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Communications and Fundraising: Moving from Static Campaigns to Dynamic Storytelling

To find success in the future, charities need to move away from a “static, fixed campaign” concept of communications and fundraising to a “content/story platform” approach that is persistent, nimble and encourages donors and members to engage.

In a recent presentation to the AFP association and foundation boards, Alan Schulman, chief creative officer for SapientNitro NY, stressed that traditional types of messaging aren’t working anymore. Consumers are not “buying it anymore,” says Schulman, and anything that looks like a typical commercial, advertisement or solicitation is likely to be ignored. People are oversaturated and oversold with commercial messages and will tend to be distrustful of these kinds of messages.

In the same vein, traditional ideas of campaigns, where the messaging tends to remain the same no matter how long the campaign goes, need to fall by the wayside. Given the sheer velocity of messages in today’s computerized, Internet world, brands need to be thought of as television networks, where the messaging and communications change weekly. Your charity has its own network, or platform, and each show is a different message or ideas.

Organizations have to be “always on” now when it comes to messaging, according to Schulman, as no one wants to watch reruns all the time. Charities don’t have the time to stop a campaign, develop new messaging and begin another campaign. By that point, they will have lost control of the message, or their communications will be irrelevant right from the beginning. “There is no ending,” says Schulman. “Everything ends in a comma.”

Story and Content

How then do charities keep on top of their brand and messaging when things change so quickly through Facebook, Twitter and countless other communications technologies? By focusing on story and a persistent content framework, charities can keep their brand consistent while changing the words and particulars of their brand fairly frequently.

Schulman confirms what many in the profession have already begun doing—moving from fundraising to storytelling. Charities have to “find the inherent drama in what they do” and use that as the basis for their stories and communications. “Before someone is in the thinking mood [deciding to give], they have to be in the feeling mood,” he says.

Charities can create a consistent brand and message through the use of related stories about programs, donors, volunteers, recipients and impact. Continuing the television network analogy, each story is one show on the charity’s television network. Ensuring a strong story, and consistent messaging in each one, will ensure that donors understand and connect with your organization and will want to come back for more.

The trick, according to Schulman, is how those stories (i.e., the content) get made, and charities don’t have to do it all themselves. Ideally, organizations are not only creating content, but helping donors, volunteers and the public create content all on their won.

Schulman gave the example of The Johnny Cash Project, which invites the public to draw and submit their own pictures of Cash based on frames from a music video. The pictures will then be used in the final version of the video. In this manner, every picture submitted becomes a unique story and content item that connect the individual with the project. The project has been ongoing for a few years and continually evolves, leading to new and additional stories on a consistent basis.

Audience-Generated Content

In their fundraising and communications, Schuman encourages charities to think of themselves as:

  • Content creators
  • Content curators
  • Content interface
  • Content distributors
  • Content syndicators
  • Brand storytellers

Charities want people to engage with them, and finding ways to help them deliver content helps create those connections. Audience-generated content is more authentic and “organic,” and people viewing it know that it isn’t the typical commercialized messages they’re wary about now.

Charities should be a hub for content that affects their mission, cause and programs, but increasingly, it doesn’t matter who creates the content—so long as when a person needs content, they can turn to the charity and find it. Plus, the potential for audience-generated content is very large, compared to the relatively smaller universe of content a charity can realistically create on its own.

By focusing on a persistent content framework approach focusing on story and audience-generated content—video, picture, quote, sound bite, whatever inspires someone to get involved—charities develop a brand and message that feels new, consistently relevant and authentic. At the same time, they create strong and unique relationships with their audience that can be developed in the future into a cadre of loyal donors and volunteers.  

Alan Schulman is chief creative officer of SapientNitro NY—a company of Idea Engineers that seamlessly and consistently combine communications, brand and transactional expertise to conceive, build and execute integrated, multi-channel brand experiences that lead to tangible business results. He was recently named a 2011 Online All-Star by OMMA Magazine and one of “The New Wizards of Digital” by the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

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