Does Your Organization Tell the Right Story to the Right Audience?
DonorPerfect Community Conference 2022 session with speaker Mallory Erickson
Does Your Organization Tell the Right Story to the Right Audience? TranscriptPrint Transcript
Lori: Good morning and welcome to our kickoff session of the day, Does Your Organization Tell the Right Story to the Right Audience? presented by Mallory Erickson. Mallory is an executive coach, fundraising consultant, and host of the podcast What the Fundraising aimed at Read More
Lori: Good morning and welcome to our kickoff session of the day, Does Your Organization Tell the Right Story to the Right Audience? presented by Mallory Erickson. Mallory is an executive coach, fundraising consultant, and host of the podcast What the Fundraising aimed at supporting nonprofit leaders to fundamentally change the way they lead and fundraise. Through her signature framework, the power partners formula, Mallory provides unique tools to help nonprofits fundraise more from foundations, corporate partners, and individuals.
She has trained over 15,000 fundraisers using her unique win-win framework, which combines best practices from executive coaching, science back behavior design, and fundraising strategy. If you want to feel differently about fundraising as well as clear and excited about your next steps, Mallory’s work is for you. Before I hand it over to Mallory, I’d like to address a few housekeeping items. Presenters will be leaving time for questions at the end of each session, so please be sure to add your questions to the Q&A tab so that we can see them and answer them. Questions asked in the general chat may not get answered due to the constant scroll of the screen.
Mallory, it’s all yours.
Mallory Erickson: Awesome. Thank you so much, Lori, and everyone at DonorPerfect. Welcome you guys. I am so excited to be here with you today to talk about one of my favorite topics ever, Magnetic Storytelling. We are going to be talking specifically about how to tell the right story to the right audience in order to raise more and increase your impact.
Here’s a little bit of the information about me. Lori just gave me that amazing introduction. I’m so grateful. I’m so excited to be kicking off this conference with you. Some of you might be familiar with my work, but some of you might not. Let me tell you a little bit about me and why I’m here and why I’m even talking to you today.
I want you to tell me in the chat, how many of you guys consider yourself an accidental fundraiser? I don’t think I’m alone here. I accidentally became a fundraiser when I started to get promoted up through the ranks. First, I found myself in a managing director role, and then an executive director role, and with it came big fundraising responsibilities. I have a feeling I’m not the only one here. Tell me in the chat, if you are also an accidental fundraiser.
What happened is that, as I first started– Samantha’s saying me. April, me. Yes, absolutely. Oh my gosh. I’m seeing them all roll in.
Initially, when I started becoming a fundraiser, I had big hopes for the future. I was like, I’m going to have consistent fundraising success. I’m going to be this empowered and confident leader. I’m going to have donors come to me. I’m never going to work more than 40 hours a week. I had big hopes about what it was going to mean, but the reality was actually really different.
I think some of you can relate to this too, right? Running a nonprofit was this constant hustle. I felt this need to put on this appearance everywhere that I had it all together. Like our impact rapport and all the perfectionism that comes with that, showing that we’re so buttoned up and we know exactly what we’re doing, but the reality is that every day was a constant hustle. I was so burnt out. I was really overwhelmed all the time and I couldn’t figure out how to have sustainable and reliable fundraising success.
So, I gave up. Which actually meant that I switched organizations thinking that things were going to feel or be different somewhere else but actually, the same thing happened again. I found myself working way more than 40 hours a week. I was sitting at my desk one day just clicking refresh on my email waiting for just one of the 50 donors I’d emailed to and email me back. When I had this moment where I realized a year from now I cannot be doing this anymore. I either want a thriving nonprofit where fundraising is easier, less stressful, and doesn’t feel so cringy all the time, or I think it might be time for me to leave the nonprofit sector.
I knew I didn’t want to leave the nonprofit sector. I needed to figure out a way to create reliable fundraising with the tiny bit of time that I could sacrifice in my schedule. Immediately my self-critic went a little wild. I thought about every reason I couldn’t do it. I was barely hanging on as it was, how on earth was I going to find extra time to do extra things? There’s no way.
The moment I feel like something is close to impossible, a fire inside of me is lit, and I have to figure it out. I feel like nonprofit leaders can also really relate to this because that’s what the nonprofit sector is all about. Anyways, I went down this research rabbit hole for three months testing every different fundraising strategy you could think of. I was iterating on the old-school ways of doing things. I got executive coach certified. I was certified in habit and behavior change and design thinking.
Finally, it all clicked. I was able to finally combine the science and the art of fundraising. I got seven donor meetings secured within one week. It was an 87% conversion on my outreach, which then led to over $450,000 in funding. That honestly is the story of how my Power Partners Formula was born. First, it was created for me, and now it’s something that I get to work with over 200 nonprofits a year doing it. I feel so lucky that this gets to be my work every single day.
I just gave you all a little bit of a longer story than I do in these presentations typically, but why? Why did I just tell you my story? Stories create context. They elicit emotion and they build connection, familiarity, and trust. There’s a particular reason why I said certain things in my story, shared certain little details about my life, and what brought me to this moment in time to connect with you at the very beginning of this amazing fundraising conference. I know who you are because you’re so much like me and like I was. I’m going to share with you what I did in my own story and use that same framework to show you how to create your own story today using this framework.
What were the pillars of the story that I just told you? Some of you might be familiar with the dramatic arc of storytelling. We’re going to be talking about this in a lot more detail. Here’s some of the pillars that you just heard in my story. Exposition and character development, the setting. That was me talking about the accidental fundraiser. I was the accidental fundraiser. You could relate to that. I even invited you to relate to it with me in that moment.
The conflict and the core problem. The core problem being that fundraising is inherently challenging and we’re often being pulled in a million different directions. I had high hopes about being able to be a successful fundraiser, not overworking, but the core problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to do that. I shared that challenges and solutions along the way. I thought maybe I had solved it by switching organizations, turns out I didn’t.
I hit that climax, that pinnacle moment where I was like, “Okay, I can’t do this anymore. Do I need to leave the nonprofit sector, or is there a way for me to figure out another way to fundamentally fundraise?” Then I explain that to you in my discovery and resolution around my trainings, and what ultimately created the Power Partners Formula.
I wanted to start today by showing you exactly what we’re talking about, how to tell the right story to the right audience. Now, I’m going to teach you how to create your impact story. Again, these pillars are really important. Storytelling, you have an entire conference about the importance of storytelling and how to tell good stories.
It’s so important to recognize that storytelling is all about connecting with your audience, and it can do so, so quickly. It took me five minutes, less probably, to tell you my entire story, and in that, you got a great sense of who I am, what I’m about, what brought me to this moment in time. You probably felt something during that. You built a connection with me. I watched it in the chat and probably a certain amount of familiarity and trust as well.
What is an Impact Story? An impact story uses a narrative to make an emotional connection between your audience and the incredible work that you do. Good impact stories create a real connection by following what I mentioned before the dramatic arc. We’re going to be talking about that a lot more so don’t worry. You don’t know too much of what that means yet.
Actually, what’s amazing about storytelling and I will tell you, in preparation for today’s talk, I went down a serious research rabbit hole myself because I was so infatuated and inspired with the way that great storytelling actually changes our brain chemistry. It actually changes our brain. Two primary chemicals are being released in our brain when we hear a story. Cortisol, which focuses our attention on something. Sometimes that’s like the distress part of the story, the problem part of the story. And oxytocin which is responsible for care, connection, and empathy.
There have actually been a tremendous amount of scientific studies done on the release of these chemicals in our brain when we hear stories. There’s been a lot of research done around how this relates to fundraising in particular. Folks have found that the amount of oxytocin released actually has a relationship with the amount of money donated to an organization. I always like to bring the science into this because I think it’s great to hear– Storytelling is important but sometimes it’s really helpful to know, okay, why is it important? How does it move the needle? How does it actually change our relationship with our donors and with our audience? The science behind it is really incredible in this situation.
These, again, were the five pillars that my story had that I walked you through. That exposition, character development, and we’re going to be talking today about the fact that a story can be told from multiple perspectives.
Today we’re going to be talking about your mission impact story, and an overarching framework so that you can walk away with your core story, but there are a lot of different ways to — [laughs] [unintelligible 00:10:41] I love that gay science. I agree it’s nice to hear routine advice, but it’s really nice to know what’s behind it? What do we know to be true about how this really impacts people? Today we’re going to be talking about these five pillars and we’re going to actually be talking about a lot of the science behind each, about how to present each content pillar as effectively as possible.
What I was saying before is that this framework can be applied to a number of different types of stories. Today we’re going to be talking about it in terms of your mission story, but as you can see here, you can talk about an individual beneficiary of your organization using the same arc, the same five content pillar components, and we’re going to be talking about what’s really core. The core importance of this is not just that you have these five pillars, but that you know how to activate these five pillars for the right audience. These are not generic pillars, they need to be adjusted and tailored with empathy to the right audience. We’re going to be talking about specifically how to do that for your organization today.
If you’ve come to any of my talks before, you know that I always start by talking about what is happening inside of us as fundraisers, because that has such a dramatic impact on how we show up and the stories we tell externally. So much of the way that we present in our work and in the nonprofit world has to do with the energy that we show up with.
Action is just an action. People will always ask me, “Mallory, I sent that email.” What is it good or bad that I sent the email? I was like, “What was the energy behind the email? What was in the email? Why did you send the email?” The email alone doesn’t tell us very much. That’s just the action. It’s not about the action being good or bad, it’s about the energy behind the action.
The way to really discover and uncover what your energy is behind an action is to start to understand the way that you feel about certain actions that you’re taking as a fundraiser and the feelings that we have about fundraising are related to the thoughts and the beliefs that we hold about fundraising, about philanthropy, about money, about people with money.
There are a lot of beliefs that we as individuals, and we as a society, collectively hold about money and about the movement of money. If we do not start to have awareness around this is called the cognitive behavior loop, what you’re looking at right now, how our thoughts and beliefs impact how we feel and ultimately how we show up. That is when we really get stuck in that hamster wheel of not seeing the results that we want to see. We keep focusing on the action.
We keep focusing on the action, but we’re not thinking about the emotion behind the action, we’re not thinking about the thoughts and the beliefs behind the action, and those are the pieces that actually determine whether or not the action is going to be successful.
I’m going to give you another example. Let’s say you’re presenting in front of your local Rotary Club about your organization, and you’re going into it and you’re thinking to yourself, “They already know a fair amount about our organization because we’re in the community, and if they wanted to know more, they would just look us up. I don’t want to talk too much about that thing because I don’t want to bore them.’ Anyone ever have thoughts like that? “I don’t want them to feel like I’m pitching them too hard. I don’t want to go into too much detail about that story. I’ll just say our mission statement and then move on to X, Y, or Z.”
Those are stories that we’re holding in our head that hold us back from telling impactful and meaningful stories that are actually going to connect people to our organization. Your audience, your prospective donors, your current donors, they care about your impact story. Actually, whether or not they even donate to your organization, they care about your impact story because that is how we build connection. That’s how we build belonging. That’s how we feel human.
It’s the best part of the human experience is what happens when we hear and connect to stories. Yet as fundraisers, as nonprofit leaders, as board members, we often avoid telling the most impactful stories because we’re like, “Oh, no, they’re not interested.” That’s a different kind of story that’s holding us back and it’s a false one that we’re holding inside of us, because of the thoughts and the beliefs that we hold around our discomfort with fundraising.
I’ve done a lot of trainings for DonorPerfect and have a lot of resources around this. If this in particular, you’re like, “Oh, Mallory, something stirring in my belly and I need to learn more about what you’re talking about right now because this does feel cringy.” That’s okay, that’s totally normal. That’s how I felt for 13 years of fundraising, but today we’re talking about something different. I just want to make sure that you don’t leave out what’s happening inside of you as a fundraiser because it’s a core component of your ability to implement the steps that we’re about to talk about.
We learn a lot about donor behavior, our donors are behaving this way, our donors are behaving this way. Our donors aren’t just behaving in certain ways separate from us, they’re responding to how we’re showing up and the actions that we’re taking. Looking at donor behavior alone doesn’t tell us that much. What did we do? How did we show up? The connection between that answer and your donor’s behavior, that’s where the gold lies. That’s where the information really is.
I will move on. Get off my soapbox for a second. Let’s talk about how you all write your impact story for the right audience. Before you write your story, there are a few questions that you need to be asking yourself. What is the story about? Is it about a person or a beneficiary of your work? Is it your organization’s founding story? That’s what we’re going to be focused on today or is it a story around a campaign? This arc and those five pillars can even be applied to a kit like a capital campaign story, for example. It’s the same framework. Today, we’re talking about organization’s founding story.
You want to think about who is my audience? Who am I talking to right now? Most of the time, you know some identifying factors here and sometimes it’s a more general audience, but either way, you know something about the people you’re talking to typically. What emotion do I want the audience to feel? Often we stay really high level in our brain around this. We’re like, “What information do I want them to get?” But the question I want you to actually be asking is, what emotion do I want the audience to feel? And then what’s the purpose of the story?
Is the purpose of the story to thank folks who already gave? Is it to invite new people to give? Is it to invite people to give again? Really understanding the purpose, and this can take two minutes. Before you walk into that rotary meeting, ask yourself these questions, get grounded in the answers to these questions. This is what’s going to start to help you show up with a story that actually moves the needle, that actually relates to the audience that you’re talking to.
I use this quote in a lot of my presentations because I love it so much and, for me, it’s the core of all of this, which is “People like us do things like this.” This is a Seth Godin quote, and it’s a quote he uses about marketing, but for me, this is the epitome of fundraising, good fundraising, as well. “People like us do things like this.”
Are people who are listening to your story, can they identify that there are people like that? The people like you’re describing in the story because that’s what’s going to help them identify, people like me are involved in organizations like this, people like us do things like this.
Okay. As we start to go into these five things, one of the biggest issues that I see when I watch a nonprofit not leverage these content pillars as effectively as possible for the right audience is that they’re actually only building relatability and belonging to one of the pillars, for example. Maybe in the character development, they relate that to the people who the audience members, but they aren’t continuing to relate the story to the audience members as it goes on. I’m going to show you how to do this.
Stories create the context, and they help us relate to each other and they’re so much more memorable when we’re really building familiarity and trust throughout all five pillars. It’s all about belonging. It’s all about the people who are listening to your story. Donors, staff members, volunteers, community members know that they’re in the right place. Do people like me do things like this? Do they feel, seen, and included in the story that you’re telling?
Here, saying again. You can see how I did this in my own story. I connected at multiple points at each pillar, I connected to you, to a different part of my fundraising audience. I really made sure that at every point in my story, there was something that most of you could relate to. Now, could all of you relate to all five pillars? No, but probably most of you could relate to three to five of them. We’ll talk a little bit more about it’s not about your story needing to relate to 100% of people, but when you can have a core and clear message across all these pillars, you’re going to find the right people for your organization.
Let me show you how this breaks down. I made a fake organization for you guys today based on one of my really good friends. One of my really good friends, she had a son around the same time as me, he has a really serious peanut allergy. I’ve been with her on this journey. When I was thinking about making a fake organization today, I decided to use their experience. If you’re having trouble reading this because I know the font is a little bit small, don’t worry, you’re getting all of the slides with all the language, I don’t want you to worry too much about that.
Let me give you an example as if I’m the development director for this fake organization, which I’ve named Josh’s Shot. It would go something like this, I’m going to actually give you this presentation and this story as if I’m a fundraiser, and then I’m going to show you exactly how to break this down in these five pillars.
Hi, I’m Mallory Erickson, and I’m the development director for Josh’s Shot. We work to end the hospitalization of elementary school children from peanut exposure at school. Ten years ago, our founder, Susan, when she was about 30 had her first son Josh. She was so excited to be a new mom and her and her husband had been avid travelers before having Josh and we’re so excited to travel with him.
I remember at six months of life, Josh was like any normal six-month-old. He loved music and Elmo, maybe a little obsessed with Elmo, splashing in the bath, and he was also one of those kids that like love that little sling thing. One day, when Susan was playing with Josh in the bath, these hives started to appear. At first, it was one on his back and the one on his neck, but before she knew it, it was covering his body. She started frantically WebMDing. She happened to be home alone because her husband was at some work happy hour thing.
She got him to the hospital in time, thank goodness, and they gave him an EpiPen shot, but they figured out that he had a severe peanut allergy. After they get home from the hospital, Susan, being the researcher that she is, she’s that total type A mom, figure everything out, she looked up all the solutions. They put EpiPens everywhere, they enrolled him even in clinical trials, brought their own food everywhere they went.
One day when their class was out on a field trip, another kid brought cookies with peanuts in them at school on a field trip and Josh ended up having a serious reaction again. There wasn’t a nurse with them and they were off-campus. Long story short, Josh ended up in the hospital again. While Susan was laying with him in that hospital bed, she started to think about how she could ever feel comfortable sending Josh back to school given all the uncertainty and all the unknowns.
She realized that schools had this huge education gap when it came to how teachers prepare their class for allergies and the tools and skills they have to respond. That’s what actually led her to founding Josh’s Shot to take matters into our own hands and provide comprehensive allergy education and preparedness for elementary schools. She works with parents and leaders and teachers and nurses to a super-comprehensive model. The results have been amazing, thanks to supporters like so many of you in this room.
When schools use Josh’s Shot curriculum, the hospitalizations have gone down by 75% to 90%. Other students like Josh can go to school and feel confident and comfortable, and just be like any other kid. Moms like Susan can actually take a breath of fresh air and have more confidence when they’re sending their kids off to school. There’s so many things that we can’t control in what’s happening in the world right now, but this is actually something that is so solvable by all of us in this room.
I just spent about three hours giving you an example of how those five pillars break down into a story, an organization story. I made up this organization does not exist. The story does not exist, but I just wanted to give you an example of how these five pillars come together to tell an impact story. Let’s walk through each of these for your organization.
Pillar number one is exposition and character development. This is where you go deeper around who does your audience want to help. Who are they activated to help? Maybe in the story I just told you about Josh’s Shot, it would be a mom like that. I’d set the audience in that situation where other parents, other young or new parents.
Who does your audience want to help? What context in the character’s life is most relatable or relevant to this audience? That’s the question you want to ask. What is the context in the character’s life that is the most relatable and relevant to this audience? You’ll see things that I did in that last story that made it super relatable. Maybe you’re the parent who is that type A. WebMD parent and you’re like, “Oh, my God, I know that.” Or you’re the mom who’s home alone with her kids when her husband goes out to happy hours, and you’re like, “Oh, my God, I know that,” when something scary happens in that moment.
What context in the character’s life is most relatable to this audience? That’s a question to be asking as you start to deliver out pillar number one, as you start to write out pillar number one for your story.
Number two, what is the core problem? The question to ask yourself when you’re figuring out the core problem to elevate your story is, what keeps your audience up at night? In my story about Susan and Josh, what keeps them up at night is all the things they can’t control in Josh’s experience.
The other thing I want you to notice is some of the pieces of that story, and I’ll talk about this a little bit more later, are relatable to all humans. All humans feel nervous when there are elements outside of their control. All humans feel nervous when people they love are in an uncertain environment. We all have those very core human emotions. Some of it was really tailored to the specific audience, and some of it was tailored to just what I know connects with human beings in general. It’s both.
What keeps your audience up at night? Because you might look at that question and say, “I’m not exactly sure what keeps everyone in my audience up at night.” I want you to think about what are some of the elements of the core problem that you’re solving that you can take a really educated guess or hypothesize, aligned with what keeps your audience up at night. The other option is that you can go and survey a number of donors, have this conversation with them, what about what we do?
Tell me about what keeps you up at night in terms of what’s going on in our community? How do you think about those things? How does the work that we do soothe those fears that you have, or those worries that you have that keep you up at night?
Then, how are they viewing the problem in the world as they relate to the work that your organization does? I think this is really key. Sometimes we are so deep in the problem solving inside our own organization. It is really hard to see it from the viewpoint of different donor groups. This is another area I would really recommend talking to your donors about, talking to your community members about.
I was even doing a training yesterday for someone, and we talked about them sending out a survey to all of their donors with a few different descriptions of their organization to say, which of these descriptions do you relate to the most in terms of what our organization does. You want to understand how your audience is viewing the problems in the world and the work that you do through their own lens. I do a lot of trainings around donor lenses. How do we start to understand a problem through the lens of our donors? Then that’s how we want to really phrase that core problem.
Something you can do actually give another quick tip here, something you can do if you really want to drill down into, what language are my donors using to talk about this core problem, is that you can do a number of kinds of informational interviews with donors or community members, volunteers. I would do one like Zoom or a video platform, record them, transcribe them, and then start to look at patterns of words in the transcriptions.
Ask them questions like, what keeps you up at night? What are you the most concerned about in our community? Start to see what words pop up over and over and over again. This is a strategy called message mining. There is no better way to help your language when you’re telling your story really represent the language that your donors are using themselves. These are the questions to be asking yourself when you’re building out that core problem pillar number two.
Pillar number three is the rising action. This is the conflict, challenges, potential solutions. This in the story was Susan was something like she thought she had this all figured out, she got EpiPens, she put them everywhere, she had them in a clinical trial, she was doing all of these things, this rising action. She thought she had it under control. Many of us can relate to that in multiple elements of our lives. Particularly if you’re a parent, you can probably relate to this in terms of how you’re trying to set your toddler up for success, how you feel like, “Oh, I thought I figured out that transition to the toddler bed thing because I did X, Y and Z. Then there was this other thing over here that I didn’t realize I needed.” That arc of the story figuring something out, but not having the whole thing solved is something that the audience can really relate to.
In this situation, you want to be thinking about what types of challenges will grab their attention. When you’re thinking about this rising action, the conflict, the challenges, sometimes there’s so many. Sometimes there’s so many but you want to make sure that your impact story can be short and sweet and quick. Clear and not get into the weeds too much. You want to be thinking about what types of challenges will grab their attention that they can relate to the most quickly.
Think about something that I said around like she started WebMD for the answer. In one sentence, probably 80% of you can visualize a moment when you got on your phone to find the answer to something. Where you started to worry about something and you started to go down that rabbit hole, maybe WebMD isn’t your thing, maybe it is. We can all think about how that moment. In one sentence when it’s relatable, people can visualize the entire situation. This is how storytelling can create these multiple layers of impact more simply than data can or than a simple fact can, because we as humans can relate to it.
We build this whole context around this one sentence that I said. I hear you guys, sample survey or list of informational interview questions. I do not have this for you today, but I would be happy to make this for folks and have DonorPerfect send it out to you guys. Thank you. I got you.
Pillar number three, rising action, conflict, challenges, potential solutions. What’s going to grab their attention?
Number four, the climax and the turning point. How does your organization enter the scene? Why is your organization the solution to create the turning point in the story? A lot of times here, the answer to this question is also what is the gap? What is still the gap?
In the story with Susan, the gap was still, okay, she had done all these things. She did everything that was in her control to try and set Josh up for success. She had the EpiPens at the school. She talked to the nurses, all these different things, but there was still this gap. There was still this gap in education and access and preparedness, and so her organization needed to come in at that moment. This is a founding story. That’s what’s really important.
In the Power Partners story that I told, this climax and this turning point was like, okay, I had tried everything. I got to this moment where I was like maybe I need to leave the nonprofit sector. The turning point for me is that I decided to change. I decided again to take matters into my own hands to go down this research rabbit hole and to try to figure this out. This is where in the story your organization really enters the scene and it’s really important. You can do this very quickly to explain why your organization is the solution to create that turning point.
I would say this is another place to be really careful to not go into too much detail. This is something I was so guilty of as an executive director. I ran a really complicated international service learning program. I would get so in the weeds here because I felt like it was really important for everyone to understand our model because our model was really unique. When I was telling our story and I would get to this point, I would go into way too much detail about the model and people didn’t care. They didn’t get it. It wasn’t what actually engaged them. I ended up talking about a lot of stuff that they couldn’t relate to, that they couldn’t visualize because it was unique.
I think sometimes because we’re so proud of what makes our organization unique and different, we can end up talking about a lot of things in our storytelling that loses the audience. I really want you to be careful in this pillar in particular to be creating that climax and that turning point from the lens of your audience. How can they relate to the solution as quickly, as simply, and as clearly as possible?
This is also where you can get creative about how you explain something. Let’s say you do have a really complicated program that most people might not understand what that actually looks like. You’re like, “Okay, Mallory, how can I explain the entrance of our organization here when it is this really complicated thing that most of our audience might not understand?”
I’ll tell you that my husband works for a biopharmaceutical company. When him and I met, he was a purification engineer. Any, what none of this was. He is telling me about what he does.
Basically, he looks at probably my very confused face and says, “Basically, I manage these massive Brita filters that help do blank.” He’s like, they’re Brita filters that are the size of a room. I was like, “Oh, I know what a Brita filter is. Right now I understand a little bit more about what you do.”
I want to encourage you to get creative and to really, this is where that empathy and activating that donor lens is so important because it’s not important that you’re explaining everything in the most robust way, especially externally to your perspective donors, that you’re including absolutely everything about what your organization does. If they want those details, they’ll ask for those details. That’s the best thing you can elaborate and you can expand.
When you’re first telling your story, you want to be telling them just enough that they can relate to so that they’re engaged, they’re connected. They know they’re the right audience. Because if you’re talking about something they don’t understand, that’s the quickest way for them to feel like they’re in the wrong place. If my husband had gone on and on about the science and the tech behind what he was doing, I would be like, “I must not be the right person for him because if I’m supposed to understand all of that, then I’m in the wrong place.”
Instead, he is like, “You don’t need to know anything about this.” He made it super relatable to me. That’s the same thing that we want all of you guys to be doing with your donors and your perspective donors.
Pillar number five is the resolution. What makes them, what makes your donors, your perspective donors, feel like they are a part of the solution or can be a part of this solution. You also in your resolution want to create a sense of urgency.
You can do this in multiple ways. One of the things that I did in this story with Susan was to say, “Gosh, there’s so much in our world right now that we can’t control, that we can’t solve very easily. This is really solvable right now. We have everything we need to solve this particular problem right now.” You want to be creating that sense of urgency. That component of the emotional connection is one of the most important ones.
I’m seeing a lot of question come in or maybe comments. I will make sure to read them in a moment and I’m going to make sure we have 15 minutes at the end for questions to get as many of these answered as possible.
The last piece of this pillar, the resolution is that you want to relieve the tension of the moment in one of two ways. When you’re thinking about this arc, this storytelling arc, you’re sharing challenges along the way. It’s creating some tension in the audience. You’re really positioning that core problem, the challenges along the way, this may be a tense climactic moment. You have them the opportunity to soothe that tension, relieve that tension in a few different ways.
Depending on the purpose of why you’re telling your story is going to determine how you actually relieve that tension. If you’re thanking people for being previously involved, then it’s around gratitude and really making them feel proud and a part of that solution. If you’re asking them to contribute, then it’s about giving them an opportunity to make a difference to be involved and to have a feel-good emotion release that oxytocin in response to helping you solve that problem.
I would say overall when you think about these entire five pillars, the more positive the emotional experience is for folks even throughout the whole story, the more likely they are to engage and connect. It doesn’t mean you’re not talking about challenges. There’s no need– it’s not about toxic positivity. Of course, you want to be open about these things, but the whole time you have that air of hope. Then at the end, you’re really giving them an opportunity to be actively engaged and creating this.
I’m going to take a sip of water really quick. Sorry.
What I did on this slide, since you guys are getting all these slides, is I wanted to just show you all of the moments in that little story that I told about Susan. I wanted to show you all of the elements of that story that I very particularly and strategically chose to connect with folks. Right? So I added little details all along the way to connect with people at different points of their identity. To connect to that piece of belonging within each pillar and throughout all of them.
Even by saying how old Susan was when she had Josh for the first time, what their hopes and dreams had been for having a kid, what Josh was like as a six-month-old. The bathtime story, frantically, WebMDing, being home alone with her son. Feeling a huge wave of relief that she got into the hospital in time. All of these tiny little sentences, this is what allowed the story to be layered. For many of you to be able to visualize the entire situation, even with these tiny little three-word sentences.
Okay. I’m seeing other questions come in, but I’m going to wrap this up, and then I’m going to make sure– maybe I’ll give us a few more extra moments for questions. One of the other things I want to say is that 100% of folks who hear your story are not going to resonate with it. And that’s okay. Actually, one of the biggest mistakes I think we make in the nonprofit sector is that we want to be everything for everyone. This is where it’s really important to think about who are your core donors? What is there? What are they all about?
DonorPerfect has some great resources on donor personas in particular. I think for you guys to think about what does our donor population look like? What do we want our donor population to look like? What are the elements of who they are, and what they care about?
When you’re doing that, and then you’re really taking a stand in your story and you’re creating identifiers in each of these content pillars, then you’re going to make sure that you are attracting the right people to your audience, which does not mean everyone. If you put something out there with the goal of attracting everyone, you actually end up attracting no one, because nobody– The only way for someone to be able to tell that they are in the right place is for other people to be able to tell that they are in the wrong place.
There is no way for everyone to feel like they’re in 100% of the right place. That wouldn’t allow for that distinction of I belong here. We know we belong in certain spaces because we also know that we don’t belong in other spaces. That’s okay. The goal is to not be everything to everyone but to be really true and grounded in who your organization is, what it stands for, what are the core pillars of your organization, and to really bring those through in those different content pillars.
I also wanted to say if you’re like, okay, Mallory, what if we have multiple different personas and different types of audiences that we want to work with or connect with in different ways. This is really where segmentation can come in. I know this is something that DonorPerfect is so great at supporting around, being able to segment your list by donor personas or different groups, impact interest areas, or the type of funder. If you’re doing if you’re using a story arc around a campaign or something that you’re launching for the first time or a sustainer group, you can really segment in a number of different ways.
That can be really impactful to make sure that okay when you’re activating that empathy, when you’re answering some of those questions that I gave you in those five sections that you’re doing it for the right audience, and then you’re sending it out to the right folks.
Just quick recap on everything that we talked about. Storytelling that follows the dramatic arc releases, chemicals in the brain that inspire people to invest in your organization. The stories that you tell about your organization matter, and you need to be conscious of the way that that cognitive behavior loop is impacting your storytelling to really be able– You need to have that awareness before you go through those five steps, because that’s going to make sure that you’re actually answering those questions through the lens of your donor and not through the lens of your discomfort, perhaps in that fundraising moment.
Your impact story is really critical to engage all kinds of supporters because it builds that sense of belonging with the organization. That’s why you want to make sure that there’s alignment across two to five, three to five different content pillars. Then understanding that segmentation of your audience is also critical to make sure that you’re aligning the right story with the right audience. You might do that activity, writing the answers to those five questions for a few different donor personas. Then that’s where you’re going to really want to segment that.
I’m seeing a lot of things about how do we go deeper? How do we do this for our organization? I don’t know why the date isn’t showing up on the slide, but on August 9th from one to 3:00 PM Eastern standard time, I’m doing a storytelling workshop with you all like an actual workshop where we’re going to dive in. I’ll be giving feedback on your content pillars. We’ll talk about how to tailor these pillars to perhaps your story and your interaction with the organization or a beneficiary story so you’re going to actually be working with me more hands-on using the framework that we talked about today it for your organization. So you should definitely sign up for that.
I don’t know if there’s a link we can throw or we’ll do that or we’ll do that. You’ll get that after. Then if you want to come, I have a free master class @malloryerickson.com backlash-free that goes through the formula for the power partners formula. It gives you the whole blueprint for all of that. They’re for free. I would say the other things that I talk a lot about in that webinar are these donor lenses and the discomfort that comes up around fundraising and how to deal with that. How to avoid that car salesperson feeling.
Here is some of my contact information say hi on Instagram. That’s where I hang out the most. Or you can send me a LinkedIn connection. If you’re sitting there later today and you’re like, “Okay, I have more questions or this thing came up when I was writing my story and you want to send me a quick message or question, I’d be happy to answer it in my DMs there.
Let me make sure I get to questions now. I want to give as much time as possible for questions. I just want to say thank you so much. I know we’ve covered a lot really quickly, and there’s so much to talk about when it comes to storytelling, but I really wanted to make sure I was giving you the buckets and the framework for everything else you’re going to be learning throughout the rest of this conference. Now you have places to put all of that knowledge into this overarching framework when you’re thinking about your mission’s impact story.
Lori: I have the Q and A up. I’m going to start from the beginning, down the bottom. Jenny Carino had asked, is the goal to relate to all pillars or try to relate to just three to five?
Mallory: Yes. If you have such a segmented audience that you can help them relate to all five pillars, that’s obviously great. I think most organizations don’t know so much detail about their audience, and what I don’t want you to do is over-obsess about whether or not you’ve been able to have them relate to all five.
Three is plenty. If they relate to three, they’re going to be engaged in the content throughout the whole story. If you can do five, cool, but I don’t want you to stress about that because sometimes we don’t know so much about an audience where we feel like we can confidently align all five, so that’s why I gave that range.
Lori: Okay. Now Christie Paige asked a question that got a lot of upvotes, meaning we had a lot of people wanting to know the same thing. She says, how does this strategy work in a world where we have 140 characters or 30 seconds to tell our story?
Mallory: What I would do is I would build out the story with the five pillars that we talked about, and I would figure out how you could take out potentially all of the fluff around it. I don’t mean fluff, but like how you could highlight the most core things. If I was doing that for my own story, I would say I became an accidental fundraiser when I was promoted to an executive director role. I absolutely hated fundraising. I was so burnt out and overworking. I thought about leaving the nonprofit sector and finally ended up going down a research rabbit hole to figure out how to combine executive coaching and fundraising strategy. It transformed my fundraising experience.
I think I did that in less than 30 seconds. I still hit on a number of the pieces of that arc. Accidental fundraiser, hated fundraising. Many people can probably relate to that. Got to this moment where I was totally burnt out and overwhelmed, thought about leaving the nonprofit sector, and then went down a research rabbit hole and found that, resolved it. I did that in 30 seconds so it’s hard to build 140 characters, 30 seconds first. I would build the longer version first and then figure out what it looks like to take that down to the bones. Try it out, test it.
This is the greatest thing about social media. You want to see what resonates with folks, do that. Do that process, come up with like four different versions of what you feel like the bones are, test it. See what happens, what do people engage in, what do they connect with? That’s what I would recommend there.
Lori: It’s funny that you mentioned that because Jenny had said, do you recommend using a donor focus group before sharing the impact or beta testing maybe?
Mallory: Surveys are great, and things like that are great. However, sometimes what people report in focus groups or surveys don’t demonstrate the actual impact when you use the language. I actually think it’s a little bit of both. I shared the piece around message mining, because I think that first of all when you’re in a private environment with folks they often share differently than they do in focus groups. Transcribing it and highlighting patterns and communication allows it so that your bias doesn’t hook on to certain things that you hear, and you’re not pulling out your own bias in the story.
You’re actually able to find word patterns across different interviews. It solves for some of that cognitive behavior loop stuff. Then I think testing and using something like Instagram or Facebook and just seeing what happens with engagement, keep everything else the same, keep the background image the same, but have that text box be a little bit different, see what happens. Now, please don’t just compare likes to likes. Look at how many impressions of it, the ratio of how many people saw it to how many people either liked or saved or re-shared it.
I think social media is such an incredible way to test content and to test language because how people respond to that is going to give you some different information than what they’re going to say in a focus group.
Lori: Okay. What if a percentage of the audience isn’t aware of core problems in our case underfunded public schools?
Mallory: I think that what we’re talking about right now is how you share– Let me think about this for a second. I think helping your folks become more problem aware is a really helpful thing for you to be doing in your communication plan as an organization in general. There’s some organizations I’ve been working with recently that actually teach their audience to become more problem aware by giving them quizzes. Like how much do you think you know about the core issues in our local public schools? It’s a five-question quiz, and they figure out how well do they understand the problem.
That’s the other thing, sometimes people really over predict how well they understand a certain situation, so quiz can be really helpful. In that, I will just say that in general the reason why I don’t have a lot of education in the story is because that isn’t what engages people in your impact story initially. It’s not what they can relate to, and because people with statistics and data, people can be more argumentative about that. Well, what about this? Well, what about this? Well, what about this? But with a story, people actually don’t have that same experience, because of those chemicals that are being released in our brain, because of the way they’re connecting to the person and the story on the other end.
We don’t refute stories in the same way that we do other types of data. What I would say is how can you educate them about the problem in the public schools, the underfunding in the public schools through a story? Like how can you tell a story about someone in your organization and share in that story, maybe in the dramatic arc where you’re starting to talk about challenges, solutions, challenges, solutions, when they’re moving up to that climax, how can you through that part of the personal story be sharing more about the problems that they’re facing?
Lori: Okay. How do you adapt Pillar 5 to an advocacy organization where the work is more long-term and perhaps does not lead to the exact outcome desired, but being at the table is important.
Mallory: Yes. I think it’s all about owning the narrative around what urgency is. Urgency is not always that that thing is solved right in that exact moment, but it’s about why is it urgent for you to be sitting at that table right now? What happens when you’re not sitting at that table right now? Because that is still urgent. It’s about framing the story through the position about what is urgent about some action being taken now. Even in the story, even in the fake organization with Susan, the outcomes of the educational work around allergies in the schools, the urgency was the education.
Like right now the impact of that education might be in six months or 12 months when the next kid comes to the school with a peanut allergy, who knows, but it’s about what element of the story is urgent right now.
Lori: Okay. Do you think this process can be used when creating a video story?
Mallory: 100%. The dramatic arc is what should be used in all storytelling. It’s essentially what you could use in an email campaign. Like this is the primary storytelling arc. The way we’re breaking this down today in a different way is within that arc for you to be thinking really specifically about audience alignment. Oftentimes what I see organizations do even when they follow the dramatic arc, is that they have those elements of a story, but they aren’t actually making those elements relatable to their specific audience.
That’s what those questions under each of the five pillars are really intended to help you be able to do. Yes, I would use this in everything. I would say this arc is what’s in many of my emails out to my audience. This arc is what’s in emails when I send one-on-one emails to friends to donate to a cause that I care about. It is following the same arc. Now that you’re more aware of it, you’re going to start to see it everywhere. Like how is some context created around the character? What’s the core problem that’s being addressed? What are some of the challenges they face? What’s that climax moment. Then what’s the resolution. You’re going to watch commercials. Look at advertisements and commercials that you’re watching on TV, a lot you’re going to start to see these elements everywhere. Yes, use it in video. Yes, use it in everything.
Lori: Okay. We have time probably for one more question. You talked about the message mining, and the question is for messaging mining, do you say, “Do you mind that I am recording this? It helps us to–” And give your explanation.
Mallory: Yes. You could say something like what I said to folks is something like, “Would you mind if I recorded the call, it’s totally confidential for me, but it just helps me be able to make sure that I’m really not missing anything that you say based on any of my own knowledge of the organization. It just helps me be able to step away and really sit with your words in a more inclusive way.” That’s one way you could say it.
I think just the importance of it’s confidential, it’s not going to be used for anything it’s just for me. You could even say, “I’m going to delete it within 10 days,” or something like that. I’ve never had anyone feel uncomfortable about it being recorded ever, but if you find that you could also say that to folks.
Lori Okay. All right. I think we’re going to start wrapping up. We got a good number of questions in there, and some of the stuff that you were talking about really does make you think about what you’re doing and how to move forward. Before we end the session, I do want to thank you all for attending. Mallory, we always appreciate you helping us out here and taking the time to present today. We hope you have–
Mallory: Thank you so much for having me.
Lori: [laughs] Always. We hope you had some great takeaways to begin your day and set the tone for what’s to come. Next up we have Asking Why, Knowing your Donor’s Connection to Your Mission, and a presentation by [unintelligible 00:58:54] Now we do have two tracks, but no worries, because we are recording everything, so that you don’t miss any of the content. We hope to see you in a few. Thanks so much.
Mallory: Thank you.Read Less
Recommended to watch next
Get a demo