Wed, April 29 2015

Your Storytelling Questions Answered: Q&A with Vanessa Chase

Liz Ragland's avatar

Senior Content and Marketing Associate, Network for Good

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Filed under:   Fundraising essentials • Marketing essentials •

Last month, Vanessa Chase, founder of the Storytelling Non-Profit presented a Nonprofit911 webinar on how to incorporate storytelling in email appeals. The webinar was amazing, and I highly recommend you watch the archived version. Because so many people listened in, there were tons of great questions, but we didn’t have time to answer them all during the Q&A portion of the webinar. I gathered some of those questions and asked Vanessa if she could answer them here on our blog. Read on to hear Vanessa’s tips on donor surveys and her recommendations for how to include visuals in your email appeals.

What was your inspiration for starting the Storytelling Non-Profit?

Vanessa Chase

Vanessa Chase: I’ve been a fundraiser for a number of years, and I absolutely love the profession! A couple of years ago, I was working as a development officer. As much as I enjoyed working directly with donors, what I really loved was donor communications. But I noticed how ineffective donor communications tend to be, so I started to research and test narrative in communications. It led me to find that using stories not only helped us raise more money, it deepened the relationships we had with donors. Shortly after that, I started writing on my blog about what I was doing and sharing my learnings about storytelling with other fundraisers. My main mission continues to be finding ways to help nonprofits improve donor relations through their communications.

In your webinar, you mentioned that surveying donors is a good practice all nonprofits should do. Do you have examples of donor surveys that I can share with our readers?

VC: Surveying is one of the best things nonprofits can do to improve their fundraising programs. Through surveys, we can gauge donors’ satisfaction, identify ways to improve their satisfaction, and communicate with them more effectively.

Here are some sample survey questions, and here’s a copy of a survey I received from Union Gospel Mission.

If a nonprofit’s mission breaks out to three distinct program areas, do you recommend including stories on all three program areas in an appeal, or should you just stick to one area? Does that give donors the full story?

VC: This is a great question. One of the things nonprofits struggle with the most is trying to figure out which stories to tell, especially if they have a lot of programs. In appeals, I think it is always best to make a specific ask for a specific program. These tend to have the best conversion rates, because the asks are very tangible and donors can wrap their minds around what they are giving to. The trick is figuring out which of your programs garners the best response from donors, and then leveraging those stories for undesignated fundraising.

One of the things I recommend nonprofits do is create an editorial calendar for their storytelling over the course of the year. It’s helpful to know what your fundraising plan is, and then decide what stories you will tell and when. That way you can coordinate stories and messages across channels.

During the webinar, we had a lot of questions on the topic of using visuals in emails. There is no doubt that visuals complement stories. Do you have any recommendations for using photos versus using none in email appeals? Are videos worthwhile? Have you seen any research on this?

VC: I’m sure there is research on this topic, but unfortunately I haven’t come across it yet. You can think about the principles of direct mail here. We all know that what is "above the fold" is important. That can make or break the donor reading the rest of the letter. I think the same is true for emails. Once someone opens it, you want to make it easy for them to engage with. I have seen a number of nonprofits use an image above the fold of the email. But it is usually not just an image. They will overlay text on the image—typically the call to action—and hyperlink the image to the donation page. It kind of acts as a giant "donate" button right at the top of the email.

Do you have any suggestions on how to share stories that are specific enough to be moving but not so specific that they risk breaking confidentiality?

VC: Confidentiality is extremely important when you’re dealing with vulnerable populations and issues, so from an ethical standpoint, your organization should prioritize confidentiality. I recommend changing the person’s name and any details that could make them identifiable. Additionally, before you use the story, give the person a chance to read it to make sure they are comfortable with how they are portrayed.

Can you share examples of great email appeals that implement storytelling best practices?

VC: Here are two examples worth reading: This is from Splash, an organization that works to provide clean water to underserved populations, especially children, and this appeal is from Women Against Violence Against Women.

We’re partnering with Vanessa to see how nonprofits are currently leveraging stories in their communications. And we want to hear from you! Please fill out this short survey on your storytelling practices. Thanks! And thank you, Vanessa, for providing great examples and inspiration to help nonprofits tell better stories.

Storytelling for Nonprofits
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Wed, April 22 2015

Create Great Visuals: 10 Tips and Tools for Nonprofits

Helene Kahn's avatar

Communications and Marketing, Network for Good

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

More and more nonprofits are using visuals to tell their story, illustrate impact, and create a case for giving. But creating visuals can sometimes be costly, time consuming, and seemingly impossible without advanced software. At Network for Good, we see clients using visuals in amazing ways to share their stories, engage donors, and raise more money in ways that are effective, easy, and—guess what?—FREE! We've compiled a top 10 list of tools and techniques to help you incorporate more visuals into your organization's work.

10. Keep it simple! Start by taking and sharing pictures of your team and the people, places, or purpose you serve. Pictures taken with your phone are totally okay!

9. Empower your constituents to help. Ask volunteers, board members, and others involved with your organization to take pictures and send them to you. Then you'll have options to choose from when you need a photo.

Brianne Nadeau is Martha's Table! Supporter/Neighbor/Volunteer + Ward 1 DC Councilmember10 years#IAmMarthasTable at

Posted by Martha's Table on Thursday, April 16, 2015

Martha's Table is encouraging their community to share #IAmMarthasTable photos on social media to celebrate their 35th anniversary.

8. Have pictures, but they need to be edited or jazzed up? Check out Picmonkey, a great free photo editing service.

7. Once you create a great image, make sure it's correctly sized for every social media channel. Our friends at Constant Contact created a great cheat sheet to help you size all your images.

6. Do file names like JPEG, PNG, and GIF confuse you as much as they confuse me? Here's a helpful chart to show you when to use what file type.

5. Still don't have a picture you want to use? Check out this helpful list of stock image sites to find a picture to fit your need.

4. Share your impact using an infographic. Check out Picktochart, a fantastic infographic creator that's free for nonprofits!

3. If you haven't discovered Canva yet, go check it out! Canva is our favorite tool on the marketing team here at Network for Good—and we're pretty sure it'll be your favorite too. Plus, it's free!

2. Join us tomorrow for our next Nonprofit911 webinar, “The Art of Social Media,” featuring Guy Kawasaki, chief evangelist at Canva. Guy will be talking about how to build your online presence and how to use visual tools to do so! Register now!

The Art of Social Media Webinar

We made this graphic with Canva!

1. Have fun and be creative! The days of posed headshots and perfectly positioned group photos are behind us. People engage with brands and organizations in fun, organic, and unique ways. Might we suggest a social media selfie contest?

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Thu, April 16 2015

The Key to More Effective Donor Communication

Caryn Stein's avatar

VP, Communications and Content, Network for Good

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Filed under:   Fundraising essentials • Marketing essentials •

To truly connect with donors and inspire them to become a part of the work that you do, you need to speak to them. Really speak to them. This means getting extremely clear on the message you’re trying to send, and making it incredibly relevant to why they care about your mission in the first place.

This is why the key to more effective communication is specificity

When your emails and other communications are specific, they can be more relevant, interesting, and authentic. Your job as a marketer or fundraiser is to definitively answer the question, “Why me?”  You can’t do that with broad and generic messages. Generic messages are not just typically boring; studies have shown that vague statements can introduce skepticism among readers. Definitely not the feeling you want to evoke!

How do you make your message more specific, and in turn, more relevant? Think about the unique stories your donors have when they relate to your cause. Group donors into meaningful categories based on:

  • their giving history/habits.
  • the programs they support.
  • how they came to your organization.
  • their ongoing relationship with your organization.

When you can segment your supporters into specific groups that speak to these qualities, you can tailor your messages just for them. A personalized, relevant message will make it much easier for you to break through and hold their attention.

For best results, your comprehensive communication plan should include:

  • a list of key segments for your organization
  • how your organization defines each segment
  • the historical and projected fundraising results from each group
  • the specific tactics and messages that will help you build relationships with each type of donor

Map out how each segment relates to the rest of your audience and which triggers move someone from one group to another. If you don’t have this data, start by talking with your most loyal donors to find out what has them giving year after year. Then, put a plan in place to regularly collect and track this information. 

How do you make this happen? The right tools can transform your communications approach. A customer relationship management (CRM) system, such as Salesforce, or a donor management solution, like DonorPerfect, can help you organize and track these crucial details about your supporters and enable you to segment and communicate with your donors more effectively, strengthening their relationship with you and improving your fundraising results.

Want to find out how to combine your online fundraising efforts with better donor management? Learn how Network for Good’s platform integrates with the top solutions and see how you can boost individual giving for your nonprofit.

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Wed, April 15 2015

Make the Most of Mother’s Day

Nancy Schwartz's avatar

Nonprofit Marketing Expert

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Filed under:   Fun stuff • Marketing essentials •

There’s no better way for your organization to get the attention of your supporters and prospects (and the media) than by piggybacking on what’s already top of mind. Your people are already thinking about this stuff, making them far more likely to connect with your campaign than at other times.

That’s “right thing, right now” marketing, and I’ve seen some fantastic Mother’s Day models from nonprofits like yours in recent years.

Because I’m a nonprofit communications nerd, I save great email models like these. Just look at these pre–Mother’s Day email subject lines from last year:

Mother's Day Subject Lines

Next, take a look at my two favorite Mother’s Day campaigns from years past:

Lettuce Celebrate

Lettuce Celebrate,” proclaimed Oxfam America in its joyful 2014 campaign inviting us to fund a vegetable garden in honor of our moms. It’s a wonderful—and affordable—concept clearly tied to the organization’s mission and impact. Oxfam America even extended the opportunity beyond the target date in case any Mother’s Day slackers missed it.

I was also struck by this 2008 Mother’s Day fundraising campaign from City Meals. The woman in the photo could have been my grandmother.

City Meals Campaign

City Meals educated readers that “70% of our meal recipients are women. Many no longer have spouses, siblings, friends, or children in their lives. That can make for a lonely Mother’s Day. Send meals in your mother’s honor or memory to elderly New Yorkers who would otherwise be hungry and alone. Mom taught you to care for others. Show her how much you learned.”

Beautifully done, City Meals. This campaign primes our empathy and guilt and motivates our desire to please with the encouragement to be “our best,” as Mom taught us. Hokey, but it works.

What makes this campaign truly effective are the supplementary components that make giving a participatory experience—including e-cards to send your mom (you “purchase” the card—that’s your donation) and the campaign mini-site.

Now’s the time! These are just a couple of the many inspirations out there to power up your organization’s Mother’s Day campaign. Search for more, brainstorm, and produce your Mother’s Day campaign.

How have you piggybacked on Mother’s Day or another holiday to more strongly connect with supporters and prospects? Please share your campaign details in the comments section!

P.S. Father’s Day is around the corner. Start planning now!

With refreshing practicality, Nancy Schwartz rolls up her sleeves to help nonprofits develop and implement strategies to build strong relationships that inspire key supporters to action. She shares her deep nonprofit marketing insights—and passion—through consulting, speaking, and her popular blog and e-news at

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Tue, February 03 2015

Delight Donors: Thank Yous + Donor Relations Wins

Liz Ragland's avatar

Senior Content and Marketing Associate, Network for Good

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Filed under:   How to improve emails and newsletters • Marketing essentials •

Last month’s post, 10 Thank Yous That Delight Donors, sparked many conversations about how to thank donors. Because this is such an important topic (and the first step in creating a positive long-term relationship with your donors), I wanted to offer even more ideas on how to thank your donors. That’s why I’m happy to share The Donor Thank You Mini-Guide.

The Donor Thank You Mini-Guide

Download your own copy, share it with your team, and start planning a 2015 that starts with getting stellar thank yous in donors' hands. Did you send a thank you that wowed donors? Please .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)! Your organization could be featured in our blog and newsletter.

But, don't stop there!

Thanking donors is just one part of your donor relations and retention strategy. Be sure to focus some of your efforts on creating an overall plan to keep the donor love alive. Here are some resources to help you go beyond the thank you:

  • I highly recommend bookmarking Donor Love Part One and Two from Nancy Schwartz. Nancy explains why it's important to R-E-S-P-E-C-T your donors. Her suggestions include creating a donor advisory board and listening to donors' wants even when they aren't what you want.

  • If you aren’t a Donor Relations Guru Blog subscriber, you should be. Lynne Wester gives specific examples of missteps in donor relations and ideas on how to avoid going down a wrong path. All her work is grounded in her four pillars of donor relations (which she just wrote a book about!).

  • Have you ever considered "upgrading" donors into a monthly giving program? Our own Caryn Stein is presenting a Nonprofit911 webinar on Tuesday, February 10th and will discuss recurring giving best practices and how donor retention rates can be greatly improved with a monthly giving program.


 And since showing gratitude is just a great practice in general: THANK YOU for reading The Nonprofit Marketing Blog!

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