Have you ever found yourself, whether by accident or design, face-to-face with a VIP – a Very Important Prospect – and been at a loss for the right words to convey what you do? It used to happen to me all the time. I’d run into someone at a cocktail party and find out they’re…Details
Want content that raises money? Tell more stories.
Storytelling today is ‘hot.’
And why not? It’s the fundamental human activity – we even talk to ourselves!
We tell ourselves stories all the time to inspire, goad, cheerlead and persuade.
“I’ve been knocked down, but I’ll pick myself up.”
“This cake will be even better than my mother-in-law’s.”
“The deck seems stacked against me, but I’m going to fight; I’m going to win.”
“Tomorrow will be a better day.”
Storytelling is something people naturally gravitate to. We’re wired that way.
Stories connect the dots.
They are the connective tissue that turns otherwise random acts into important sequences.
- Stories invite us in.
- When we add our own imagination, stories begin to acquire personal relevance.
Does this sound like something that might be useful for your content marketing strategy?Details
Annual reports don’t have to be dry as dust. In fact, the most effective ones are not financial reports; they’re a story with the donor at the center. And they inspire action.
When you consider all the blood, sweat, tears and money that go into them, you want to assure they:
- Resonate with people emotionally.
- Paint a picture people want to jump into.
- Showcase the value of philanthropy and what it does to create change.
- Shine a light on how much the donor is needed.
- Include specific areas where donors can help.
Towards getting the biggest bang for your annual report buck, consider renaming them (or at least thinking about them) as Gratitude Reports. Make them all about your donors, how grateful you are to them for making your work possible, and how appreciative you are for all the accomplishments they enabled.
Rather than “2023 Annual Report,” consider a more donor-centered title like “Generosity Report,” “A Gratitude Report,” “The Year of the Donor,” “Impact Report.” or “You Make it Possible.” I’ve seen all of these; feel free to get creative and let your title guide your content!
Top 5 Gratitude Report StrategiesDetails
For many nonprofits, the yearly annual report is often just another task on a very long to-do list. Most charities are juggling a lot—development, program maintenance, fundraising, and more—and the annual report can feel like yet another mandatory routine project. One that often gets handled at the last minute without much intentional care and effort.
Even though annual reports are an industry standard, most nonprofits don’t realize how fruitful an effective annual report can be. An annual report that prioritizes storytelling, transparency, interactivity, and more can actually bolster donation solicitation efforts and become a lucrative fundraising tool.
Before we jump into the nitty gritty of strategic annual reporting, let’s cover the basics.
What is an annual report?
Think of an annual report as a “year in review”—like a yearbook of sorts, but for donors, supporters, and partners to look at the highlights of any given year at your organization. Of course, a lot can happen in a year (nonprofits know that best), but with an annual report, you can summarize all the year’s milestones including your impact, accomplishments, new developments, and more.
Annual reports can be created and presented in a variety of ways—both digitally and in print. Depending on the needs, audience, or even constraints of the individual nonprofit, you might choose to create a printed booklet or pamphlet (which could then be mailed to supporters and donors or handed out at events). Or, in line with more frequent developments in the space, you could turn to digital software tools to create an annual report that intrigues readers with more vibrant visual elements like photos, videos, and clickable links.
What does an annual report include?
Every nonprofit’s annual report is different, depending on its mission, values, impact, audience, and more. However, most organizations include a few standard elements:
- Stated mission and values
- Accurate financial data
- Examples of impact
- Major accomplishments
- Program and initiative assessments
- Event highlights and recaps
- Donor and board member lists
- Contact information
Though every nonprofit is required to submit a Form 990, most organizations take their reporting a step further and create a yearly review that includes more audience-centric material (like the topics listed above).
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dig into the best part of annual reporting—the ability to create the ultimate fundraising tool.
5 Ways Effective Annual Reporting Drives DonationsDetails
Take your writing into the stratosphere!
Want your writing to take off more this year?
Ann Wylie, editor, author, interviewer, teacher and more, is one of the folks I look to for writing tips. And recently she offered 8 tips I believe all nonprofits should take to heart. At least if you want to be persuasive and drive people to take the actions you desire.
You DO, right?
Allow me to share my favorite of Ann’s tips, together with my own thoughts on how they pertain – in spades – to nonprofits.
Some of these I write about a lot. They’re that important and, IMHO, rather obvious.
- Stop writing about “us and our stuff.”
- Hit return more often.
- Don’t stop at the subject line.
Still, it pays to keep these tips top of mind. Because sometimes the obvious stuff can be the easiest to miss, unless we focus our attention (a bit like remembering to smell the coffee, thereby more fully enjoying the experience).
Other tips I’ve thought about less, though I realize I do employ them a lot.
- Make it a metaphor.
- Steal a tip from the New York Times.
I share them with you to bring them into your conscious writing toolbox.
Top 5 Nonprofit Writing TipsDetails
I hate jargon. With a passion.
Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.
Just. Can’t. Stand. It!
Yes, I guess you could call it a pet peeve.
But, really, why would you ever use jargon if you wanted to truly communicate with someone?
Just check out the definition:
“language used by a particular group of people, especially in their work, and which most other people do not understand”
— Cambridge dictionary.
Jargon = Failure to Communicate
When you talk to people in words they don’t understand, really, what’s the point?
Are you just trying to make yourself look smart?
Because, trust me, that’s not how it comes across.Details
Your nonprofit’s story is the whole ball of wax.
Without it, you’ve got nothing.
So let’s really talk about this for a minute.
A story is not “Give us money because we’re good guys and do good work.”
Nor are “Sustain humanitarian aid,” “Support the arts,” or “Save our rivers” stories.
Sure, there may be some implicit narratives hiding within these phrases, but they’re really tag lines or calls to action. Useful, sure. But not until you’ve laid the groundwork of telling a compelling story.
You never start a story with “And they lived happily ever after.”
Similarly, you should never start a fundraising appeal with “We saved the whales.” Where’s the emotion and drama here?
You know donors are moved to give through emotion, right?
The best way to get inside a donor’s head and heart is by telling a dramatic, emotional story. Something that taps into their core and arouses their curiosity, or some deeper feeling like sadness, fear or anger.
You see, human brains are wired for story.Details
Babies can teach you the same thing.
If one baby does something, the others will want to ape them.
“Monkey see, monkey do.”
This is actually a psychological principle of influence and persuasion known as “social proof.”
It’s best explored in the 1984 groundbreaking book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini. He outlines six principles of influence affecting human behaviors. They’re all well documented, and can be incredibly useful to fundraisers.
One of the most useful principles is the one we also know today as the “Yelp effect.” It’s a type of positive (or negative) word of mouth that can make or break your business. I know how often I’ve abandoned my cart after reading a negative review. You?
Word of mouth is perhaps the most powerful form of social media you can find, so it pays to leverage it to your advantage.
Even someone inclined to support your cause may not give unless you push the right buttons. Of all the ways to do that, social proof is among the easiest and most successful.Details
Yes, nonprofit newsletters can raise money!
And they should delight, retain and upgrade donors too.
How does this work?
It works by using your newsletter to give credit where it is due.
To your donors!
- Great newsletters are the opposite of all about you and your organization. “We did this.” “We’re planning to do that.”
- Great newsletters sustain the joy donors felt at the moment of giving by confirming for them their decision was a good one. “You made this happen.” “Your gift gave a happy ending to this story.”
You see, a charitable gift is not the same as a purchase of a product or service. With the latter, you have something tangible to continue to appreciate (e.g., you use your laptop daily; you continually admire the new paint job on your house). With the former, you’ve got nothing but an initial shot of dopamine … and then a memory. For most donors, this becomes a distant memory. Because most nonprofits don’t consistently and repeatedly report back. With donors, out of sight truly does mean out of mind.
Use newsletters to show authentic gratitude and demonstrate how the donor’s gift made a difference.
You see, once is not enough. Research shows for gratitude to be deeply felt it must be repeated. Repeat gratitude and reporting back accomplishes the following:
Donor feels good
Donor trusts you’re good to your word.
Donor feels inclined to give again.
Donor retention increases
Average gift size increases
Your raise a lot more money over time
Be guided by the “virtuous circle.”Details
When I think about nonprofit content marketing, one of my favorite marketing strategists is Jay Baer, author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help, not Hype.
He says the difference between “helping” and “selling’ is only two letters. But what a difference those two letters makes!
If you substitute ‘h’ and ‘p’ ( in ‘helping’) for ‘s’ and ‘l’ (in ‘selling’) in building your nonprofit content marketing strategy you’ll convince more of your nonprofit social media fans and followers to convert to subscribers or members, and more of your subscribers and members to convert to donors.
Think of it this way. If you’ve traditionally focused on selling vs. helping, you’ve emphasized ‘s’ and ‘l’ [stupidity (your customers) and laziness (you)]. You’ve acted like your customers don’t know very much, so they need you to show them the way. Yet at the same time you’ve been too lazy to gently teach them what they need to know.
Now imagine you focus on helping vs. selling. You emphasize ‘h’ and ‘p’ [humanity (your customers) and peer (you and your customer)]. You treat your constituents like individuals with specific values, needs and desires. You endeavor to learn more about them so you can meet their needs. You engage them as partners, showing you’re all in this together. You create a community of like-minded folks, welcome folks to your community, and take care of your members. Not as infants, but as peers. No one likes to be infantalized.
Sell something and you create a customer today. Help someone and you create a customer for life.
It’s human nature to fall into a ‘sales’ model when you feel so proud of what you do you assume everyone else will want to jump on your bandwagon. Yet just “doing good” is not enough. Anymore than having a good product is good enough for the soap manufacturer. You need to tell people how you can be helpful to them, their loved ones and their community. And don’t expect them to just take your word for it. Show them by offering up useful content and sharing powerful emotional stories and facts that demonstrate your outcomes. Otherwise, you keep people dependent on you to tell them what to do because “you know best.” When you keep people in the dark about the details, they feel both stupid and disempowered. Since these are not good feelings, how to you think this “sales vs. help” model makes your constituents feel?Details