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044 – Storytelling will boost your campaign fundraising, with Jenni Hargrove

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In this episode, we’re happy to have Jenni Hargrove! Jenni is a consultant helping non-profit leaders with their marketing and development strategy. She also hosts the Nonprofit Jenni Show, a podcast discussing marketing, management, and fundraising strategies in the nonprofit sector.

We brought her on the show to discuss how non-profits can leverage their mission and impact stories in their fundraising strategy to make a better connection with potential donors.

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Episode Transcription

David: Welcome to the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast. I’m your host, David, and today I have Jenni on the show, allow me to introduce her. Jenni usually known as Nonprofit Jenni is a fellow podcast host of, you guessed it, Nonprofit Jenni. This podcast discusses marketing, management and fundraising strategies in the non-profit sector. Nonprofit Jenni is a consultant who helps non-profit leaders with their marketing and development strategies. I had a great time on your show, Jenni, and I hope you enjoy being here with us today.

Jenni: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me, David.

David: Thanks. How you doing?

Jenni: I’m doing well so far. I’m, I’m really excited to be on this side of the microphone for once

David: Bit of a shift for you, right?

Jenni: Yes, totally.

David: Awesome. If you’re good to go, let’s dive in and we’ll get started.

Jenni: Yeah, let’s do it.

David: Great. So in the introduction, I mentioned that you work with non-profit leaders. So a question that I’ve got is how can non-profit leaders collect stories to use in fundraising campaigns?

Jenni: Yeah, absolutely. So I get hired by non-profit leaders to, they are either starting their fundraising plan for the first time, or maybe it’s somebody who’s gone through a transition in leadership at their non-profit. And so they are just trying to beef up their knowledge of how fundraising strategies work in this day and age. And what I tell them is, you know, it’s really good to go back to the basics and start with the basics, which is just telling your non-profit story and then inviting people into your story as a supporter.

So letting people know how they can engage and be a part of your, whatever it is, world changing mission that you’re following. So what I always do is start with collecting stories from the people, or sometimes it’s animals, or the environment that has been impacted by your non-profit’s mission. And I typically start with an interview process, sort of like how I do with my podcast.

I have an example from a non-profit that I’m working with right now actually, they support people who are from minority populations who have gotten involved in the STEM field, right? So science, technology, engineering, math. So we’ll take one of those professionals who maybe got a scholarship from the non-profit and just interview them about, you know, how did they come across the scholarship? What did they want the scholarship for in their career? They got their scholarship. How did that change their life? Why was it meaningful for them to get a scholarship from this organization versus another organization?

Just asking every single question you can think of within the space of a reasonable amount of time. So like an hour that you’re asking of this person for their time. And from there, you really want to take that story and actually use real life quotes from the story. Let the person talk about this in their own words, because they will talk about your mission with different feelings than you can talk about it from your point of view.

What moves donors is not numbers, donors are not moved by like, “This is how many scholarships we gave out”, right? Donors are moved because of the real life emotions behind those scholarships, or behind whatever your programs are.

So by taking stories from clients, or telling stories about animals, or about an environment that you’re supporting, you’re injecting emotion, which donors can actually connect with and want to support.

David: A lot to unpack in there. I think stories are so powerful. They can evoke emotions in you. They can help you, you know, relive memories that you’ve had, you know, and your shared experiences come through in stories. I think they can be like really impactful and help organizations with their missions, not just in terms of donor dollars.

Although, you know, non-profits and charities need those dollars to, you know, do the great work that they do. But you can use it to increase volunteerism in your organization. You can use it in terms of hiring. So, people looking for jobs at your organization as well, if you’ve got a staff in your team there.

Jenni: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s important with each of these stories to make sure that you, like I mentioned before, you’re pulling out emotions and not just facts. So it’s important to ask people, like, how did you feel when you received this scholarship? Or how did you feel when you volunteered and met this person? Not just what happened when you met this person, because people, the narrative is transformed by the emotional impact, not just by, you know, here’s a timeline of events that happened.

David: To that point, I think it’s also important to think about and maybe ask some questions about what was life like, if it was a scholarship, what was your life like beforehand? How did this help you? What is it that you’re doing now that you don’t think you would’ve been able to achieve or accomplish without this scholarship adversary?

Jenni: Yeah, absolutely.

David: And I guess so we were talking about non-profit leaders and non-profit leaders, you know, they’re the executive directors, Senior VPs, Presidents, CEOs, Directors, management, all of that. But I also see it as, you know, the board of directors, right?

So there’re these group of people that, for the most part, they’re volunteering their time, they care about the organization. They really want and believe in what you’re doing as, you know, the fundamental core and their belief system. And you’re like hitting in their morals and really connecting with them, which is why they’re volunteering their time. How can we leverage these board of directors and people that really care in fundraising efforts?

Jenni: Yeah, absolutely. And that can be a tricky question.

The first thing that I always recommend is that you need your board members to be giving. A hundred percent of your board members need to be giving to your mission. That’s the first step of a good fundraising strategy because, you know, the biggest funders for your organization, they are not going to fund your organization if you don’t have a hundred percent board giving.

Because the question becomes, you know, “these board members, they’re leading the organization, they’re supposedly the most passionate about your mission out of everyone in the entire world. If they aren’t willing to invest in your organization, why should I, somebody who does not have the intimate knowledge of your organization, and it’s operations, and it’s last audit, and all of those things”. So your board members need to be the first ones to give.

And what I really recommend is setting a cumulative giving goal, as opposed to saying each board member needs to give $5,000. By setting a cumulative goal, by saying our board as a whole is going to raise $20,000 among our board members giving, you still allow for equity and equitable access onto your board.

So the example I give a lot is an organization that supports people who are experiencing homelessness, right? If that organization is being equitable and responsible, they want the valuable experiences of somebody who has experienced homelessness on their board, right? Well, that person may likely not have the funds in their personal bank account to give $5,000 to the board of directors. But what they do have is their experience. And you can still say that you have a hundred percent board giving if that person is giving $20 or maybe somebody else on your board has given a gift in their name or in their honor, you can still say that you have that 100% board giving.

So that’s the first step that I would take in getting your board involved in fundraising. Because then what they can do at that point is go to their friend, or family member, loved one, some sort of business connection, and honestly say, ”I’ve invested my time, and my treasure, and my talent in this organization. And I’m inviting you to step into this mission with me. This is the type of gift that I made to this organization. And I love to talk about how you can support this organization too”.

David: And that’s a really great point, right? So, you know, instead of everybody has to give $2,000, $5,000 from the board, you’re going to have people that don’t have the means. You know, we don’t necessarily know how people spend their money and you know, what they’ve allocated to and being able to allow them to still participate is really helpful in terms of getting your organization moving further ahead with the cause that they’re trying to focus on.

Jenni: Yeah. Another thing that I’ve heard, one time, I heard this non-profit leader tell me that they asked their board to donate, like in order to be equitable. This was so cringy to me. They asked their board to donate 1% of their net worth to the organization. And that’s another, this is another reason I like accumulative goal because that is really presumptuous. You’re presuming, like you said, you don’t know what people have allocated their money toward. And a net worth donation, I mean, that your net worth does not necessarily mean that your worth is in liquid assets. You may not even be able to make that type of donation. And if you’re on multiple boards, those one percents add up real quickly.

So the other thing I’d like about a cumulative donation is then instead you can phrase your appeal to say something. And this is what I recommend to my clients is you have your board, you ask your board to make a donation that represents their capacity to give, as well as their commitment level to the non-profit organization. And so then you’re inviting them to self reflect and find an amount that is a little bit uncomfortable for them to donate, but is still within the range of possibility.

David: Yeah. And, you know, getting employees to buy in as well, I think is a key thing too, right? If you can say, yeah, you know, we’ve got 40% of our employees are donating to our organization. You don’t necessarily have to come up with a number and say, you know, everybody’s donated at least a hundred dollars, right. It could be even a dollar or 50 cents, just having those numbers when you’re going out and talking really shows that the people that work for your organization believe in it. And I think that’s part of the, the story that needs to be told as well, not just about your clients, but about the organization itself.

Jenni: Absolutely.

David: So we spoke about stories and we spoke about leadership and how, you know, they can get involved in fundraising. Let’s kind of merge those two together. Sure. How can we leverage stories to help with fundraising efforts?

Jenni: Yeah, absolutely. So back to what I said at the beginning, I would start by creating, you know, crafting these stories from your clients about your animals or environment, whatever it is that you’re serving. From there, you then have to think about how you can tell that story through different media.

So, you know, you have your website that you’re telling a story through, you have a blog post you’re telling the story through, you have a social media post that you’re telling the story through. All of those, maybe you’re telling your story through text messages. And then when you’ve got your board, not only do you have that story, you’re also filtering the story through someone else. And so you have to make sure it still makes sense when they tell the story, because otherwise it turns into this game of telephone where they hear the story and then they don’t hear it quite right. And so they’re telling sort of the story, but not really the story.

So what I do when I’m working with, with a story is first come up with the headline. The headline is something that immediately resonates with everybody and they want to hear whatever the rest of the story is. So I, when I’m working with people who are clients, I am particular like to pull out one quote that they say, something that’s seven words or fewer. And it’s something that’s really powerful, that is a feeling that everybody can resonate with.

So for example, back to this organization, supporting people of minority populations in STEM, there was one person, this quote will always stick out to me. And she said, “I didn’t realize I was holding my breath”. Like she didn’t realize she was walking on eggshells. She didn’t realize that she was having to restrain herself because she’s a minority working in STEM.

That was so powerful to me. And so we used that as a headline to everything because it makes you stop and question, like, “What? What does that mean? What do you mean? I didn’t know I was holding my breath”. But then it also, when you hear that you kind of hold your breath for a second and you feel what that feels like.

So I start with that headline and make sure everybody gets that headline, the blog, the website, the social media, the text messages, everything has that headline in it. And from there people can, your board members specifically, they can build out a story based on a time when they felt that feeling. So they can then be empowered to say, “You know what? There was a time when I felt like I was holding my breath. I felt like I wasn’t being able to be my full self in relation to this mission. And then now I feel empowered to tell my story and then invite people into that mission with their own stories that align with mine”.

David: So, you know, it’s great to have a good story, the hook, right? The thing that captivates that really grabs somebody’s attention and, you know, they’re intrigued, they’re like, “Oh, what is this?” Right? And then they get some details. They read into it a little bit more, they internalize it, they empathize with it and you really create a strong emotional bond.

Jenni: Yeah, absolutely.

David: So I guess what components make a fundraising campaign the most successful?

Jenni: So first of all, back to the story, you have to have a story that’s based on emotions, not necessarily, I mean, you want to have facts to back up those emotions when people ask for them. Or maybe you can say, you know, “She didn’t realize she was holding her breath. This is why she felt that way”, and then back it up with a statistic, like this is a statistic about minorities in STEM that just shows this is not an isolated incident, right?

So you do want to have those facts to back up whatever story that you’re telling. And then you need facts about your impact as well. Like don’t just tell people the problem, tell them the solution that you are providing and how you know, that solution works. So, you know, back to the STEM organization, I talked about how they offer scholarships. Well, how do we know that scholarships are actually helping minority populations advance in the STEM field? Right?

So you need to be able to show the, how it works behind the why of your mission. And then you need to be able to invite people in your mission in a way that they understand they are supporting a solution that is squashing the problem.

Don’t tell people, “If you don’t donate a thousand dollars, this person is going to die”. That type of language, that disaster oriented language that can work for short term campaigns, such as political campaigns or disaster relief, if there was just a hurricane, something like that.

But research consistently shows that people donate more and become more loyal to your cause if you turn it the other way, “if you make a donation, you can save this person’s life”, “If you make a donation, then this is how we’re alleviating homelessness with the impact of your donation”. Flip it on the positive side. And that’s how you get people who are not going to get burnt out on your mission.

David: It’s important that people find some kind of joy in what it is that they’re donating to, and they feel good about it. Right?

In the nineties, there were a lot of TV commercials with celebrities that would travel the world and they were raising money for these like poor orphans that were all over the world, and black and white footage with really sad music and showing these like starving children. And sure, like you just said, that’ll work for quick campaigns, but year after years seeing the same commercials over and over, those organizations stopped producing those type of those type of commercials. Likely because it wasn’t having the same kind of impact and people were just kind of getting immune to the visual.

Jenni: Well, and it’s like, “Well, okay. I saw this commercial that was, that was devastating to me. And I keep seeing more and more devastating stories coming from this non-profit. So I gave five years ago, but five years later, I’m still seeing these same devastating stories. So it doesn’t really seem like my donation five years ago really had any sort of impact”. But if you can show that you are building wells in countries that don’t have running water, don’t have clean water, and you can show the positive impact of village after village that’s getting clean water. Then people are like, “Oh, I’m providing clean water to families who are just like me. And I want to keep doing that over and over and over again”.

David: And that’s exactly it, right. And just to that example, clean water, it helps people stay healthy. It allows them to clean and wash and bathe. It allows them to do agriculture, to, you know, have animals, you know, and provide for themselves and become more sustainable for their economy and the part of the world that they live in. And there’s so many small little stories that you can pull out of that and really create a great campaign from something.

It’s great to have one quote like what you were talking about before, right. Where I felt I always had to hold my breath, but how can you tie that message in and across multiple stories? And being able to do that, you can really create a very compelling, well-rounded conversation around the issue you’re trying to solve.

Jenni: Yeah. I think that brings up another point. Something else that I, another component of a successful fundraising story is that you’re pulling out emotions and stories that can resonate with the maximum number of people, no matter how niche your cause is.

So for example, there was a food pantry that I worked with and the people who are donating to a food pantry, they just probably, they don’t know what hunger feels like, and they don’t understand the far-reaching impact of hunger. But what they do understand for the food pantries, meals on wheels program is being concerned about an older adult who can’t get around anymore. They understand that feeling of wanting to care for their parents when they’re not near their parents any longer. They do understand the feeling of not wanting their child to feel embarrassed or, you know, wanting their child to be able to do the best that they can do in school with a full belly. right. That’s why we send our kids to school with a big breakfast in the morning.

So there are these emotions that are universal, that you can pull from no matter what your cause is, and that’s what you want the focus of the story to be.

David: And I think that’s really a good way of thinking about it, right? You need, you need the focus of the story to be able to tell the story. And there’s a number of different mediums that we can use, right? There’s the kind of old tried and tested direct mail campaigns and, you know, TV commercial ads, that kind of thing. But then you step into 2022 and social media and people are really, you know, heavily engrossed in it. Everybody has devices, I’ve got my phone and my tablet and like a bunch of stuff sitting here on my desk right now.

How can we leverage social media in fundraising? And what role do you see social media playing in that?

Jenni: Yeah, social media is great. The one thing that I’ll say about social media is a lot of non-profits use it purely for fundraising, and that’s not effective. If you’re constantly on your social media, just asking for more and more money. I’m not going to follow your account for very long because I’ll get burnt out. Especially if I gave yesterday to a social media post that you posted and today, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day, I just see you asking for more and more money. I, that’s not content that I want in my feed.

It’s very important, and my rule of thumb is really to have at least three social media messages in between each fundraising appeal so that you’re providing valuable content to the people who are just constantly scrolling past your messages. Right? And so in between your fundraising messages, it’s really important to highlight impact during your fundraising messages.

It’s also important to highlight impact, especially that emotional appeal impact that you have with your mission. And then follow it up by saying, here’s what we’re asking for and why we’re asking for it. So that’s one role that I see social media playing in fundraising.

The other really cool thing about social media is that it’s great for what we call peer-to-peer fundraising. Which is when one person asks their peers, their family, their friends, their loved ones, their business connections for a donation on your behalf. So tools like Facebook birthdays, Instagram birthdays are really great for peer-to-peer fundraising because you can equip your supporters to support you and bring in new supporters through a Facebook birthday fundraiser.

That’s something that we saw happen a lot when the war with Ukraine started, it wasn’t even about birthdays, just people started fundraisers and that’s really cool. What you want to make sure that you do in those scenarios is have a toolkit ready for your supporters, the same way you would for any other peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, like a walkathon or a 5K. You want to have that toolkit ready so that your fundraisers aren’t out there like, “I’ve never asked for money before. I don’t know what to do”. You give them images. You give them sample messages that they can post and tweak and make their own. So it sounds like it’s coming from their own voice.

David: Being able to provide those samples is going to definitely go a long way because you as an organization can provide them with the statistics, right? If it’s, I don’t know, a 10K bike ride to raise money for cancer research or, delivery or whatever, having the stats, you know, “This cause raised this much money last year, I’m involved because…” And like you leave a blank, you let the person fill it in, but you’re able to get your core messaging out there in hopes that people are going to take that and just tweak it a little bit to help further your cause, and to help raise money for your event.

Jenni: Absolutely.

David: And I think it’s also important to think about, you know, storytelling. I just got an email, I think it was Friday, from an organization, there’s about a dozen organizations that myself and my family we donate to. And it was just an ask, I haven’t heard a thing from them in at least 10 months. And out of nowhere, just a straight-up ask.

How is the money being used? What are they solving? Why are they asking me again? Like I’ve had no real connection with that organization. And it’s something I talk about with my clients as well, from Wow Digital, in terms of making sure that you’re staying connected with your audience, with your donors, your volunteers, the families, the people, the clients, everybody. So that they understand what your mission is, what you’re doing to help, what you’re combating, et cetera, et cetera. So that when you go for an ask, there’s a familiarity there.

Jenni: Right, absolutely.

David: So we spoke about leadership, and we spoke about using social media, and peer to peer. And I think that that’s a really great kind of connection point there. The one thing we didn’t really talk about is corporate, and corporate sponsors, and the big corporations and their donors, and the partnerships that non-profits could create with these larger organizations.

Jenni: Yeah. Yeah.

David: How do you feel about engaging in those kind of relationships?

Jenni: Yeah. I mean, obviously having corporate sponsors is awesome. I think it’s something that you do have to realize that those corporations are made up of people. They are not just a corporate entity.

You also have to keep in mind that there are kind of two types of ways that corporations can offer support:

  • They can offer support through a straight up donation. And obviously you want to acknowledge them for about donation, but they’re just donating money because they, you know, maybe it’s the tax write off that they want, maybe it’s that they do want that public acknowledgement. But at the end of the day, they’re just giving you a chunk of money to use.
  • And then the other type is for like a CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility sort of sponsorship, and a sponsorship is something where you’ll have committed to do something in exchange for that money.

So they are giving you that money specifically for the, the awareness that you can build among their client base, help them get new clients. So you are saying in exchange for $10,000, we are going to put your logo up at our next event, we’re going to put you on our website, we’re going to shout you out on social media. That’s that type of agreement.

So it’s important to realize those two types of agreements typically come from different parts of a corporation:

  • A donation can come from the corporate foundation that the corporation may have, maybe it does come from the CSR, the marketing team, because they know that you’re going to acknowledge that.
  • Whereas a sponsorship is definitely coming from the marketing team. They are looking for a return on their investment and you’re putting an place an actual contract with this corporation. So it’s just important to know who you’re going to.

You can certainly try for both with a corporation, but it’s important to remember that you still have to inspire the people at that corporation, the same way that you have to inspire individual donors. And you have to inspire them so much that’re willing to go to the decision maker at their organization to actually approve giving you this big bulk of funding that you’re asking for.

David: A hundred percent, and it’s OPM, right? It’s Other People’s Money that they’re spending at these corporations. They’re not spending money out of their pocket. And although, you know, you might pull their heartstring and they’ll, you know, give a little bit from their personal, but they’re spending maybe a hundred thousand dollars, maybe twenty thousand dollars. And that can go a really long way, especially with some smaller non-profits.

And you, you know, you could take that potential agreement and go and meet with a competitor of theirs, right. And, you know, try to have multiple sponsors that are kind of doing the same. So if you were running a golf tournament, for example, you could have Corporation A sponsor a whole, and then you can approach another corporation, say, ”You know what, they’re doing this over here. Do you want to participate?”, right? As long as you haven’t signed any kind of exclusivity, you can leverage those kind of agreements, potentially depending on what’s in the agreement, to help drive additional sponsorships.

Jenni: Yeah. I don’t know that I would go to direct competitors, but you certainly can use, for example, Habitat For Humanity does a really awesome job with this. Habitat For Humanity in Nashville, they are located right near a Nissan plant. And so they do a really awesome job partnering with Nissan.

Nissan has even donated some vehicles that they use to transport materials around on their build sites, which is super cool. And they do a really awesome job of spotlighting Nissan in their annual review every year, so that they can then bring their annual review to other corporations and be like, “This is an example of how Nissan sponsored us. They sponsored us not only with their money, but also with their product”. And then use that to inspire other corporations to give.

They also know that you have put Nissan in your annual report. And so it is an opportunity that Nissan didn’t pay them to do that. So you’re showing that this is how we treat our corporate sponsors. We thank them publicly, and we put them on display for other people to see, even when you don’t ask us to do that.

David: And it goes to show what your organization is really all about, right? You’re out there to help people. And if Nissan is going to provide support to your organization, getting a few shots of the vehicles driving around with, you know, like lumber sticking out of the back or whatever it happens to be, it can go a long way in creating long term relationships with those organizations.

Jenni: Absolutely. Yes. They’ve had a really great partnership with them for many years now.

David: Awesome. Such a great idea. This has been so great having you on the show. I’ve taken a number of interesting tidbits. I’ve made some notes as you’ve been talking and I hope everybody listening has gotten some really great insight from you, Jenni.

But before the show, we were talking about a very generous membership giveaway for listeners of this episode, for the Over Head Book Club. Can you talk a little bit about what the book club is about?

Jenni: Yeah, absolutely. I’d love to give your listeners a two month membership for free to the book club. We read a book every other month that is a professional development book that I’ve picked out just for non-profit leaders, and non-profit professionals who aspire to be leaders. It’s super cool, we come from all over the country and we just talk about what we’re learning in the book and get resources and advice from one another. And you can go to nonprofitjenni.com/bookclub to learn more.

Remember Jenni is spelled J E N N I, but I called the book club Over Head Book Club because I got tired, honestly, of hearing people talk about overhead, like it’s a bad thing.

This is another fundraising tip. Do not talk about overhead like it’s a bad thing. Educate your donors about how overhead does contribute directly to your mission. Because you know, who is overhead? You are overhead, I am overhead, these are overhead costs that are investing directly in your mission. So by investing in the Overhead Book Club, you’re investing in yourself, you’re investing in your non-profits overhead, and that’s a good thing.

David: So that’s nonprofitjenni.com/bookclub. If you’re listening to this head over there, we’re going to have a link on our show notes page as well. Just head over to wowdigital.com/podcast. Find this episode, we’ll have some links to Jenni’s website and to the book club for anybody listening. You don’t have to remember what it is. You just have to remember Jenni, go and search for it on Wow Digital.

Thanks again so much for joining in Jenni. It was great to have you on the Non-profit Digital Success Podcast. To everybody listening, like I mentioned, wowdigital.com/podcast. Click on the link for this episode and you’ll have the link for the resource for the book club that Jenni just mentioned. Until next time, keep on being successful.

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