In philanthropy, the saying is that people give to people, not causes. Connecting at the level of hearts and minds has always been critical to building long-term relationships with donors, and also with grassroots supporters. And the best way to do that is through storytelling.  Now that YouTube and other Web 2.0 tools are giving so many nonprofits a “channel” for their stories, personal narrative is being rediscovered.  But to tell a compelling story requires critical elements.

What makes a compelling story about mission?

1.       Focus on outcomes. Everyone loves a success story. Reality TV is filled with them: obese person becomes thinner, aspiring chef wins the prize, talented singer gets a record deal.  Think of the success stories in your organization, but instead of listing them as bullet-points, express them through anecdotal stories.

2.       Focus on people. The people who make it happen and the people whose lives are changed. Who are the teachers who made a difference in students lives? What are those students doing today? Who is the volunteer who went into a community and changed it for the better? What is happening in that neighborhood now? What would have happened to that child without a medical intervention paid for by others? What kind of life does this child have today?  Interview-driven narratives are highly successful at building the case for donors and volunteers.

3.       Show why your organization matters. Somewhere in the narrative, you need to show viewers why your organization made a tangible difference in the outcome.  It wasn’t just random acts of kindness that led to this success. It was your people, your dedication, your/their dollars at work.

4.       Engage viewers in their own narrative. Make sure there is a call to action somewhere in your story, usually at the very end. “How can you make a difference just like Alice did?”  “With just 20 cents per day, you can change the life of a child like Shawn.” “Join us at our XYZ event to make your voice heard.”  Think about what story viewers want to create for themselves after watching yours.

5.       Provide follow-up options. If a viewer is moved by your narrative, they should easily be able to click somewhere next to the video or case study to do something–sign up for the conference, make a donation, become a member.  Despite the tendency to want sheer numbers—hey, our video got 20,000 views!—you really want qualified viewers. You also want the video to be the entrance point to engage them with other content, either on your web page, Facebook page, etc.  So be sure you provide that option in your web video interface.

Telling and hearing stories is our oldest human instinct. Web 2.0 just makes it easier to share.

©2010 B. DeLouiseYou’ve heard it said a million times–we’re a “youth culture.” But consider this: 3 out of every 10 adults in America are grandparents—that’s about 80 million people.  And their number is increasing at about double that of the rest of the population.  Grandparents control 75% of the wealth in this country, and they’re spending quite a bit of it.  For example, they spend $100 billion a year alone just on entertainment.  They spend $2 trillion per year on goods and services. See Peter Francese, The Grandparent Economy, a study commissioned by, April 2009)

Is your company or nonprofit positioned to reach seniors?

Before you think about marketing to seniors, consider what products or services you offer that would serve this market niche. For example, law firms are finding elder law to be a burgeoning new legal field.  Attorneys are helping family members navigate the issues related not only to medical care and estate planning, but also guardianship and fiduciary administration.  The travel industry has long reached out to the grandparent market with cruises and tours. Now RoadScholar (formerly Elderhostel)  and Grandtravel offer grandparent-grandchild tour packages. Since the economic downturn, grandparents are also stepping in to purchase items for their grandchildren, from clothing to school supplies to dinners out. Consider what you have to offer that fits this trend.

On the nonprofit side, grandparents are generous donors.  They make 45% of the nation’s cash contributions to nonprofit organizations.  Studies on donors have long shown differences between men and women.  Since aging women are a large portion of the donor population (outliving their husbands), understanding their interests and behavior around philanthropy is critical. For example, it might surprise you to learn that older women respond to recognition before the group for their gifts.  That might mean a naming opportunity or it could mean receiving an award at an annual event.

How do seniors want to communicate?

Once you’ve figured out the product, service or charity you want to position with the grandparent  generation, you need to know how your target audience wants to communicate with you.  Since half the grandparent population are now baby boomers—soon to be 60% by 2015—many are comfortable with online tools like email and Facebook.  But not all grandparents want to see things via the web or email.  Many still prefer to communicate with charities by mail, which means you still need to send out print copies of newsletters or ask letters.  Checking in with your prospective and existing donors is always important, but especially now that this donor group contains such a wide range of comfort levels with the tools we use to reach out about a charity’s mission and accomplishments.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the grandparent market. It’s big and it’s here to stay.

What is your organization doing to reach the grandparent market?  Shoot me an email or post a comment here.

The recession is slowly lifting. Corporations are banking huge profits. Donors are getting out their checkbooks again. If your nonprofit weathered the storm, are you poised to take advantage of the new market landscape?  Do you have a marketing and branding strategy that positions you well for leadership, funding, and volunteers?

Nonprofits often resist marketing. Marketing and sales smack of for-profit activities. In the best of cases, marketing dollars are viewed as an expenditure that reduces money for core mission projects. Worst case, branding, marketing and brand management are considered downright inappropriate.

But whether you acknowledge it or not, you’re already selling your mission. The question is to whom, how, and how effectively?

In today’s highly competitive marketplace of ideas, your non-profit organization has very little emotional space in which to differentiate itself from the pack. When a nonprofit calls, or when a friend emails a Facebook link for donating, we look at this request not just against a backdrop of all our nonprofit investments but also against the other competing interests in our lives—our son’s Little League team, our work picnic, the birthday party we are hosting next weekend.

Here’s where a strong brand comes into play.

When a household already contributes to a church and a Little League Team and a PTA, they may feel that their nonprofit “basket” is full. To make an impression on this family, a nonprofit has to make a bold and memorable case for support. Having a strong brand already in place can help open the door or close the sale. For example, when my local volunteer fire department comes knocking at the door for their annual donation drive, I already understand their brand. They volunteer at our schools to explain fire safety to the children. The firehouse hosts kids’ parties and we’ve all taken the tour and tried to lift the 100-plus pounds of gear each firefighter wears in a fire. And a few years ago, they put out a fire on my street. They have a strong brand and they don’t need to tell me what they do. So the conversation is focused on what level of donation I am able and willing to give for the cause.

Not everyone can have as compelling and easy a case to understand as the local volunteer fire department. But if you don’t, you need to work hard to make it easy for people both inside and outside your organization to “get” what change you make in the world. A simple, uniform message across web, social media, email and print goes a long way. That doesn’t mean you can’t differentiate sub-markets. But the overall mission must fit into a sentence or two. Then, the trick is that once you’ve invested time and dollars making your brand known, you need to manage your brand so that there’s no slippage.

Your “brand promise” has to be delivered as expected every time your organization or its name/logo is used.

And that means Every Time, or you may have done lasting damage to your mission by reducing your ability to raise funds and attract talented staff and volunteers. This includes even what might appear to be non-marketing materials, such as a letter home to parents explaining an independent school’s decision about a health incident, or how a hospital handles patient family members during a blizzard, or how a university human resources department communicates–or doesn’t–to job applicants .  In today’s 24-hour news cycle, everything you do and everyone who does it reflects on your brand.

Do you have a brand success story or brand crisis? Please share (names can be changed to protect organizational anonymity)!