Reduce Friction for Fundraising Success – PT1

Reduce Friction for Fundraising Success – PT1

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.

Every Story is About Change

Every Story is About Change

Every story needs change, regardless of the story’s focus. By recognizing this and emphasizing it, you can engage and connect with your donors more effectively.

As nonprofit leaders, we’re dedicated to making a difference and changing lives through our work. But when it comes to sharing about that work with donors, we tend to focus on reporting on our activities and achievements rather than emphasizing the actual impact and transformation taking place.

The transformation story is a key part of an effective fundraising strategy. That’s the familiar before and after story. But all of our stories need to show change.

Change is essential for a story.

Every story is fundamentally about change, and any story without change falls flat.

A story without change is a like a wall without bricks. Change isn’t just a part of story, it’s what story is made of. 

–Damien Walter

Change always has an emotional element. The two go hand in hand; that makes them a great duo for your storytelling repertoire. Knowing where to look for change and how to show that change in your storytelling can unlock a treasure trove of stories for your cause. 

Donors want to see the real difference their contributions are making. Reporting back to donors with numbers and reports of what you did is good. But it’s not a story if nothing changes. Which of these feels more like a story your donors would appreciate?

a) We delivered 50 pallets of water to families after the storm.

b) Thanks to you, 600 families have fresh water after flooding contaminated the local water supply.*

The first sentence says what you did. The second shows the change (and gives donors the credit).

Change can occur in various forms, and it isn’t limited to the person you’re writing about. The main character (the person you’re focusing on), undergoes the most significant change. But other characters, and the world around them, may also experience transformation. 

Many things may change at once. Sometimes, we’re so focused on the big change we’re hoping for that we miss other changes taking place.

It’s easy to overlook some changes.

Small or incremental changes. Not all changes are grand or dramatic. Even small decisions, especially over time, can bring real change. Think about some small action you take every day. What would happen if you stopped that habit? And what happens when you start a new habit? The changes we need to start a new habit are often small, but they have a tremendous impact. 

Internal changes. Changes in the way we think, attitude changes, or shifts in approach are often the seed for bigger transformations. The only way to know how a person experienced an event, how they feel, or what their thought processes were, is to talk with them and ask. Hone your interviewing skills and be willing to spend the time to get these types of stories.

Changes sparked by challenges, interruptions, or failure. As nonprofit leaders, we do hard things. Not everything will go according to plan. Don’t shy away from these stories. Donors tend to respond well to stories that show how organizations adapt and grow, so let them in on these “behind the scenes” stories.

Consider different types of change and the steps that lead to significant transformations. Highlight the implications of the change and the potential it holds for the future. Consider what the world would be like if the change doesn’t take place.

When you write, ask yourself:

What changed? Or, where is the change?

What could change?

What needs to change? (and what’s the consequence if it doesn’t)

Build stories with change and help donors see the difference they make when they give.

What Formula One Can Teach Nonprofits About Storytelling

What Formula One Can Teach Nonprofits About Storytelling

Sports can teach us a lot about nonprofit storytelling. In this episode, we’re looking at two examples of sports using storytelling to reach people and to teach people – two things all nonprofits need to do. Formula One uses storytelling to fuel explosive growth into new markets, and we’ll also look at how ESPN uses sports to shine a light on issues of life and death.

As a missionary, as a ministry or nonprofit leader, you are doing important work, but a lot of that work just doesn’t seem to catch on with the people you’re trying to reach. Sports can have a similar problem. There is always inherent drama in a good sports matchup, but not everybody is into the game itself. 

Who are these people? What in the world are they doing? And why? Why would I watch something I don’t understand?

Formula 1 racing used to be a sport enjoyed almost exclusively by older, well-off European males. Complex rules, complicated courses, and a format that makes it hard to follow all meant the sport was just too difficult for a casual observer to enjoy. But recently, TV viewership for races has exploded, F1 events are selling out, and the stands are filled with new fans. Women are in the crowd–and young people. What happened?


The key driver behind the explosion of F1 racing into new markets is storytelling.

Drive to Survive is a Netflix show about the people behind Formula 1 racing. The show focuses on the characters–drivers and billionaire owners–and gives us an insider’s view. There is very little actual racing. The narrative introduces the sport to us a little at a time.

As these stories unfold, people become more familiar with the sport and its key players. They begin to care about the people involved. They gain a basic understanding of the rules. They can follow along.

Isn’t this what we want for our supporters, too?

ESPN’s 30 for 30: Pink Card tells the story of women in Iran and their love for soccer–and their quest for freedom. The series is about the injustices faced by women in Iran, as illustrated by the struggle of female soccer fans fighting for the right to attend soccer matches at the national stadium.

These sports shows do the same things your stories have to do: provide a gradual, understandable explanation of your mission without sensationalizing or trivializing it, and without alientating long-time supporters. (Okay, these shows might sensationalize…but I hope you won’t.)

Just as people interested in the “characters” who drive F1 race cars can learn about Formula 1 racing by watching stories on Netflix, soccer fans can learn about gender inequality and human rights abuses by listening to four episodes of the 30 for 30 podcast. With stories, outsiders can gain awareness about your cause, understand why your work is important, and how they can get involved.

Storytelling builds bridges.

Storytelling is what takes people who don’t know about your mission and moves them–step by step–into a supporting role.

What story will you tell next?