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How Nonprofits can Steward More Donors with Stories

Resource Center - Foundation

by Vanessa Chase-Lockshin

Vanessa Chase-LockshinIt's no surprise that online fundraising continues to grow each year. But even with advances in technology and software, as well as people getting more used to online financial transactions, there are still some aspects of online fundraising that leave something to be desired. Stewardship, for example, is one of those areas.

In order to solve this problem, we must consider our opportunities for donor stewardship as well as the content of the stewardship. Content of stewardship is especially important. As we know from various donor retention research projects, donors want to know how their gift was used and what impact it had. Of course, we could give donors numbers and statistics but a story is far more powerful way to communicate information.

At AFP Central New York’s Fundraising Day, I led a session where we discussed how to incorporate stories into donor stewardship. There are many ways that you can use stories to steward online donors. Here are three ideas for your nonprofit to try.

Craft a Compelling Thank-You Email

One of the common touch points after an online gift is received is to send an email right after the gift is made. Unfortunately, many of these types of emails look more like an online shopping receipt than recognition of a gift to a charity. In addition to sending the transaction email, be sure that you send a compelling thank you email that includes a story.

The story does not have to be long. In fact, you can tell a great story in just three sentences. Start by introducing the main character of the story, then talk about the challenge or problem they were facing that brought them to your organization. Finally, write a sentence that tells donors about the outcomes they made possible through their giving. 

Create a Fun Thank-You Video

Videos are one of the most engaging forms of online content. But many nonprofits chose not to make videos because they think they need thousands of dollars and a lot of time to make the perfect video. This is simply not true. These days, everyone has a camera on their phone - which is all you need to start filming!

Find a staff member or someone your organization has helped and ask them to say why they are grateful for donors. You could even film two or three people and edit their answers into one video. This video can then be used in an email or on the page donors are sent to after the donation is made.

Improve the Post-Donation Website Page

What appears on your screen after you click the “submit” button to process a donation made online? This is a great opportunity to immediately redirect donors to stewardship content. They have just made their gift. What better way to immediately appreciate them and show their impact than relating a story?

Your stewardship landing page could show a series of pictures with captions that tell a story. You could also feature a short video that tells an impact story. Another idea is to share a few short written stories (about 250 words) along with pictures that introduce donors to the people they have helped.

These are just three ideas to help your nonprofit improve online donor stewardship. If you are looking for more ways to improve stewardship, I encourage you to trying being an online donor to your organization. Document the experience and all of the steps you go through. Take notes about possible improvements you could make to the process and then follow up.

Vanessa Chase Lockshin is president of The Storytelling Non-Profit and author of The Storytelling Non-Profit: A practical guide to telling stories that raise money and awareness. Vanessa’s fundraising career started at The University of British Columbia, her alma mater, and since then she has helped organizations throughout North America raise over $10 million by telling their stories. She’s a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Vancouver chapter.

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