When listening to someone tell a story, I sometimes find myself thinking, “I wish he would get to the point.” Sometimes the story is so long, or there are so many details included, that I lose track of his point—or just lose interest. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad story, I just got lost in the details.
It happens in fundraising too.
Charities are doing great work. There is a lot to tell. Unfortunately, if donors get lost in the story, are confused, or have a hard time keeping track, they lose interest. They don’t connect and risk missing the message.
Over years of working with both donors and charities, we have arrived at five keys to help fundraisers tell their charity’s story with more clarity and build donor engagement.
Five Keys to Engage Donors with Your Story
1. Share the vision and mission.
These are two different things. In his book, The Vision Driven Leader, Michael Hyatt says vision is the where and mission is the how. Vision is “out there,” and the mission is “right now.” Communicating your where and how clearly shows your donors the why. They immediately know why they are listening.
2. Demonstrate the problem.
Define the problem you are solving and why it matters. Share the scope of the concern in understandable numbers where possible. Give donors context to comprehend the problem.
3. Explain the strategy.
How does the charity work to accomplish its vision and solve the problem? Don’t get in the weeds unless asked. Donors — especially major donors with greater capacity — don’t want too many details. They trust the charity to navigate tactics; they are interested in the approach.
4. Show success.
Is it working? What impact does the strategy have? Donors want to know if their investment can result in success. As stewards of their resources, they desire a good return on investment. This shouldn’t be intimidating. Donors don’t expect perfection, but they do appreciate transparency. Metrics can reveal progress or difficulty. Be prepared to explain the why behind the numbers and future adjustments you plan to make.
5. Share what’s next.
This is like the punch line, the main idea. This is why a donor took the meeting. Reports on progress are important, but continued investment is in the future, not the past. Communicate what the future holds and what opportunities for greater impact exist. Always invite the donor to participate. How can the donor invest more deeply in the work?
In Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller says, “The key is to make your company’s message about something that helps the customer survive and to do so in such a way that they can understand it without burning too many calories.” (Emphasis added.)
The same is true in fundraising.
Don’t make the donor work too hard to track the message. Charity leaders are doing important work — perhaps the most important work there is. Don’t let the message get muddled.