Fundraising at its essence is storytelling.
Connecting with donors means showing them how their donation can change the world through the lens of your nonprofit. It requires patience, incredible emotional intelligence and a great story.
Nonprofit storytelling doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. Often the most impactful stories are the ones that follow the 4 C’s of nonprofit storytelling:
Each nonprofit will have a different story so the characters, conflict, connection and conquest will look different but the formula will be the same.
The 4 C’s In Action
Each story needs to have at least one character, but when it comes to your nonprofit’s story, you can have up to 2. The first relates to your mission. It could be an animal, a person, or an object that you work with. The goal of the main character is to connect with your viewer in some way.
The secondary character is you or your community of donors, someone who will work with the first character.
After establishing who your characters are, you have to connect with your audience, aka your donors.
This is created by giving human qualities to the character and communicating their wants, dreams, and desires. We experience conflict every day and this character has to somehow connect with these universal conflicts to build empathy with your audience.
You can have 2 different types of conflict: Internal or external.
Internal happens within the character, maybe they are struggling with a mental health issue or are struggling to make a difficult decision. It deals directly with their thoughts and feelings.
External conflicts are outside factors that challenge the character like a change in weather, a situation brought on by politics or other people, financial loss.
Let’s put this concept into action: If you work for a food bank and the character of your story is a family using your services, there are different conflicts they could experience. The external conflict could be that there is a rising housing market causing more families to fall into poverty, while the internal conflict could be that families are struggling with the stigma to seek help leading to a lot of stress in the home.
Life is complicated, and we never just experience one type of conflict. Many groups experience systemic roadblocks. There are constant challenges that come up every day and having more than one issue occurring at once is entirely normal and will make the story feel authentic to your reader.
The conquest is where your second character comes into play. Again, your organization with the support of your community of donors is here to save the day and help the main character reach their desires and overcome their conflict.
Think about how you alleviate problems within your organization, do you offer a service? Provide resources? Maybe you have tools that can help. Then, try to involve the donor as much as possible to bring that connection home and demonstrate how they can impact their gift.
A lot of people center their donors as the main character of the story and focus the conquest around them. Although there is nothing wrong with that approach, more and more organizations are taking a community approach to their stories and fundraising strategy. This turns the "I” into a "we” allowing the donor to see how the impact of their donation affects their community as a whole.
Community-centred fundraising focuses on supporting one another and creating a space where all people feel welcomed. To learn more we highly recommend you visit communitycentricfundraising.org!
Bonus 'C": Context
The context of the story describes the setting, scene and situation that the character finds themself in. It grounds your story, making it realistic for readers. Nothing just happens out of nowhere. Some steps lead up to the conflicts we experience. Things that make it difficult for problems to be solved with the snap of a finger.
Building context in your story helps the donor appreciate the work you’re doing, and helps them understand how their donation benefits them by changing the world. For example, you can offer facts or knowledge on the situation in your community, showing your understanding of the situation you’re working on and how they can be an authentic partner to facilitate change through their financial support.
Start By Getting to Know Your Donors
The truth lies in the data, so before starting your storytelling process, understand what they value. For example, did you have a specific campaign or blog post that did well? Or maybe one newsletter had a phenomenal open rate. Was there a common theme of this content that you can utilize in your nonprofit’s story?
You can also use data to build up your main character. For example, if you find most of your donors are coming from a specific part of your community, consider centring your character there. Building a connection is all about showing your reader that you understand their situation and what they care about.