The New Nonprofit Narrative

September 28, 2020

Jacque McHugh originally wrote this post as a guest thought-leader for Marketing Mission. 

 

The best fundraisers are wonderful storytellers. You know who I mean. Their elevator pitch sounds beautifully unrehearsed and illustrates 1) the societal pain-point, 2) the creation-story of their nonprofit to relieve that pain and 3) why you absolutely must help. In under 30 seconds they’ve got you reaching for your checkbook and wondering how else you can support this worthy cause that’s now forever etched on your heart.

Fundraising is all about the narrative—and that’s why we, as fundraising professionals, have to be great storytellers. Now, let’s look at the story of 2020… not even the whole thing, just the first half. Even the best raconteur among us couldn’t make this stuff up—continent-wide fires, almost-wars, political unrest, a global pandemic, a global shutdown, no school and a boil-over of hundreds of years of racial injustice. Not to mention the fact that in the US, it’s an election year—which can have its own effect on fundraising without all the rest of this madness.

Yet, with all this change, our jobs—as development and fundraising experts—remain the same… or maybe they’re even more important now. Our tribes linger in a state of uncertainty as we’ve rounded the corner that is the halfway point of the longest… year… ever. Our human narrative has been disrupted—and we don’t like it. As the world grapples with the question, “where do we go from here?” Our ready-made answers fail us, because none of us know what this “next normal” has in store for our agencies. (And yes, I write “next normal” because things are still very much in flux—we haven’t even seen a glimpse of the “new normal” yet.)

The answer for us, as fundraisers… no, as humans—whose fates are intertwined together—is this: We need a narrative. We need to channel our inner storytellers into fierce, fiery advocates for our causes that cannot be ignored.

Problem solved, right? Except that this crazy 2020 story has also completely changed how we reach our audience. Events, open-houses and donor meetings have to evolve to a digital space right now. Evolve and adapt, not be canceled. And when we do reach our people, we also need messaging that has adapted to, understands and supports this next human narrative.

Empathy is even more important on a digital platform where it can be easy to misinterpret tone and intent. We are sure to have donors and volunteers who’ve lost their jobs or taken pay cuts, some who are ill and others who are caring for ill family members. Our digital message can’t be oblivious to the fact that the 2020 story may have made life harder for both the people and communities we serve and those we depend on to keep serving.

Use your digital resources wisely and please, for the sake of your cause—don’t shoot before you aim. Now is the time for a new strategic plan, with new digital-first marketing to hit your fundraising goals along with buy-in from all of your stakeholders. And I mean all of them… this is their story too and your message is only as strong as the weakest person telling it.

Once you’ve laid that groundwork for your “next normal” you’re ready to come out swinging with a digital strategy that includes a plan for your website, social media, blog/article writing, emails, digital events, donor meetings and more – integrated together to tell your story and ready to execute with measurable KPIs that support the overall goals of the organization. Test, measure and monitor your marketing constantly and be ready to adapt to change quickly.

So, we embark on a new narrative. As fundraisers, we need to grasp hands, lean-in and take a step forward in faith, knowing that our budget must serve our mission and never the other way around. We will lead our donor base into a new, digital-first narrative—one that we will create together. It’s time to take that fiery passion for your cause online. You’ve got this. Go tell a new story.

Jacque McHugh is a nonprofit and business consultant specializing in marketing, fundraising, strategic planning and team-building/training on the Asana and Slack platforms. She is the CEO, aka Mama Bear, at the marketing firm Branding Bear and lives near St. Louis, Missouri with her husband and two baby-bears. Jacque serves as the marketing and fundraising director, board member and advisor for several of her favorite charities and has built her company, Branding Bear, around the mission of serving those who are working to make the world a better place.

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