New donors, volunteers and other potential supporters have questions that they want answered before taking the next step with your organization. These five simple but universal questions that people will have about your organization are best answered not with statistics or wonky program statements, but with stories. Your website is the perfect place to answer these questions.
1) What Do Other People Think About This Group?
Answer with Testimonials. When someone is learning about you for the first time, they'll be curious what other people think about your organization, your staff and your effectiveness. You can talk about how great you are, but that's not nearly as convincing as testimonials from other people who aren't on your payroll (or even on your board). Testimonials are short quotes -- little mini-stories -- that offer insight into why someone is happy to be associated with your organization in one or two sentences. Gilda's Club Seattle includes testimonials and photos at the top of nearly every page on its site that instantly convey how important the group is to its supporters.
2) Are People Here Like Me?
Answer with Profiles. When someone donates time or money to your organization, they are joining a virtual community of people who believe in the same cause. If someone is not quite sure if your nonprofit is a good fit for them, showing them that they fit in with other supporters can help overcome that barrier. Profiles of clients, donors, volunteers, members, and other supporters are a good way to show the different kinds of people who are involved with your group, making a newcomer feel more comfortable that they are in the right place. Iraq Veterans Against the War lets members write their own profiles as part of the open, online membership directory.
3) Does This Work?
Answer with Success Stories. Do you get the job done? Are you going to make a difference with the money I give you? Success stories show donors (and potential new donors) exactly what it is you do and how you do it. They can be full-length articles or shorter vignettes like those on the National CASA website. The multimedia stories on the home page show the children they serve and their adult court-appointed advocates speaking about the benefits of the CASA program. These stories end with this simple statement: "Children with a CASA volunteer are less likely to reenter Child Protective Services." Does it work? Yes, it does.
4) What Difference Can a Single Person Make?
Answer with Personalized Giving Options. Big problems are overwhelming. If you swamp people with the enormity of the need, they are likely to tune you out and move on to something that feels more manageable. One way to overcome this problem is to focus on the difference that a single person can make and clearly demonstrate through storytelling that a new donor, as a single individual, can bring about change by supporting your organization. Tying donor actions or gift levels to specific results is a great way to do that.
5) Can I Come Along?
Answer with Personal Chronicles. For your supporters to fully engage with your nonprofit, you have to be willing to share what's really going on. A small but important segment of your donor base won't be happy with the level of detail they get in your newsletters. They'll want more and you should give it to them. Blogs are a natural way to provide this kind of ongoing, detailed, behind-the-scenes narrative about your work.
The Humane Society of the United States' dispatches from the Canadian seal hunt are riveting (although brutally graphic). It's one thing to ask supporters to put a "Save the Baby Seals!" bumper sticker on their car -- it's another to invite them to tag along virtually with the HSUS's Rebecca Aldworth as she chronicles the bloody devastation on the ice floes day in and day out. A more heart-warming example can be found on the Interplast blog, where doctors chronicle their efforts around the globe to repair birth defects like cleft lip.
In both cases, these nonprofits are taking their supporters to places they would likely never physically go themselves, showing them in detail both the need for their support and what can be done with their donations and advocacy. By bringing your supporters along day in and day out, you can make them feel like they really are part of your team.
While storytelling is a wonderful tool for nonprofit marketing, it only works with a specific goal in mind. What point are you trying to make? Or in these cases, what question are you trying to answer? Without a goal behind your story, the words may be interesting or amusing, but the point will be lost on your supporters. Know what question you are answering before you start telling your story for maximum impact.