Encourage Philanthropic Generosity With a Story-Focused Content Strategy

Feb 01 2023

It takes more than just a “Donate” button on your website to reach the larger donors your nonprofit needs. A donation page and a donate button are still important elements for attracting ongoing support. But major donors are looking for more before they write a check to your organization. 

Today’s philanthropists are focused on equal distribution of wealth. Instead of giving all their discretionary dollars to one organization, they pick a cause that is important to them. Whether that’s environmentalism, community outreach, education, or something else, contributions are then split among multiple organizations supporting the cause. And the organizations receiving these funds are found through online searches.

Teams of individuals working for major donors scour websites and shortlist organizations based on their findings. Money is then awarded to the nonprofits that best align with the philanthropist’s interest. 

This is a significant shift from traditional fundraising methods. Dinners or one-on-one meetings to build relationships no longer apply. Instead, you need to woo donors with your website. Your digital presence needs to be appealing enough to grab their attention while presenting enough information to convince donors that your organization is a match for their philanthropic efforts. 

Ultimately, your site needs to nurture donors through the decision-making process quickly, clearly, and effectively. 


Define Your Community Impact Story


The most significant financial gifts come when a nonprofit is able to clearly identify its mission and vision and communicate through stories how it impacts the community. 

A storytelling framework humanizes your organization and brings your mission to life. When potential donors can make an emotional connection to the positive change your nonprofit enables, they are more easily persuaded to invest in your cause. 

For-profit businesses are good at identifying their product and what their product delivers. We know Apple, and we know what Apple does. They sell computers and technology. Nonprofits with a more singular structure are also effective at identifying their “product” and its impact. The Red Cross, for example, provides relief support. 

But for nonprofits who straddle the line – they’re a membership base, but also a nonprofit or have multiple structural lanes — knowing where to focus your story can get fuzzy.


Use a “cause and effect” framework for the most impactful stories


Regardless of how many storylines your organization has to tell, it’s not a matter of choosing one over the other. To attract the broadest number of potential donors, all your stories should be told — and told often. But you can’t tell them independently. They should be woven together to be the most impactful, especially when one makes others possible. 

We call this a “cause and effect” framework. Essentially, this approach helps donors visualize themselves as part of the solution and positions them as philanthropic heroes in the story. With a better understanding of how their dollars impact the community — essentially the effect they are having — donors are more likely to support your cause with increased donations. 

If you get stuck identifying your stories, talk to some of your current contributors. Ask them to walk you through their process of becoming a donor. What influenced their decision? Were there certain types of information they were looking for? Is there anything they wish they could have found on your site but didn’t? Their input will help inform a strategy that will thread emotional touchpoints throughout your digital presence. 


Weave Stories Throughout Your Site


Most nonprofits do a commendable job considering a donation-specific user flow. As potential donors navigate the site, they’ll typically see a few stories before landing on the donation page.

But what happens if a contributor hits your site from another entry point? Will this alternate experience still connect them with the stories? If they visit a program page, will they understand the impact monetary contributions have on that particular offering?

Regardless of where potential donors enter your website, they should see examples of your organization’s impact. Weave stories through the key user journeys and tell them at all the entry points a user would come through.

While that may feel complicated, accomplishing this doesn’t require major changes to your site’s structure. Talking about your impact more holistically shouldn’t necessitate a site redesign. Instead, a content strategy that informs the way you tell your story can drive a big impact — and result in bigger donations.  

The YMCA of East Bay is one example of an organization that has embraced a storytelling framework on its website. From the homepage to the donation pages, they seamlessly weave together a story of membership and community impact. 

But even if you’re not in the position today to make sweeping changes to the content of your website, there are a few things you can do to move toward this approach.


Include a story structure on your donation page


If your current donation page is nothing more than a button, this is where you should start. Even donors scanning your site for information will likely end up on your donation page. So make sure when they land there, they are seeing the community impact story structure carried through.


Use data to demonstrate the impact 


Show the tangible impact of financial contributions with data. Look for easy ways to quantify each dollar given. For example, $50 buys swimming lessons for one child, $100 feeds a family of four for a month, or $1,000 puts computers in the classroom. Detailing what happens with donations helps everyone understand that even the smallest amounts have some form of impact.


Leverage content types that are conducive to storytelling


Leveraging a variety of content types (outside of only written content) will result in more compelling stories. Use real photography and video testimonials to illustrate the value of every dollar given. You might even consider including community-created content where the actual people who have benefitted from the donations your organization receives tell their personal stories. 


Help Donors Understand Their Contribution 


Ultimately, people want to know where their money goes and feel good about their donation. Toms Shoes taught us that in the 2000s. As both a product and nonprofit, Toms came into the market with a story woven together flawlessly and fluidly. When you buy their product, you are also doing good. The heart of the Toms message drives home the impact of an individual purchase.

Nonprofits like yours can apply a similar approach. Give the end user the ability to make determinative actions (like specifying exactly where their money goes). Then help them understand the direct benefit of their contribution through impact stories and watch the size of the donations you receive increase dramatically. 

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