Growing up, my father would tell us these bedtime stories about a dog named Bowser.
Now, this dog and his adventures were entirely a product of his imagination, but they were so memorable that Bowser’s legacy lives on decades later in the bedtime stories I tell my children and in an adorable little Goldendoodle with his namesake.
Every night’s story was different, but it always included some of the same elements: Bowser’s adventures usually aligned with mine. If I had gone to the park or the doctor that day, so did Bowser. If I was nervous about a test or excited for Christmas, so was the dog.
Also, each adventure was unique. As my father moved room to room throughout the evening, my siblings and I got a slightly different version of that night’s story. They paralleled our day-to-day experiences and were relayed to us in a vivid sequence of detailed images that surpassed even the best picture books.
Now, stay with me here — while my father was not a professional storyteller (although he is pretty great), he was intuitively on to something.
I think the keys to Bowser’s longevity and your next successful End of Year Giving campaigns are the same.
As we dive into these two real-life case studies, we will examine four simple tactics that worked for Bowser (even if my dad didn’t know it) and can help convince people to donate to your cause and get them invested in your story.
Case Study #1: #StorytellingHeals by Native Hope
The 2018 Giving Tuesday and End of Year Giving (EOY) campaign for Native Hope began with a several-month effort to build a content foundation that stemmed from their mission:
“To address the injustice done to Native Americans. We share Native stories, provide educational resources, and assist Native communities.”
Blog posts, pillar pages, landing pages, etc...all focused on the healing and unifying power of storytelling. The #StorytellingHeals campaign had one main objective: to build a community around Native voices and stories, bringing awareness to historical and present injustices and offering a platform for healing and restoration.
We knew there were stories that needed to be told, what we didn’t know was how well this movement would be received.
In the first month of the campaign, they were able to raise more money in a single month than in any previous quarter in their history AND brought in 3x their previous average number of new monthly donations.
In addition to gaining a bigger following and raising a significant amount of support for the mission, the #StorytellingHeals campaign offered us valuable insights into their donor behavior — insights we are still benefiting from today. Let’s talk about a few things we learned:
How did we get people to donate? Lessons Learned from #StorytellingHeals
There are two main reasons this campaign was so successful: 1) a strong, branded content foundation and 2) the invitation to become part of a community.
Because the content foundation existed for several months before the EOY campaign began, people were familiar with the cause and the transition from brand awareness and content proliferation to the fundraising campaign was seamless.
People felt like they were a part of a community with shared interests and a shared goal. So, when it the #StorytellingHeals campaign launched, they were willing to financially support this mission they were already a part of.
But, what if you don’t have six months to produce this kind of content and build this kind of community?
Simple — start with what you have. If you’re looking for the theme for your EOY Giving campaign, consider building on (or expanding) a mission you’ve already raised awareness for. Look for a new, but complementary, angle where you can offer fresh stories and make tangible progress.
You can also try one of these two tactics that worked for Native Hope’s campaign:
Tactic #1: I shouldn’t get the same email as the next guy
Email list segmentation is one of the easiest and most effective ways to make your donors feel like the only person in your file. And, when donors feel like you are talking directly to them, they are more likely to support your cause.
Native Hope sent three versions of one email in order to best reach their audience. One version was sent to all contacts, another was a slightly different appeal to one-time donors, and a third variation was sent to monthly donors.
This segmentation allowed us to speak more specifically to the donor’s place in their journey and to make appropriate, personalized donation appeals.
Here are a few suggestions for segmenting your email file:
Giving frequency (never given, one-time, monthly)
Previous giving levels (Small-but-mighty, bread and butter supporters, high rollers)
Engagement level (never opened an email vs. read every blog post published)
File age (new contact vs. veteran supporter)
P.S.—We hope you’re already doing this, but please add personalization tokens if you have them (and not just in the greeting.) Try spicing it up: add my name to the preview text or work it into the body copy. Want to be really bold? Find a way to ask me a question using my name in a P.S. line!
Tactic #2: Touch a nerve (in a great way)
If you are going to get people to donate to your cause, your story needs to resonate with your audience and it needs to pull on their heartstrings.
Why? Because people don’t frequently give with their brain — they give with their heart.
Prior to beginning their campaigns, Native Hope published a wealth of content around the topic — “What does Thanksgiving mean to Native Americans?”
Between blog posts, long-form pillar pages, and a downloadable resource, they were able to reach a significant audience through organic search (read more about their organic SEO success — and how you can replicate it!) and form a stronger, more meaningful connection with the constituents they already had.
The collective concern around the history of the holiday struck a chord with both their current and new audiences and they used that momentum to jumpstart the rest of their storytelling campaign.
From October through December 2018, Natives came forward and shared their stories. Stories of children once trapped in abuse who are on their way to recovery; stories of youth wrestling with mental health and suicide who found community and hope; stories of elders struggling with poverty and food insecurity who were given assistance and a new path forward.
As the community grew, so did empathy surrounding the cause. Donors and new contacts wanted to know how they could support the work Native Hope was doing to bring healing to those who were suffering and lift up the voices of marginalized Natives.
So, what should you do? Get in touch with your audience, share with them a powerful, heart-tugging story, and invite them to become part of the solution.
Case Study #2: Feeding and Caring for the Mothers and Children of Guatemala
In rural Guatemala, nearly 30 out of 1,000 mothers will lose their babies due to a lack of basic nutrition, education, hygiene, and medical care. Even more alarming is that of the children that survive this high infant mortality rate, almost 50% will experience chronic malnutrition during their childhood.
MercyWorks, an initiative of Missionhurst CICM, runs the Bethany Center — an outreach program that provides food, medical, and maternal care to mothers and children in rural Guatemala.
During their 2019 Giving Tuesday and End of Year Giving campaigns, our goal was to raise a combined total of $7500 to feed families in need.
Our message was simple: Feed and give medical care to women and children in Guatemala.
The outpouring of support MercyWorks received was beautiful. Over a 1.5 month period, they were able to raise just shy of double their goal.
How did we get people to donate? Lessons Learned from The Bethany Center
This campaign was successful for several reasons. First, the ask was clear, simple, and direct, and the suggested giving levels for the campaign directly correlated to tangible items that the Bethany Center needed. These gifts put the donor at the center of the solution to the problem, enabling them to immediately see how they could make a difference.
Second, it used vivid imagery to effectively communicate the story. Between detailed, first-hand accounts from impoverished families in rural Guatemala, vibrant photos, and a compelling introduction video, MercyWorks’ donor base was able to put themselves in the place of those suffering, feel their pain, and offer a hand of relief.
Bottom line: A direct and straightforward petition that is supplemented by transparency and personal connection will win donors every time.
Tactic #3: A picture is worth 1,000 words (and a video is worth 10x that)
I don’t know about you, but I can probably count on one hand the number of (non-work related) emails that I read in entirety in a day. I rarely read “cover-to-cover.” I skim — and so do most people.
This means your email or blog post or webpage page needs to include something that is going to quickly capture my attention and draw me in, or I’m likely going to move on.
Photos and videos are a highly effective way to entice a reader to hang around, while increasing brand awareness and forming longer-lasting impressions than copy alone.
MercyWorks was fortunate enough to have a portfolio of stunning professional photographs and video clips of their work at the Bethany Center. They incorporated these assets throughout their campaign, allowing these visuals to do a lot of the storytelling for them. In particular, their introductory video was included in their appeal emails, plastered on webpages and donation pages, teased on social media, and offered as a pop-up on all relevant blog posts.
We knew that if people saw this video, their hearts would be moved to give.
Now, not everyone has the ability to produce studio-quality video content for every campaign (although, if you are looking for help in that department, check out DD Studio). However, there are some simple ways for anyone with an iPhone to include video or photo content in your campaigns:
Example #1: Have the beneficiaries of your organization take short-ten second videos of themselves, thanking your donors for their support and telling them how their generosity is benefiting them personally. Then, compile those clips into a “thank you montage.”
Example #2: Use pictures (or better — video clips) of your volunteers in action to help donors picture what their dollars are doing. Again, nothing fancy, just some photos and footage from an iPhone will work!
Tactic #4: It’s about me (the donor), even when it’s not
We touched on this in a previous blog post, but donor behavior (especially in the Millennial and Gen Z generations) is changing.
Younger generations of donors are not as easily compelled by dramatic and heart-wrenching situations (no matter how convincing the pictures or great the need). We are noticing that these donors are moved by a sense of community and inclusion — ”having a place at the table” so to speak.
When your language and messaging around your campaign is not only donor-centric, but donor-forward, prospective givers are more likely to identify as a part of your organization and, therefore, support you financially.
Okay — but what does that really mean and what does that look like?
It means that, as a prospective donor, I want to know about your needs and your problems, BUT FIRST I want to see and hear how I can make a difference and how there is a place for me in your organization. Exodus Cry, an anti-human trafficking and anti-sexual exploitation organization does this particularly well with their “Become an Abolitionist” approach.
Here is one quick example of “Do This Instead of That” surrounding donor-forward messaging:
Instead of — sending me three emails with different stories about different struggles your organization is working to overcome…
Do this — send me one email with a simple, compelling story about a problem, one email with a story about a donor who gave and how that donation is making a difference (please actually tell me what my money has done, not just that it has done something good), and a final email with a donor testimonial about how giving to your organization has improved their life.
Still Stressed About Your EOY Campaigns? Let Us Help You.
Maybe you are already a month into planning, but unsure about how successful your campaign will be.
Maybe you’re hitting roadblocks and questions and just want a sounding board.
Maybe you’ve already crafted your emails, drafted your landing pages, and written your social ads — but wish you had someone to look over your assets and give you feedback.
Wherever you are in your campaign journey, we would love to help you. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to us with your information and a summary of your questions/problems/pain points and we’d be happy to hop on a quick (free) call to give you a hand.
Cheers to you and a successful End of the Year campaign!
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