[VIDEO] How Nonprofits Can Powerfully Use Storytelling During COVID-19

Lori L. Jacobwith will show you how to choose and craft powerful stories to inspire giving & engagement, even if donors can’t give today.

Full Transcript:

Steven: Go. Standby. All right, Lori, we are rolling. So is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Lori: Let’s start the party.

Steven: All right, awesome. Welcome, everybody. Good afternoon, just barely good morning for probably most of you. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “How Nonprofits Can Powerfully Start Using Storytelling Right Now.” I got my fundraising shirt on. I wasn’t going to keep it casual, but Lori encouraged me. So welcome. I’m so glad to see all of you here, almost 300 people and counting already. Hope you’re doing okay. Hope you’re having a good Thursday. Hope you’re having a good week. And we’re going to have some fun here. So let’s get into it. I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang. I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

Just a couple of housekeeping items. We want to let you know, as always, we’re recording. We’ll send you the slides, the recording, all the goodies. You’ll get all that stuff here from me later today, I promise. So just be on the lookout for an email later this afternoon. But most importantly, as we spend an hour together, please feel free to use that chat right there on your Zoom screen. There’s a chat box or the Q&A box. Use either one you want. I’ll keep an eye on both of them. I promise. We’d love to answer your questions and comments along the way. If you haven’t already, introduce yourself. We’d love to hear from you and tell us where you’re from, what your organization does, but most importantly, send in the questions because we’ll have some Q&A time at the end. You can also do that on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed. If you’re comfortable, send us a tweet.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just for context, some folks come into these not knowing what Bloomerang is, we are actually a provider of donor management software. So if you’re interested in that, check us out. Don’t do that right now, just later on. If you want to find out more about us, we do these webinars all the time, usually on Thursdays. We’ve been doing a couple a week these days. But that’s kind of for context what Bloomerang is all about.

The reason I didn’t want you to go look at Bloomerang right now is because one of my favorites Lori Jacobwith joining us from beautiful Minnesota. Lori, how you doing? You doing okay?

Lori: Doing great.

Steven: Staying warm up there? You got the polar vortex I heard coming down.

Lori: It’s going to freeze tonight, so . . .

Steven: Wow, May 7th.

Lori: I got the sweatshirt to put on after this session here because the temperature is going to plummet.

Steven: Super. That means it’ll be here in Indy tomorrow or the weekend, so. But, hey, that’s okay. You’re going to bring the warmth and the sunshine.

Lori: It will warm up. This too shall pass.

Steven: Yes, correct. Lori, one of my favorites. She is a mainstay on this webinar series. She’s my buddy. We did an awesome webinar back in March if you didn’t see it. One thing I like about Lori is you’re going to see just a lot of examples of people doing cool things kind of doing the right way. She just drips expertise, credibility. She’s actually one of America’s top 25 fundraising experts. Wow. And you’re going to see a lot of that knowledge come into play here. So I don’t want to take away any of your time, Lori. I’m going to stop sharing my screen. And I’ll let you bring up your . . .

Lori: I will start sharing my screen. How’s that?

Steven: Do our little transition. Looks like it’s working

Lori: All right, there we ago.

Steven: All right, take it away, my friend.

Lori: Thank you, Steven. One thing you did forget to say though is that Bloomerang is an awesome donor management system. I was just talking to somebody yesterday about how awesome it actually is. So if you don’t use it, do check it out. But thank you to Steven, thank you to Bloomerang for being a huge resource in many ways for nonprofits. And what I’ll tell you is, you know, here we are, in our homes, somebody was in a bathroom the other day on one of my webinars because that was the only place she could have it quiet. We truly are pivoting if you, you know, haven’t heard that word enough, and I’ll be sharing it again in a couple minutes, but I just know that this isn’t an easy thing to be focused for an hour here. So thank you.

Thank you for whatever you’re doing to keep your programs going, to ask the hard questions, to learn new things while you’re juggling a lot of plates. One thing that I like to do, and I love that there’s so many of you on from so many different places, I like to know how you talk about yourself. So this will flood in to the chat box, and I may read off some of these words, would you please type in one word to describe your mission so that Steven and I can get a sense of how you believe your organization makes a difference to others.

Education, access, stability, mentoring, historic preservation, public safety, advocacy, change, oh my gosh, inclusion, equity, service, oh, I love these words guys, centering, resilience. Note what your word is, and please use it. One word descriptions can be in your subject line. They can be the first line of a story that you tell. So I love that you had a word ready to hand. Thank you.

A little bit about my background. Some of you I know and some of you I may be new to, I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’ve lived here most of my life. I am a passionate helper, if you will. I like to figure out ways to help people, and wish I didn’t have to even, you know, have that be a job that I have to make money on. Just that’s what I’d like to do. So, for many years, I worked in the trenches as an executive director, development director, both here in Minneapolis and also I lived for about five years in Phoenix, Arizona. I have been the only staff person in three different organizations. I’ve also worked in large institutional organizations at the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Arizona. But I work for prevent blindness, a small organization in Phoenix. I worked for the juvenile diabetes foundation and then crisis center here in Minneapolis in St. Paul.

When I do my work, my hope, my vision, my goal, my mission is that you get to do your work with some ease and some joy, by whatever it is I’ve helped you learn. So be sure and let us know at the end what you learned and what you’ll put into action. This is from the Imagine Museum, from an old post on their social media. Eric Ries, one of their board members, said, “A change in strategy without a change in vision is what pivoting is.” And I really am appreciative of this definition because you’re having to still do your work, your mission, and you aren’t able to do it in the same way, whether it was yesterday, or three weeks ago, or three months ago.

So I wrote a whole post about pivot fundraising, and maybe Steven will share the link afterwards. But what I do want to share with you now is the definition that I coined of pivot fundraising. These are the conversations, the actions, and the movements you all are making with some grace and some ease to raise money in a previously unimaginable direction. So, this week, GivingTuesday, the spontaneous GivingTuesday, I have had two organizations have their virtual fundraising events this week. I’ll tell you more about those in a bit. And I have some colleagues and friends who’ve been wrestling with how to keep themselves upbeat.

So I shared this quote a couple of weeks ago on my blog. This is from Clarissa Pinkola Estés. She wrote, “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” that was a New York Times bestseller years ago. I want to read this to you before we dive in and I barrage you with examples, and tasks, and all kinds of things you can do just to take a moment to remind ourselves, “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that’s within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul to assist some portion of this poor suffering world will help immensely. It’s not given to us to know which acts or by whom will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.”

So with that, with those thoughts and hopefully a sense of calm for this moment in time, I just want to tell you, you got this. We’re going to get you some more tools and keep an eye on the Bloomerang COVID resources page. They are continually updating it with tools for you. So today, what we’re going to cover, some research on donor giving over the last six or eight weeks. So donor attitudes, why do we use storytelling, a reminder for some of you, but a good little mini deep dive into why we use it, but then what stories are working best right now. There has never been a better time to be sharing your mission through your stories. I’ll remind you, if you have forgotten or tell you for the first time, how to craft a story to inspire. And then I’ve got a few reminders and some examples and some wrap-up, and of course time to ask some questions.

So let’s talk a bit about donor attitudes. I don’t know if you know Mark Phillips, but he is an amazing man in the UK. He is just beyond inspiring. And follow him on Twitter, follow his blog, queerideas.co.uk. He did a webinar for the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference folks just a couple of weeks ago. And he shared some of the really deep dive research. So this is qualitative research, not quantitative research. So they were talking to donors for a half hour, 45 minutes, an hour and asking them some specific questions, asking them, you know, why they’re giving, what they’re giving to. And he created this visual for us to understand sort of where people are at. And I use this to remind us as a context for why to share stories right now.

So that first week or so, middle of March, people just were feeling agitated, wanting to help and do something. The next week and a half or so, people were starting to feel helpless. Their time wasn’t their own anymore, their job looked different, and they wanted to be part of something so they could feel some control, being a part of the solution. In weeks like three and four of, you know, total shutdowns in most countries, people were giving to manage some of their own guilt. They needed to know what was happening at your organizations. They needed to know who was doing what, how were you doing, and what you needed.

Some of the communication was spot on and some of it, you know, sort of missing the mark. So I’ve gathered some spot on examples to talk about today. But one of the things to be doing is building community at a deeper level right now. If people are feeling helpless, if you’re feeling helpless, you know that even just one message, like my reading, “Clarissa’s Home,” might be huge for 1, or 10, or 100 people in your community. So part of what our communication should do is dispel myths. Are you fully funded by the government? Probably not, but people might think so. Do your clients only need you one time? Absolutely not.

Many of you deliver music lessons or you’re helping people get employment. None of you have a mission that isn’t important right now. I know Steven wholeheartedly agrees with that. But folks don’t necessarily understand why you’re needed right now. So the stories you share are important to let people know that. If you’re feeling like your mission is less important right now, please don’t let that feeling show up in the examples and the stories you’re sharing. And you’ve got other myths that you need to dispel through your communication. One of the recommendations I have, if you send out a monthly newsletter, e-newsletter, please turn it into a weekly shorter messaging tool, less of the pushing out of informations about events and more of engagement, asking me to tell you what’s one word you’d use to describe our work as your donors might want to do that, and your supporters, and your clients.

“Support will move toward boldness and clarity of communication.” When we are doing the right kind of communication, when we’re making word choices that have people really understand what’s happening right now, they will do what we are looking for. And sometimes they might not be able to give money, but they can give other things. So our job really now more than ever is to make the complex way less simple and do that through the choices that we’re making in what stories we’re telling.

So some reminders about why we use storytelling. Donors have to know what they want to know, that there’s more to do. So telling a story about somebody who’s having a great life because of your work isn’t as relevant right now. We want to know what else there is that you’re doing to make certain that more people have a great life right now.

I want to feel my impact. If I just gave to you at the end of the year, have you reported back to me? What’s happening? Maybe your organization is handing out lunches to kids. Maybe you’re partnering with a restaurant in the community to make sure that kids are getting fed. What is it that’s happening, and tell me what it takes with time, dollars, number of volunteers? How are you making that work happen?

So we think in story, right? Everything that goes through our brain is processed by a story that we tell ourselves, decisions that we make. You told yourself a story about why to be here live on this session, or why you’ll watch it later in the video replay, but we only take action based on those stories we tell and what we feel about it. Steven and I were talking earlier, he’s going to have to cover the tulips later this afternoon because it’s going to freeze in Indianapolis today. Well, we have a feeling about what those tulips will bring us, some joy and some beauty later on. So there’s an action that will be taken.

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that the brain has two independent parts. That’s the thinking side and the feeling side, and that they’re doing work separately. The reality is, in the past few decades, people have begun to understand that these two parts of the brain works in tandem and in sync all the time. And now, we’re labeling them the doer side and the planner side. Ooh, think about that. One side is the doer and one is the planner. But there’s a tension between those two sides.

Now, if you take a look at this, the emotional side or the doer side, if you will, is the elephant. The elephant is huge. And there’s us, thinking we’re planning what we’re doing today. But, you know, we might hit the snooze alarm 14 times before we get out of bed because the elephant is sitting on us, making us feel something about having to have more sleep. So when we’re appearing to connect with folks, we’re actually having to connect with both sides of the brain at the same time, and we have to make sure that we know that emotional side is actually a much more powerful decision making tool.

I chose this image in honor of Indianapolis. This is the Indiana Historical Society post on their Facebook page. May 1st was Space Day and pictured here is Indiana’s most famous astronauts, Gus Grissom. And they told a little story about Gus and how on July 21, 1961, I was one year old, he made a 15-minute 37-second flight, and it went off without a hitch. Can you imagine 15-minute and 37-second flight? We go live on the space station now. So they brought something real back into my existence about space and where we’ve been, and I got to feel kind of proud that I knew a little bit about Gus’ story.

That’s a mission moment. It’s a historical society. Do they have stories to tell that are relevant right now? You bet they do if they’re talking about what the stories are behind their artifacts. Mission moments stories should create a connection, an emotional connection and some empathy. Empathy, of course, is how we feel when we’re able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Empathy creates connections. I am not looking for you to share stories that are about sympathy. Sympathy, when we feel sorry for someone, that is a distancing-creating emotion. It isn’t respectful, and it’s not the kind of stories I like to tell or have you tell.

So what stories are working best right now? I already said it earlier, but I’ll repeat it, they are stories that build community. Many of us cannot leave our homes, are not leaving our homes and so going to school, and going to church, or going to . . . I had to get new license tabs for my car, can’t do that, so I do that online. So anything that we can be doing to build community within the confines of our phone, or a video, or social media posts, or your homepage, on your website, those are the kinds of stories to tell.

But what’s the lens that you want to look through when you’re telling these stories? Tell stories about how your beneficiaries are being impacted. So if you are the Historical Society and classrooms can’t come to you, what are you doing right now? What are students learning about the history of Indiana? Talk about staff and how they’re impacted. I love to see social media posts and stories on blogs about here’s what . . . we haven’t gone anywhere. We just started doing our work from our bedrooms, or our office at home, or the basement. Explain authentically what those challenges are and what is it taking financially, timewise to do some of that. Take a selfie if you’re delivering programs and services from your home with Zoom, or Skype, or whatever mode of communication.

Same with donors, what are they feeling? If you have some donors that have given right now, have them send in a quick post about why they’re giving to you right now. Wins, contributions of time and dollars, updates about what’s going on in your work, in your community, for those that you serve. If you go into a classroom, and you’re a special organization that goes into classrooms to help and assist teachers, how is that working right now? So you want to build some trust through the authentic ways you’re communicating right now.

Talk about volunteers who are doing amazing things. And I will tell more about Jack Black and what his amazing input was in a later slide. And then for goodness sake, and if you detect a tone in my voice, you are correct. Please share your money story. It was August 2018 that I delivered an hour-long webinar for Bloomerang about your money story. And so, please, Steven, maybe when we share the recording and the slides for this, let’s link to that blog post so people can remember what the heck their money story is. We’ll get there just a tiny bit of it today. But folks, you got to talk about where you are financially and where you’re headed, where you’re going to be so that really I understand how I can help, what it is I can do.

All right. So I just wanted to share what [Rick 00:21:49] is talking about. Since we can’t have in-person Girl Scout troop meeting, some troops are doing virtual meetings. Awesome. Let’s see those. Girls are producing their own instructional videos like how to make a first-aid kit. Well, let’s show some of those meetings even online, but talk about what it takes to support one girl, even if it’s virtually.

So your beneficiaries. This came from a screenshot of a client of mine down in Shreveport, Louisiana. This was their very first Zoom virtual experience. Hope begins here, they’re calling them, and they talked about this young man, this young boy in their after-school program and what some of the things that are being delivered to the office of this organization are. And so they showed a picture and they’re bringing these to some of the kids that can’t be in their after-school program right now. And, in fact, you’ll see up on the top there, they had a volunteer talking about how she’s making sure that some of those things are getting delivered.

I will share the link to this for Steven to share afterwards. This is a pretty cool story. In fact, let’s see if I can just share it for you right now. This is . . . Nope, I don’t have it up for you. Sorry. We’ll share it later. It’s a video from the KCRA Channel 3 NBC affiliate out in Sacramento. And they tell a story about how one organization found a way to reach staff by posting from them inspirational motivational texts. I signed up for it myself. I get a text at 11:00 Central every single Monday through Friday. And, folks, I will tell you, I save it to open when I’m having a moment in the day. Not only have staff signed up to receive it, they have about 400 staff, but donors from all over the country have signed up to receive it. They’re building community by asking for you to post an inspiring message and then they’ll share it out by text with others in the coming days.

This is from CASA Los Angeles, an Instagram post with a reminder that we are still here. This is a staff person saying, “Like many of you, I am working from home with my children home from school, but I can’t help think of the nearly 20,000 children in Los Angeles County who are in and out of foster care today.” CASA provides a court-appointed advocate, a guardian ad litem to walk alongside children through the legal system. And she just reminds us that, “Dedication to our mission is steadfast. We couldn’t do it without your support,” and then a soft ask at the bottom, you know, make a link.

The main thing that I will tell you people are doing is they are not only building community but creating community. This is a 200-person rally online with 350.org. It’s a picture in and of itself that makes me smile and feel proud. They were in Australia. They were rallying as a part of a project that was going on there. But it makes me smile to know that people are hungry to be a part of your mission, and we just have to invite them.

So here’s the story of Jack Black. I have a client, Upstream Arts, they’ve been a client off and on for 12 years, and they do everything I asked them. One of the things they did is they reached out to the community when they had to cancel their in-person event. They provide support in classrooms for very, very special needs folks, from very young children all the way on up to adults. And an artist in town, a guy, Rudy, who has a website, Wheeler In The Sky, said, “I told my friend, Jack Black, I was doing a benefit for Upstream Arts. He took one look at their website and mission statement and then he sent me this video and I was blown away.” Let me see if I’ve got it for you, and I don’t think I’m going to. Look at how good I did of setting up all these things for you, but it’s just not there. That’s okay. I will send out the link on . . . my actually go to my Facebook page and I shared the link yesterday.

It’s about 50 seconds of Jack Black oohing and aahing about Upstream Arts. He’s in California. He’s never met them. They’re here in Minneapolis. And this has been shared 84 times as of, like, yesterday, with 106 people engaging with it. They did one thing. They sent out messages to their community saying, “Hey folks, we’d like to partner with you in whatever way we can to raise awareness and to raise dollars, and Wheeler In The Sky did. So there you go.

Money story. This is the folks at Volunteers of America in Shreveport, and Chuck down here in the circled box was talking about their money story in that they’ve got $17 million that they raise every year. They have about 2.1 in the door from the gap that they had. They have a lot of government contracts. But the government contracts are not all coming through, and so that gap is growing larger and larger every day. What they’re doing is they’re making sure I understand that there’s more to do. If you don’t tell me there’s more to do, then frankly, I don’t really know that I should give money right now.

To have a clear money story, we want to explain how we help one person, show progress to the next milestone, whatever that financial milestone is. Take your annual budget, divide it in 12, and tell us what this month you were intending to raise and how far off we are, what the gap is. Tell me what it takes financially. I had a group have an event yesterday online. They planned it in three weeks. They had 360 people register. Over half of them showed up live and the rest have been watching the replay. Over half have given because they talked about it takes $84 to help one child in our program.

Our clear money story is about money. But really, it’s to inspire about the people we’re serving. It’s specific about what it takes to do that and it’s building a relationship. So you’ve got a gap and awareness, a gap in deliverables right now. Tell us about the money story gap between where you are today in reaching your annual fundraising goal and the amount you’ve raised so far and what’s uncertain. One of the things that Mark Phillips said in his research, people want to know. The donors they talk to, they want to know how you’re doing, what does it take to do what you’re doing?

So to craft an inspiring story, you’ve got to engage both my head and my heart, put a face on who I’m helping, first of all, and then tell me what it takes to do this work. The Minnesota Literacy Council has an online event all week this week, and they’re nearly at their goal. They used GivingTuesday, and then our online giving platform, Give Minnesota, Give to the Max Day, helped support nonprofits this week. And multiple millions of dollars have been raised for 3,000 nonprofits this week because they’re being specific about, “What does my gift do, who am I helping, and what does it take to do that?” You have to know this already. The stories that we tell ourselves and, in fact, just stories period, they’re 22 times more memorable.

In all ways you want to be talking about story. So in the notes you’re sharing to people, in the letters and the emails, even if it’s just a quote, at the beginning of your staff meetings, remind us why we’re here and tell a quick story about who did something great today. Maybe it was just getting connected to technology. There is conflict. That is for sure. Conflict, though, is the oxygen of your stories. So where’s the difficulty, where’s the conflict in delivering your programs right now, in delivering your services, in causing me to feel great?

I know that one of the things the National Park Service is doing, we cannot go to the National Parks right now. But they are allowing us, from their pop-up on their website, they’re allowing us to enjoy the parks from home and they have virtual tours to many parks, they’ve got photography, and they’re providing family-friendly kids’ stuff that we can be doing. So they’re making sure that the conflict that we’re experiencing, they’re supporting in the conflict they’re experiencing of not being able to have people be in their parks. They’re still talking to us on a regular basis.

When you help me connect with a person over time . . . and here’s why to share more than once, that story of someone, I get to meet them, I get to learn about them. Some of you know the story I’ve shared about Madison. I met her when she was five in Phoenix. I met her when our organization delivered a vision screening at her preschool, and we learned that she needed to have a patch over her eyes. She had a lazy eye, but she has grown up to be an amazing young woman. And for about three years, we shared her story in her community. And we grew from raising $80,000 in the first year I was there to $1.2 million. We mostly shared her story. People wanted to know how she’s doing. They felt like she was a part of their family. This is a picture of Madison on the right there from last fall, last December actually when she got married. I still know that young woman. I am so proud of the work we did, the organization did, to help her have perfect 20/10 vision in both her eyes.

Telling a story more than once is a gift to your donors. And allowing a person to tell their story next year at your event through the testimonial quotes that you get to share or the short videos you might be sending out right now to put a face to your work is a good thing. You do not have to be scrambling to find new, and new, and new stories every single day.

So how to craft that powerful story right now? Remember to jot down the details of the person. Remember to include some results we can measure. Results that we can measure are things like, well, they have food to eat today, they have a place to live, we’re sheltering people in Sacramento, they’re sheltering people at the convention center because they have no one on the streets rule from the government right now. So the homeless folks have a place to be right now.

Don’t forget to include the transformations. Measurable results are things that we describe by saying, “Here’s what happened that we can see differently.” The transformations are how people are feeling, so maybe feeling safe or clean for the first time, feeling connected and not so alone. Thoughtfully choose the words you use to describe both immeasurable results and the transformations. Use the word you put down in the chat box at the beginning that allowed me to feel connected to your mission when all those words were flooding at Steven and I. Use a framework to create a powerful story. I’ll share one or two with you in just a moment. But then share that same mission moment and pieces of it in multiple ways all the time, on a regular basis.

The framework I have is, you know, an ebook, a downloadable ebook. You can share this story. Let me tell you about . . . and if you’ve got confidentiality issues, you say, “You know, I’m going to tell you about a little boy named Jeffrey.” Jeffrey is not his real name. In fact, some of the story is a compilation of stories from other folks that are like Jeffrey’s story so that you’re letting me know you’re keeping that story confidential, just as your HIPAA guidelines would ask you to. Tell us about what their life was like before they came to you, how they made their way to you. That’s important. They just didn’t show up on your doorstep. How do they feel? How do they feel maybe when they arrived? How do they feel today? What have they accomplished? This is their story. This isn’t about a rescuing story. This is about them and what is happening. It could be about your staff right now and how they’re feeling because you finally got virtual working figured out.

And here’s how you’re making an impact in our work. Some of your dollars do go to overhead, and that has been making sure we’ve all got headphones so you can hear us if we’re calling you, our donors, or if we’re doing our work to make sure that no kidding, I am understanding how, and what, and why in the person’s life that I’m affecting. The really simple framework if you don’t want to use the worksheet is in the past, the present, and the future. What was life like before they came to us, that person? What was life like before you ever went to a state park or the Grand Canyon? What is it like today? We cannot have you come visit us. We wish we could. But where are we headed?

Tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever. Those facts I might remember a little bit of, but honestly, I don’t remember them as much as the way I felt because of how you connected with me, your donors, your volunteers, your community of supporters, your plan giving donors, your monthly donors, your sponsors to the event that might not happen in person this fall.

So here’s a few reminders so we can get to your questions. Remember, this time that we’re in now after the first initial weeks of lockdowns and quarantine is about having me feel better because I can build community through the gifts that I am making, or the stories I’m sharing, or the pictures I’m sending you and posting on your website or on your Facebook page. Remember that fear doesn’t make good fundraising. When we’re fearful, unfortunately, we are extra careful and we think too long about the word choices we’re making, especially if you’re drafting communication by committee. You aren’t as going as deep with your messaging as you can or should so you weaken the message, the impact of your connection that you would normally have with me.

I’ve got some examples for you that I want to share and one of them is from the folks who had their event yesterday. This is an organization called Heart of Dance. When I was telling Steven about them when we connected and signed on to the webinar today at about 10:30, he said, “What kind of organization or . . . ?” and I said it’s an arts-ish organization. So they do work to bring dance, partner dance into classrooms for fifth graders and eighth graders, just as you’re going into middle school, before you go into middle school, just before you go into high school. They’re working to build the self-esteem of young people. But what they were doing is they were having to not only change all of their programming to online, but they changed their event literally in the last three and a half weeks to be live online yesterday.

So in their messages, they made sure to let us know their money story and that it will take $168,000 to continue their programming to their 2,500 plus students and seniors. Every day that they sent out a reminder for the event, for us to register for it, they included this money story. They raised $30,000 above for the event folks because they were talking about their money story. They raised another 20 some thousand, $25,000 online yesterday. And there are many checks that people have said are coming in the mail. They’ll raise almost as much through the pre-messages and yesterday’s event than they did last year’s event.

One of the organizations I work with is the Center for Victims of Torture. And their mission is a pretty difficult one. But on their giving page right now, they have a story of Rasha and they tell us about how she fled her home in Syria. They tell us about once she got to the Twin Cities. She was receiving healing support from the torture she had received because she was connected with a social worker and a therapist. But when COVID-19 hit, she had to stay in isolation. And when you’re in isolation, some of that work you’ve done kind of backpedals. So she has been able to connect with her therapist through virtual connections like we have right now. So they explained that we are the welcoming light for supporters and that it’ll take 2.4 million during the next three months to say yes to more people like her. So they told a story of the conflict, they told a story of what it takes financially, and they invited me to be shining light for people like Rasha.

The Grand Canyon Conservancy, so I got to do a webinar for 200 of the amazing staff that work in the national parks across the country on April 6th. And on April 16th, I challenged them to stay connected with me. On April 16th, I got this message from the Grand Canyon Conservancy, welcoming me to be a part of their online community. I’m going to read you the language, and I’m going to ask you to type into the chat box who is this email about, who’s the story about, “Lori, thank you again for signing up to be a part of our online community. Did you know you don’t have to wait for our online newsletter to get your Grand Canyon fix? Join thousands of individuals on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter who follow Grand Canyon Conservancy for real-time updates and happenings at Grand Canyon National Park. Each week we feature content from our most important audience. You.” Yeah, it was for me. I was the story. It made me feel great.

And then I got another message a few days later, and I’ve watched it I think 10 times. Sometimes the most important things in the whole day is the rest we take in between two breaths. They’ve started a video series of Grand Canyon video snippets, and they are sending out one a week for 20 weeks. And I will tell you, you could do this through something that someone says, a musical instruments that someone plays, maybe there’s an exercise you do with your folks in therapy that you could have us experience and share. It gets us centered. It gets us happy. It gets us not feeling so isolated.

Good question from Sarah, “Can you give a ballpark recommended length for weekly email blasts?” I like to have 250 words-ish or less. So this one had a few more words in it that I took out in the middle but not much, big picture, a place for me to click, to watch the video and a wrap-up. So really, really short.

Then the next one here, Upstream Arts. This organization was started by a dad and his wife for their son, Matt . . . I’m sorry, Caleb. Caleb was born without arms, without speech. He is the most amazing young man. He’s in his 30s I believe now. But they moved really, really fast to make sure that we could understand what was going on with them. So they started a blog called In Small Moments by Matt, the dad, and they talk about how we adapt and innovate to stay connected and that they’ve had to do that because Caleb, their son, was told he couldn’t have any guests, he couldn’t have any visitors. And so the work they bring into classrooms, in 900 classrooms around Minnesota, Michigan, and Georgia had to stop and become virtual. So they created short, little snippets, really amazing learning that I’ve been learning from on how to mirror how someone might be feeling if they don’t have the right words, how to say hello to someone if they don’t have a voice to speak. And they’ve been healing me, someone who may not be a normal classroom participant, just as they’ve been healing and reaching out to all of the students. Every single program that they delivered in a classroom is now being delivered online.

This was the screenshot from the welcome to the virtual event that happened yesterday. A beneficiary actually shared a story. Campbell shared a story of how they’re feeling right now not being able to dance. And this story was pretty moving and inspiring. But here’s what blew me away the most. Within 11 minutes of the event being finished, I had asked them prior to planning the event to have everything ready, contingency for if virtual didn’t work and they only could do teleconference, contingency for if their visionary leader, their CEO couldn’t speak, but I said, “Have your follow up email ready to go.” Well, they had the video rendered and ready for us to watch if we couldn’t watch the whole event online, the 40 minute event. I got the thank you for participating email 11 minutes after the event concluded and people are still watching it today, a day later and giving online.

Viruses are contagious, but so is fear, panic, hysteria, calm, kindness, love, and joy. Your work is amazing every single day, not just when there’s not a pandemic. We have to remember that. We are hungry for moments of inspiration and/or updates from you, even if we’re not telling you that. I’ve been surprised by the organizations I haven’t heard from and that haven’t been asking for advice, or dollars, or both.

So type in and share and then we’ll get to questions, what did you learn, and what will you do differently? So type into the chat. Subjects in the emails, oh, yes. Well, while people are typing what you learned and what you’ll do differently, the subject in the email is probably . . . not probably, it is the most important thing about the email. What you say is why I will open, so the email that thanked me that was from the organization said, “Thank you, partner.” The email from Upstream Arts had enticing copy in there to let me know there was something in it for them.

All right, let me slow some of this incoming barrage down and see what I can see here. So sending handwritten notes to donors literally asking how are you. Good. Awesome. I learned to keep weekly emails less wordy. I’m going to work on that. Shifting from monthly to weekly email. Remembering my mission is important. Yes, even if you’re not feeding the homeless, you are important, folks. Let’s see, reminder to share the larger goal, where we’re going. Yes, please do. Learned a new way to combine videos being produced for us by our donors in our weekly emails, develop better stories, better storylines. I don’t think we do a good job of the money story, but it’s partly because our boss doesn’t want to be that transparent, you know, then talk about what it takes to help one person and how many more people there are to help, whether that is with a class, a course at your school, to feed someone, to shelter someone, or a classroom who can’t go to your Historical Society right now. Learned fear makes bad fundraising, we’re going to share our money story. Awesome. We need to increase the number of emails we’re sending and make them more personalized, stories in them.

Importance of showing where the money goes, yep, always, always but more so even now. Let’s see, be sure to share the financial need. That’s your money story. And you can say, “Hey, we’ve been not sharing with you our money story, so we want to update you on what it takes to do our work.” Not what you need, folks. You don’t need anything. The people you serve need you to have money. They require you to have money. So talk about that.

So there’s ways to stay in touch with me, Facebook, Twitter. I’ve got a free blog. I’ve got bunches of free resources. But here’s what I’d like to do. I’d like to answer some questions. So, Steven, do we have questions that you have tagged for me?

Steven: Yeah. I’ve been tagging like a mad person over here because there’s a lot of good ones. And this is a very engaged group, so I appreciate everyone chatting in and asking questions. But Lori, first, thanks for sharing all this with us. Awesome info. I love the examples. I think this was Jack Black’s debut on the Bloomerang webinar series.

Lori: Oh, nice.

Steven: I didn’t have that on my bingo card today, but checked it off for sure. So that was cool.

Lori: You know, check it off, tell them they should add it because Jack Black, you know.

Steven: And I did send the link in the chat. Anytime you send . . .

Lori: That’s awesome.

Steven: . . . a link I did.

Lori: Thank you.

Steven: So there’s a lot of questions. I’m going to ask my own first if folks don’t mind. It is my webinar series after. I’m going to pull rank, sorry. Lori, you were our first guest when all this started, and I thought we could kind of go full circle. You won’t be our last guest, but it’s kind of nice to close the loop with you. I’m going to ask you the question that I’ve asked everyone else is what do you say to people who say they’re not an appropriate charity right now, you know, they’re not a human services, a food bank? I mean, you showed a ton of examples of performing arts, environmental. What’s kind of your response to that issue?

Lori: Well, first of all, I say, please, turn that message off. You have been and always will be vital, critical. When the nurses go home, they need music. When the children are learning, they go to the website of the Historical Society. Whatever it is you’re doing that you feel isn’t as important, please turn that message off. It is not true. The reality is we need you now more than ever. You are vital and you’re a diversion. You are the thing we have to have in our lives. Otherwise, it’s all too dark and deep and . . . Yeah, so please let us know how you’re doing. What are you doing?

Steven: I love it. We’re done. That’s it. Well, I’m just kidding. We’ll do other questions.

Lori: Got it. Let’s talk about clear money story I see Lexi’s got a good question in here.

Steven: Yeah. This one jumped out at me because you mentioned a lot of performing arts folks. They’re an orchestra and they’re struggling a little bit with the service recipients who are also the performers and kind of the overhead costs. How do you kind of balance where need-wise, we want to help the service recipients, we also got to pay our people, we got to keep the lights on, to kind of balance that it’s tricky?

Lori: So, you know, this is a question to have out loud. This is a question to have with your community. There are still costs that you have to maintain, and you probably are still designating some dollars to maybe it is the performers, maybe it is the rehearsal hall that now you can’t rent anymore because you want them to keep their job. Highlight some of the stories of what’s happening for those in your orchestra so we understand. Let us know everybody’s affected by this, and then what are you doing to with that division of money. Where is it going? Is it going all to just the administrivia or is it going to some other things right now? There’s no right answer, folks, to how to talk about the money story, especially if you’ve had to furlough folks.

I have an organization here that helps people find jobs. They help disabled folks find jobs. They furloughed every single employee, except their executive director, their development director, and their IT person. So they’re talking about what are some of our staff doing, how are they doing to find jobs right now, but then who are the people that are waiting that are our clients to find jobs right now? So really delicate and important conversation to turn the volume up on across the board.

Steven: Yeah. I love it. You touched on this, Lori, and I’m not asking you again because I wasn’t paying attention. I was just hoping you could kind of pull on the thread. A lot of folks in here have HIPAA issues, they have maybe children, maybe people who . . . domestic violence victims, this is a question I hear a lot from those orgs who can’t show photos, can’t tell the stories. You talked about kind of anonymizing stories and kind of combining several stories into one. Can you talk a little bit more about that because I know you have a lot of experience in this, especially the photo thing?

Lori: Well, the photo thing, you know, this session originally was going to be how to use visuals in your storytelling, and it’s really relevant right now because there’s so much more communication happening. What I like to make sure we do is we show some sort of, like, body parts, you know, hands being held, maybe it’s a support group, but we only show the feet in the group. But we talked about one person, a man, a woman, a child with the name that’s been changed in a story, that’s a compilation, just say, “Here’s an example of what you’re supporting. Some of our work is continuing, some of it is on hold,” but to actually humanize the story, even if you’re not able to put a face to it. I also like silhouettes, you know, just a woman, or a man, or a child to say, “You may never meet this child and I can’t introduce you to them. But I will call them Harry,” the name my grandson likes to use for everyone, “but here’s how Harry’s life is today. We are only able to talk to him once a week or no, not at all. We’re texting with him because he doesn’t have a computer.” So making your work relevant has never been more important, but humanizing it has also never been more important. And you can do that with the kinds of visuals you choose.

Steven: I love it. Another one in here, actually a couple folks are talking about they’ve fundraise, they’ve hit their goals, and they were celebrating that, but there will be a time and they actually know it’s coming up that they’ll have to fundraise again. How do you kind of, you know, approach that delicately? I think there’s maybe a little bit of concern that they may wear out their donors. Is it just a matter of a good news story for that need?

Lori: So you know my thought about donor fatigue, right?

Steven: Yeah, it doesn’t exist.

Lori: There’s not a thing as donor fatigue. There is message fatigue. There is uninspiring message fatigue. It’s why I say go to weekly messages versus monthly. They don’t have to be lovey dovey feel good. They can be, you know, “Here’s something tough we had to deal with today, folks. We just wanted you to know how we dealt with it,” or that we’re able to deal with a part of it because we have the financial resources to say yes to this person.

And be clear. One of the things that Mark Phillips said in the research that he’s doing calling donors, donors want to know what you’re worried about, what are you worried about financially, so being clear that we don’t know what our budget will look like in the fall, in the first quarter of next year. So we’re taking it month by month and here’s what that gap is in funding right now. Meeting a goal is a part of balancing the budget, but setting a visionary money story for what it truly takes to fully fund your mission, that goal hasn’t been met yet. So you might have met a financial goal that helps you balance your budget, there’s more to do so tell us about that.

Steven: Nice. A couple people have asked about getting these stories initially, and this is something I’ve seen organizations struggle with because you know how frequent turnover is. It seems like a lot of stories are stuck in people’s heads and don’t get written down and they leave. Maybe that’s the answer to the question, but what do you recommend people . . . is it like a Google Doc literally that just has all the stories on it and people collaborate? Is it that simple or what do you think?

Lori: You truly have to have a library. And so I did some work with our United Way here in the Twin Cities. We did a big session for, you know, a couple hundred nonprofits. And what I challenged them with is find your method, whatever works for you. I don’t care if it’s Dropbox, or Google, you know, Docs, or whatever. As you see someone for the first time, ask them what they think about you. As you hire someone for the first week, ask them who they can’t get off their mind. In the exit interview, ask them who they can’t get off their mind and don’t be surprised if it’s the same person that they mentioned in that first week. As a donor is called and thanked you, get someone on the phone and ask them if they’ve met anyone who inspires them, but you have to have a repository for that somewhere.

Steven: Some kind of bucket of stories that just everyone can add to. Not just access but I think add to is critical too. I love it. Well, it’s almost 1:00 here Eastern. We’ve already like dominated your entire day, Lori, because, you know, it was 11:00 for you when we got started plus all your prep. So I want to be respectful . . .

Lori: Oh, thanks letting me do this.

Steven: Oh, please. Yeah. It’s the opposite. Thanks for being here. I mean, this is awesome. I knew it would be. You’re doing us a favor. And it was cool to see such a full room especially how busy it is. I’m sure people are doing, you know, GivingTuesday follow-up stuff and all that. So any parting thoughts, Lori? Where can people get ahold of you, find you online? I know we didn’t get to all the questions. I’m sorry for that.

Lori: ignitedfundraising.com, and Twitter @ljacobwith, Facebook at ljacobwith. You know, I’m a big fan of the telephone, much prefer that than emails. Like you, Steven, I probably get, you know, a billion emails a minute.

Steven: I know. A tele what? What is a telephone? I don’t know.

Lori: Right. But I like the telephone and I will call you back.

Steven: Wow, what an offer. That’s cool. Well, yeah, check her out because there’s lots of good stuff on her website. There’s also awesome downloadables, and resources, and things. Thanks, Lori. This is awesome. I hope you stay warm up there. Hope you get spring sometime soon.

Lori: I hope so too. I hope you do too. We’ll text and tell when spring arrives.

Steven: Yeah. Please do because if you get it that means I’m getting it soon too. Well, this is awesome. Thanks to all of you for hanging out too because we had almost 400 or 500 people. So I always appreciate a full room. Thanks for asking questions. It was good to see everyone. Hopefully you’re all staying healthy and productive. If you’re free tomorrow, we got a cool webinar from our friends over at Perry Davis. They’re a really great agency. The two principals there are going to talk about some case studies that they have compiled over the last few weeks. They’ve been helping their clients raise major gifts and foundation grants. And they’re really cool people. They got some cool stories to tell. So if you’re free tomorrow at 2, join us. If not, we got a couple of webinars next week. We got a bunch through May. Just look at our webinar page because we have some cool sessions coming up on a lot of variety of different topics. And we’re going to keep that going.

So we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me with the slides, the recording. It’ll have all Lori’s examples, all those goodies. And hopefully, we’ll see you again tomorrow. If not, maybe next week. But have a good rest of your Thursday. It’s Thursday. Have a good Thursday.

Lori: It is Thursday. I know there’s no like day of the week anymore. Thank you, everyone, for all you’re doing. And Steven, thank you for being just freaking amazing.

Steven: Oh. That’s okay. I got nothing else to do. I’m stuck at home. You know, it’s fine.

Lori: Adorable family.

Steven: Yeah. They’re napping. So this is fun for me. It doesn’t feel like work. Thanks, Lori. Thanks to all of you guys. We’ll see you soon. Okay.

Lori: Bye, bye.

Steven: Bye.

Author information

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang

Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. She also serves as the Director of Communications for PRSA’s Hoosier chapter.

The post [VIDEO] How Nonprofits Can Powerfully Use Storytelling During COVID-19 appeared first on Bloomerang.

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