesting. People think of it as kind of a univariate construct, but you can think of ability or self efficacy in terms of two things. One is behavioral efficacy and the other is response. And I think that really, really, really, really, really matters for nonprofits. So behavioral efficacy is, “can I do it?” And response efficacy is, “will it matter?” And what we see in terms of like addressing pressing social issues is if we just think ability means something that you can do, people can vote.

[00:29:41.050] – Beth Karlin
A lot of young people weren’t voting for decades, not because they didn’t know how, because they didn’t think voting mattered. So when you think about ability, it’s not just identifying a behavior they can do and making it easy for them. But it’s making sure that they believe that that action will make a difference either individually or collectively.

[00:29:54.700] – Beth Karlin
And then, prompt just means getting in on their radar. So BJ’s model, the BMAP model, really is focused on building daily tiny habits, on getting people to, like, run, floss, eat better. And you might have a nonprofit that’s focused on that if you’re looking at people kind of getting engaged politically. I think it is also it’s also important to look at like easy, fun and popular. That those things really matter as well and like building that kind of social framework around your cause.

[00:30:26.380] – Beth Karlin
But when it comes to just getting somebody or yourself just to meditate in the morning, having that prompt or brush your teeth or whatever, floss your teeth, let’s say we already brush, floss your teeth, whatever those habits are, building habits is making sure that there’s a motivation there and that it’s intrinsic as intrinsic as possible, the ability that you know what you need to do and what the outcome will be if you continue doing it. And then that prompt or trigger, whether that prompt is like, something that’s external, like an alarm that comes into you, or it’s going to floss after I brush my teeth. The other thing he says is try and find like you were talking about, one tiny thing that you can do. So instead of saying I’m going to floss twice a day, you can say I’m going to floss one tooth. And then the thing is, once you pull the floss out and stick it in your mouth and you floss a tooth, kind of feels wasteful just to throw the floss away. Right?

[00:31:17.590] – Beth Karlin
So instead of running, it’s “I’m going to put my shoes on and leave the house.” So finding that way to find your own foot in the door so that you’ll start doing more and more.

[00:31:26.930] – Boris
And I think that model can actually be applied even broader beyond just like physical actions in the physical world, even on a donation page, using that kind of system where you inspire people, you help them feel motivated, you help them see that they have the ability to affect change. You make it very simple for them you remove all kinds of friction, also within the realm of ability. And then you give them a clear prompt, which is that call to action, which uses some of the verbiage that you were talking about earlier, the kind of language of inclusivity and we could all do this together. And you can, specifically, “you can make a difference.” I think just that framework tells a great story that works for taking small actions or large actions towards a common good.

[00:32:09.820] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, definitely.

[00:32:11.200] – Boris
So I don’t want to run too much over here, but I would love to just ask you, we talked about B.J. Fogg’s book. We mentioned Robert Cialdini. Where should nonprofits start if they haven’t started thinking about applying behavioral science to their own organizations?

[00:32:31.590] – Beth Karlin
My gosh, we’re we’re in a huge kind of push behavioral science renaissance right now, there are so many resources, Katy Milkman’s book just came out this year, some of my favorites are Nudge, which was written—so there are three times in the history of economic psychologists have won the Nobel. The first was Herbert Simon, which was several decades ago about work. The second was Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman has a book, it is thick, called Thinking Fast and Slow, but it is like the best primer to just how our brain works.

[00:33:08.980] – Beth Karlin
It’s not going to give you tips and tricks and tactics as much. It does a little bit, but it really gives you the foundation. And then the third group, the third pair were Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, for their body of work. But kind of the book that encapsulates that is called Nudge. Those are great places to start. Robert Cialdini, his most popular book, came out in the nineteen eighties called Influence that, unlike Thinking Fast, and Slow, is skinny and red and cute and easy read.

[00:33:38.620] – Beth Karlin
But there are tons of great podcasts. This is one of them. These days, Freakonomics, which is another book that talks about some of these ideas. They have a great podcast. There’s tons of resources.

[00:33:50.470] – Boris
Katy’s Podcast, Choiceology.

[00:33:52.090] – Beth Karlin
Yeah. Yeah. So there’s I mean, there really are a lot of resources and there are a lot of behavioral scientists that’re out there. So I would say try and reach out if you can. The best thing is, because like I said, applying these things requires an understanding of what’s called mediation and moderation. Which is, how does it work and for whom does it work? So if you can find a professor or a grad student, doctoral students are always looking for real-world, would love doing applied research.

[00:34:18.430] – Beth Karlin
I find that more and more and more my phone is ringing constantly. When I was in grad school and I said I wanted to do applied work, people thought I was crazy. Now there are more and more students interested in it and wanting to really get applied research experience because when they go out, there are more and more jobs. I just—one of my one of my graduate, the graduate student at See Change—just left us for the summer to spend the summer at Weight Watchers as an intern.

[00:34:42.610] – Beth Karlin
Almost every major corporation has behavioral science units. Now, Google has it. Facebook has it, Intuit has it. Right. And so so they’re looking for experience. So if you can, there are great books. There are great resources, but really meet a behavioral scientist. We’re really nice people and we want to do good. You will not only let them help you, but you’ll also be helping advance science. Because every time we can work with a nonprofit to apply real-world data as opposed to studying college students, it actually improves science. You’ll be helping other nonprofits after you, as well. So that’s my suggestion and plug.

[00:35:14.970] – Boris
Awesome. I really appreciate that. On the practical side, also, there are several things that you recommended throughout this interview today, including segmentation, including trying to figure out—testing—certain things and variables in your messaging and in your work in general that I think nonprofits should be looking at as well. We’re going to link to all of the books and other resources that you mentioned. If you know any others, drop them and we will add them to our show notes as well.

[00:35:43.120] – Boris
If viewers want to follow up with you specifically and with See Change, how can they do that?

[00:35:48.760] – Beth Karlin
Yeah, just visit our website, seechangeinstitute.com. You can drop me a line from there or you can email me directly, I’m bkarlin@seechangeinstitute.com. Yeah. And I would love—I will take a consult that somebody sends me a message I am sent on LinkedIn, and say you have a question or you want to meet. I will send you a link to a thirty-minute consult and I’m happy to talk with people. I believe so deeply…

[00:36:14.860] – Beth Karlin
Like I said, I started my career in nonprofit. And I got my PhD because I thought that behavioral science could help nonprofits do the work that we do in the world, and that you do in the world better. So feel free to reach out, no strings attached. I would love to spend a half an hour with you.

[00:36:28.720] – Boris
I love that. And as someone who has picked Beth’s brain many, many times over the course of the years that we’ve been friends, I can tell you in thirty minutes, much like this interview, you’re going to get a whole lot of value from someone like her. So thank you so much Beth, for joining us today. And thank you everybody who tuned in to watch, to listen. If you liked it, please do leave us a review, give us a rating, subscribe, spread the word.

[00:36:51.100] – Boris
We want to help as many nonprofits as possible. That’s why Beth and I got into doing this type of work. Thank you, everybody. Have a great day.

[00:37:19.660] – 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:

  • Behavioral Science is the empirical study of human behavior. It is any study that looks at how we behave, what influences that and what we can do about it. There are two parts to any science: Theory and Methods. (3:30)
  • For nonprofits, application starts with incorporating behavioral insights into your work. Understanding what we’ve learned about human behavior, user experience and storytelling, and building that into your communications will take you a long way. (5:25)
  • When it comes to people, there is no universal messaging that will resonate with everyone. That’s why the second step is to use behavioral science methodology, which is all about experimentation and refinement. (6:30)
  • There are a lot of behavioral insights that can lead to improvements. When taken together, even the smallest improvements can add up to huge increases in response to your campaigns. (9:55)
  • Story really matters, as does the way we tell it. That is why it’s important that we understand and speak to the audience’s context, along with our nonprofit and brand voice. Consistency and authenticity are key. (11:43)
  • Your brand’s voice / the way you communicate your story speaks to the people you are looking to attract. It may attract some while repelling others, and that’s ok. (13:13)
  • Knowing the commonalities and differences of your audience and customizing and personalizing to the different groups within your base (i.e., audience segmentation) increases the resonance and efficacy of your messaging. (16:40)
  • Identity is a very powerful thing. In fact, we all have multiple identities that we switch between depending on context. Having people see their affiliation with your work as part of their identity is the difference between liking what you do and feeling like a hero for your cause. We can prime and push identity by phrasing our calls to action in terms of identity rather than just asking for action. (19:12)
  • One of the best things you can do is ask people for their thoughts and advice. People love giving advice and they love to feel part of the process, not just someone being asked for time or money. “Participation Precedes Donation.” (23:33)
  • Build behavioral reinforcements into your messaging. (26:37)
  • The Fogg Behavioral Model (Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt) is a framework for increasing the behaviors you want your heroes to perform and habits you want to instill. (27:24)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Dr. Beth Karlin

Dr. Beth Karlin

Founder and CEO of See Change Institute

Dr. Beth Karlin is the Founder and CEO of the See Change Institute, a research (and practice) institute devoted to studying and shaping behavior change for the greater good. Her current projects focus on health equity, media representation, and community energy programs. Beth earned her BA in Psychology, Masters in Public Policy, and Ph.D. in Social Ecology with an emphasis in Social Psychology. She proudly lives in Los Angeles without a car.

Connect with Dr. Beth Karlin