Why aren’t people giving? Maybe there’s too much friction–little things in your messaging or in your presentation that cause hesitation or second-guessing. This week we look at friction in storytelling, and what to do about it.
Friction isn’t always bad – it’s what makes the brakes on your car work. But in fundraising, we don’t want people to put on the brakes! For us, friction is something that makes it harder than it should be to give, to volunteer, or to help in any way.
Most advice for cutting down friction focuses on the donation page. We’ll look at that in the next episode. But for now, I want to focus on friction caused by gaps in our storytelling and missed opportunities because we don’t have the right materials on hand.
Ignore the donor’s journey at your peril.
When we talk about the donor’s journey, we’re talking about the process a person goes through where they get to know you, like you, and trust you. Those three things need to happen before they will “try” you–before they will give or get involved.
Every potential donor you meet is asking these questions:
Do I know this person?
So I know someone who knows them?
Do I like them? (this takes just seconds).
Can I trust them?
If they don’t know, like, and trust you, most people will not give to you. They will not give you their platform, and they will not introduce you to their people.
When we feel pressured to raise funds, we can enter into situations with expectations that aren’t in line with the relationship. We skip steps in the donor journey and go straight for the ask–or we start dropping hints. That causes friction.
At times, you’ll be introduced to someone new by someone they already know, and like, and trust. The person who introduces you is lending you their credibility. It’s easier for the new person to trust you, because someone they know, like, and trust already trusts you and recommends you. That reduces the friction.
When you’re coming in cold, you have to give the relationship time and create a pathway that shows them who you are, what you’re about (values), introduces them to your mission and vision, and earns their trust.
Help them help you.
The unbreakable rule for reducing friction is to make it easy for people to support you.
When you meet with someone, don’t expect them to remember everything you said. Be prepared for the conversation with a case document or a one-sheet that covers the basic information they need.
People will often need to check with a spouse, missions committee, or others before making a decision about support for your cause. Your materials should give them exactly what they need to present your case.
These materials should be well-written, thought-out, and easy to follow. Your case document should cover the donor’s journey (yes, you can do it in just a few paragraphs), tell them exactly what the need is, and how they can give. Hand that to them with your contact information and an invitation to answer their questions.
Make everything easy to read.
In all your materials, online and in print, make everything easy to read. Anything over a 7th or 8th grade reading level will lose people. Even if your supporters are well educated with postgraduate degrees–no one likes to work at reading. Difficult sentences, long words, and big paragraphs all create friction.
Avoid the “wall of text” approach, where you cram as much information as possible onto a page. Small fonts, tiny margins, and a lack of white space (empty space) around your text make your materials hard to read. Help donors by making your materials easy on their eyes.
You should know that most people are looking at your emails and your website on a phone or other mobile device. Keeping that in mind, make your paragraphs short (2-3 sentences each). Design everything so it looks good and displays correctly on a mobile device.
By reducing friction for donors, you’ll give yourself an advantage and make it more likely that they’ll follow through with a gift. In the next episode, I’ll talk about things you can do to reduce friction in the donation process.
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There are many reasons to write, but when we are writing to move someone to action, we must be crystal clear. In this episode, you’ll learn three questions to help ensure you’re communicating clearly.
I recently attended the Hope Words conference for writers, where one of the speakers was Katherine Paterson. Mrs. Paterson is the author of over 40 books and the recipient of many awards for her writing, including two Newberry Medals. She told us about a time when she got a note from her long-time editor about a certain paragraph. She had taken great care with this paragraph and she held it dear.
The editor’s note said, “It’s beautiful, Katherine, but what does it mean?”
As a writer, I feel the pain of having something I’ve labored over being misunderstood or torn apart. As an editor, I know it’s a question that must be asked.
All our beautiful writing and storytelling is worthless if it isn’t clear.
To be clear in our nonprofit writing, we must answer three key questions:
What is happening?
What does it mean?
What do you want me to do about it?
By answering these questions, you can provide context for your message and make it clear what action you want your readers to take.
End-of-year fundraising may be over, but that only sets up some key messaging for January. In this episode, I’ll give you three key messages to send donors in January (plus a bonus).
After the big year-end fundraising campaign, it’s tempting to let out a big sigh of relief and sit back for a bit. But you’ve built momentum over the last few months, and you don’t want to drop it now. Send these messages to donors in January to keep them engaged in the new year.
Use giving statements to build relationships.
There is one obvious piece of mail you need to get out to donors this month–that’s the giving statement. You need to send these out for anyone who gave $250 or more. But don’t just send out a dry financial statement with a boring letter that says, “Here’s your statement.”
That is a missed opportunity.
That giving statement is a cause for celebration! Send a letter with the statement that essentially says, “Look at what you did last year!” Remind those donors of the impact their gifts had. The accomplishments, the souls reached, the lives saved, whatever your mission is, let your donors know their donations are STILL being celebrated, and there is more work to do. You’re excited they’re with you, because xy and z still need to be done.
Thank everyone who donated to your nonprofit in the past year (not just in December – and not just those who gave more than $250). But don’t stop at monetary gifts.
Remember to thank the people who donated their time and energy. Volunteers give you their TIME. Don’t ever forget that we can make more money, but we cannot make more time. Volunteers are giving you something they can never get back. Their time is a precious gift.
Sometimes fundraisers tell me it feels strange to thank people who haven’t made a donation. Thank them anyway. You have people praying for you who never tell you they’re doing it. You have people who tell their friends, who mention you and who share your social media posts. You never know. Thank everyone for being with you and sharing your mission. It never hurts to show a spirit of gratitude.
Make an extra effort to welcome new donors.
During year-end fundraising, you’ve picked up new donors and you only have a tiny window to invite them into a deeper relationship. From Thanksgiving to year’s end, between 70% and 75% of one-time donations are from brand new donors.
Brand new donors don’t know you well.
Brand new donors can quickly forget you and move on to the next thing.
Brand new donors, if you haven’t thanked them properly, may feel unappreciated or even duped. These will likely leave and not come back.
More than 80% of new donors will never give again.
Is that because new donors are just flighty and fickle, or do new donors (everybody, really) need to be nurtured and cared for and loved so that they want to be more involved?
Give your new donors some extra love. Thank them for that gift–again! And send them a welcome packet and an email welcome series that tells them more about your vision and how they can be involved. The goal is to build relationship and nudge them toward a second gift.
Prepare them for what’s to come.
Your thank you message should include something about what they can expect from your organization in the months ahead, and remind them how their support makes this possible. Add a personal touch by pointing out initiatives you know that donor is likely to be interested in joining.
If someone donated to your Spring fundraising campaign, send them a thank you message along with a reminder that you’re running a similar campaign again this year. If they like to give to matching campaigns, let them know when your next matching campaign is.
You can combine these messages in any way it makes sense for you and your mission. Just remember every message helps keep you and your mission top of mind.
Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we planned. When that happens, use the opportunity to invite donors to have a closer look at the important work you do.
We love a good transformation story: someone was hurting. Things were all wrong. Then your donors stepped up and your organization did life-changing work. Those stories are powerful and effective, and we love to tell them.
But what if things didn’t turn out so well?
How do we tell a story when it’s just the beginning of a long process of change?
How do we tell stories when we don’t know the ending?
I believe some of our internal conflict over these stories is our fear of giving donors a not-so-perfect picture of our mission. On the one hand, we’re seen as the experts. But really, there are so many factors beyond our control. We cannot fix it all.
I’m not talking about taking responsibility when we mess up (more on that another time). I’m thinking about those interventions where we did our best, and it seemed like things were okay. We saw change. We may have shared a story from a beneficiary who made a radical turnaround because of our work. But a few months later, they were right back in that unhealthy situation. Do you tell that story?
You probably don’t want to (or need to) highlight that person’s personal setbacks. But there are stories you can tell around the experience:
Explain the process of change your beneficiaries go through.
Focus on one aspect of the change process and help supporters understand why it’s such a hurdle.
Share a story about the setting that causes difficulties in the change process.
Feature something in your work that deals specifically with one of those hurdles.
This works for unfinished stories, too. For complicated stories, and for slow change. Use setbacks and the unknown to invite your donors to draw close. You’ll be glad you did.
I got a message recently from a supporter who needs to stop her monthly donations. I’m thinking of my friends in ministry who raise support–missionary support or raising funds for the ministry as a whole–and you’re on the field, you’re doing the work, and you get a message like this.
The temptation is to shrink back. The temptation is to say, “Well, people are hurting (they are) and so I feel bad asking for money to support the ministry.” But I want to encourage you that this is not the time to pull back.
The money belongs to God. It’s not yours. It’s not your donor’s money. It’s God’s.
The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1
Things are being moved around, yes. Some donors will leave you. But some will also come to you. Coming or going, we’re still called to relationship. We’re in this together. The resources belong to God, and He will move them around from time to time.
You still have to do your part. You still have to be ready to receive. You have to make it easy for people to give. You need to ask. Not only ask–more than ever, you need to tell stories.
Fundraising is Ministry
Fundraising is part of discipling and leading and ministering to the people God has given you for this season. You pray together, weep together, celebrate together.
If you feel bad about asking for money, ask yourself a few questions:
Do I only talk to my people when I need something?
Am I sharing the ministry with them without asking for money? (stories)
Do they ever get to see the smiles I get to see?
Do they ever experience the joy and fulfillment I feel on a day when I absolutely know that God is with me, and that God loves without reserve the people He’s called me to serve?
If you haven’t been telling stories, sharing the work, sharing the joy, then start now. We grow closer by sharing stories.
We are fundraisers, but it’s not the only thing we are. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We bear one another’s burdens. We share one another’s joys. We celebrate all that God is doing and look to Him with eager expectation.
We find solid ground to stand on when we remind each other of God’s faithfulness. Don’t just say He’s faithful, share the story of how you know he’s faithful. This is the word of your testimony. We are always called to glorify the name of the Lord. Stories help us to see how He is moving and working in the world today.
We need that.
There is a time to ask – and yes, you can ask in tough economic times. But at any time, you must tell stories. And you must tell stories before earning the right to ask.
Share the stories. Share them with boldness and confidence in the Lord, as you trust Him to turn hearts and resources where He wishes.