Reframing Fundraising as the Beginning of the Story

Fundraising as the Beginning of the Story

Every now and again I come across one of those rare blog posts that sticks with me.  Kivi Leroux Miller delivered one such post earlier this week.  In particular, she has one line that I can’t stop thinking about:

We need to stop “treating a fundraising campaign like the end of the story… instead of the beginning of the story.”

Think about it.  I always see organizations celebrating fundraising success and thanking donors for their contributions.  But it’s much more rare to see organizations actually telling the story of what their fundraising efforts have enabled.

Fundraising is not what your organization exists to do; it simply enables you to do the work.  Fundraising is not the story.  It’s a means to an end.

Here are a few ways to reframe fundraising to be the beginning of your story.

Explain Your Fundraising Goals

It’s important from the outset of a fundraising campaign you have a goal.  You know how much you need and why you need that amount.  Share these details with your donors.

Tell them how specific amounts of money will be used.  Tell them how much it costs to do the various aspects of what you do.  Such info will not only help a potential donor visualize how their money will be spent, it also helps reframe the fundraising conversation altogether.  You’re not talking about raising money.  You’re talking about feeding children or buying medicine or restocking supplies.  And the work in the community doesn’t stop when the funds are raised.  It starts.

Tell Donors How to Stay Informed

Even before someone has donated to your nonprofit, tell them how they’ll be able to track what you do with their donation.  Maybe it’s via frequent blog updates.  Or your email newsletter.  Or on social media.  Or by logging into your website.

And then actually follow through, telling your donors the change they’ve enabled in the world.

Thank Donors by Telling Them What’s Ahead

When you’re thanking donors for their support, tell them what’s in store.  Give donors an idea right away in your “thank you” how the donation they just made will impact the community.

Doing so changes the focus from “thank you for what you’ve done” to “thank you for the change you’re about to create in the world.”

Focus on Impact

One reason it’s appealing to celebrate fundraising goals is because they’re easy to quantify.  Success is straightforward to measure and share.

Doing so with your organization’s impact in the community can be far more difficult.  But there’s a good chance you have a variety of metrics you use to evaluate success within your organization.  Use those as a starting point to share success with donors.

And consider alternative ways to share your impact such as:

  • Stories
  • Interviews
  • Photos
  • First-person accounts
  • Videos

Remember, donors are not merely giving you money.  They’re supporting you in your effort to fulfill your mission.  And they deserve to know how that’s going.

Have you seen any nonprofits doing a great job of storytelling?  What types of content (stories, photos, videos, etc.) do you find to be most compelling?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Related Reads

The Impact of Small Moment Storytelling on Website Content

Using Emotion to Connect with Website Visitors

4 Ways to Write Better Fundraising Appeals

How to Maintain Relationships with Donors Using the Internet

Image courtesy of Kate Ter Haar, Flickr

David Hartstein is one of the co-founders at Wired Impact and spends most of his time helping nonprofits tell their story in a way that'll inspire action. He used to teach elementary school and often walks around barefoot. You can catch up with David on Twitter at @davharts.

2 Comments on “Reframing Fundraising as the Beginning of the Story

  1. 1 Jeremy August 1, 2012

    I sort of disagree with the premis of this post. I haven’t read Miller’s post but my anecdotal experiences with fundraising in both theater and education have shown that the organizations do make it the beginning and not the end. In fact the more I think about it, I can’t think of a fundraising campaign which placed the fundraising at the end or the goal. I would argue what this post is really commenting on is the difference between successful and not so successful campaigns. No question that the advice presented here is worthy and that those successful at fundraising follow most of it.

    I guess my question here is more directed to the post referenced, I am curious who is thinking of fundraising as the goal rather than the beginning.

    In response to the question posed by the author I have greatly enjoyed campaigns that make you apart of the goal rather than just informed of it. For example donating to a theater’s campaign results in complimentary tickets or invitations to events in recognition of the goal. In education it certainly comes in the form of updates but also invitations to celebrate the completion of the goals.

    1. 2 David Hartstein August 1, 2012

      I definitely agree with you that most successful campaigns tie fundraising to outcomes. And I think oftentimes fundraising campaigns start out with this intention.

      But in practice even very successful campaigns (in terms of dollars raised) don’t always tie fundraising success to the outcomes that specific fundraising campaign has enabled. An organization may hit a fundraising goal and celebrate, thanking donors for helping them reach this goal and saying how they plan to use the funds. But follow up on the tangible outcomes is often disjointed or nonspecific, undermining the connectedness donors feel to the change they’ve helped to create in the community.

      I would definitely recommend reading the article by Kivi mentioned in the post. She highlights charity:water, who does a fantastic job following up with individual donors on how their money (not just donation money in general) has been used. Doing so helps to build a deeper investment from a donor since they can see the impact they’ve had on the world.

      I love your examples from both theater campaigns and fundraising in education. I absolutely agree that inviting donors to participate in demonstrations of outcomes can be a great way to reward their support of your organization. If attending in person isn’t possible, I think photos, videos and stories can be used effectively as well.

      As always, thanks for your thoughtful (and in this case lengthy) comment. I really appreciate it.

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