4 Storytelling No-Nos

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At M&C, we’re happy to share tips for good storytelling and we usually focus on what should be done. At times, though, it’s also helpful to have reminders of what not to do

As you tell your organization’s story, here are 4 big no-nos to be mindful of:

1. Complicated stories

If the reader can’t follow what’s going on in your story, then it won’t move them to act. Find a succinct, clear way to stir emotions and convey your message.

2. Made up stories

Don’t make up stories EVER. Don’t risk losing the trust of donors, members or those you serve. Your story should be compelling without having to embellish or invent details.

3. Bewildering readers with endless data

Similar to complicated stories, confusing or overwhelming the reader with data will hurt your chances of getting the result you want. Correlate large numbers to concrete concepts. Provide context. Give your reader something they can identify with. 

4. Burying your ask 

The reader should know what you want them to do. Your call to action should be clear and not lost in your copy. Find ways to incorporate a softer ask early in your copy to build the feeling of partnership if you don’t want to lead with a strong ask right off the bat. 

When you steer clear of these no-nos, you have a better opportunity to tell your organization’s story effectively and drive support for your mission.

Walking a Mile in Someone Else's Shoes

It’s not often life hands us the chance to experience things from both sides of the fence. Lucky for me, joining the M&C team offered just that.

Prior to working at M&C, I spent more than a decade in nonprofit fundraising and marketing. Working primarily for major organizations like the University of Missouri (go Tigers!), the American Cancer Society and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, I’ve gained valuable experience, insight and knowledge.

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As the saying goes, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and you gain even more insight, along with a healthy dose of empathy too.

In my role at the Nelson-Atkins, I was charged with raising more than $1 million annually for the museum. But, what most may not know is that I was also a client. 

I remember all too well being the champion for hiring a consulting firm. They specialized in museum membership acquisition and retention and worked with some of the biggest and best museums in the country. Internally, it was a tough sell. Previous experiences with less than stellar consultants shaped opinions. Fears surfaced that they would never “get us” and it would be more work than if we just did this in-house. Relevant concerns? Yes. Did they turn out to be unfounded? Yes. I had done my homework. I knew this relationship would result in our gain. Additionally, our in-house team needed to be troops on the ground, building relationships and implementing strategies to deepen engagement with existing members and convert museum visitors into members. We already had our work cut out for us. Plus, we were not direct mail experts, nor did we have the capacity to become experts.

Fast forward to a year after hiring the consulting team, and membership was growing by leaps and bounds. In addition to focusing on acquisition, they recommended we ask existing members to increase their support (something that hadn’t happened in quite some time). All told, during my time working with this consulting team, the museum not only grew membership, it also generated meaningful revenue by acquiring new members and upgrading existing donors. It is important to note acquisition donors don’t generate revenue in their first year. Yet, we did for countless campaigns, year after year.

If you’re considering a similar partnership, here are several factors to consider.

  • Does it take time to develop a strong working relationship between your team and the team of consultants? Yes. But, that’s to be expected. Building trust and adapting to organization-specific branding guidelines, practices and communication styles takes time.

  • Is it valuable to have an extension of your team, who can bring years of industry knowledge and case studies from other clients to the table? Yes. In the case of the consultants I worked with at the museum, having a team of experts willing and ready to offer sound advice and serve as a sounding board, in addition to successfully executing campaigns, was invaluable.

  • Will the consultants work dilute your role? Not in the least. In my experience, it only served to increase my fundraising results and generate even more support for the museum.  

Today, I am incredibly grateful for the chance to have been a client for all of those years. This experience guides me in my role at M&C. Every. Single. Day. I don’t underestimate what it takes to build a good working relationship with clients, nor do I take for granted the trust they place in us to do amazing work on their behalf. I also have a deeper understanding of the challenges nonprofit colleagues face. After all, I’ve walked a mile in their shoes too.

Good News/Bad News

The 2019 M+R Benchmark Report is out and, like most assessments of 2018, it offers a mixed perspective.

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“Another way of looking at 2018 online revenue: nonprofits were poised, with nearly perfect balance, between growth and decline.”

So, how you see the year may depend which side of that fence you were on!

Overall, online revenue was up by 1%, virtually flat, compared to last year’s 23% increase.

The report points out some bright spots.

  • Revenue from recurring monthly gifts grew 17% and now accounts for 16% of online revenue.

  • Social media has experienced growth, with Facebook Fundraisers providing a sizable boost for some organizations.

Both of these trends underscore the importance of engaged, committed donors.

It notes some areas for concern as well.

  • Email, while still the “workhorse” of online fundraising saw declines open and click-through rates and an 8% fall-off in revenue. Meanwhile, lists continue to grow (up 5%) as do the number of messages per subscriber (up 8%).

  • Retention is falling. Only 25% of donors who made a first time gift in 2017 gave again in 2018. For the smallest givers ($25 or less) that drops to 10%.

And there are some areas in which the jury is still out.

  • Digital ad budgets grew by 144%, with just over half (55%) committed to direct fundraising, and the balance to lead generation (23%) or awareness and education (21%). Return on that investment is difficult to measure; it’s often not immediate or directly attributable.

  • Mobile web traffic continues to grow, currently accounting for 48% of visitors compared to 44% for desktop users. However, desktop users account for 63% of gifts and 71% of revenue. Again there are a number of possible reasons, from demographic changes to privacy concerns.

So, what does it mean to you?

It likely depends. The report is based on multi-year data provided by 135 non-profit organizations. There’s a lot of good information to be distilled, including dramatic variance among some sectors. You may need to dig into the details to figure out what applies to you.