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Heartable notes from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference

Published 5 months agoΒ β€’Β 4 min read

Are you a cheeky monkey on the lookout for adventurously effective fundraising writing ideas? Don't go bananas β€” we have thoughts! And if you scout out anything heartable here below, please tell your fundraising friends. (Your fundraising friends can ​subscribe here for free.)​

In this issue:

  • Heartable notes from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference
  • Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you
  • Win It in a Minute

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

​

Hi Reader,

Brett here:

Julie and I just got back from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference in San Diego.

It was wonderful. It was jam-packed. It was so fabulous that we are currently feeling pleasantly blurry. Like this:

Lots of good stuff was shared β€” and we want you to be in on the sharing.

I would happily hand over all my notes, but penmanship is my kryptonite. I don't want you to bust a gut straining to decipher my handwriting. I'd call it chicken scratch, but that wouldn't be fair to chickens.

Instead, I'll translate for you, focusing on what is hopefully heartable:


Heartable notes from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference:

  1. The documentary Uncharitable (shown during a rooftop movie event on opening eve) is well worth your time! It's currently hard to find. But if you want to see it, The Donor Participation Project community has put together a free virtual screening for fundraisers.
    ​
  2. ​Jen Love has us thinking . . .
    1. Beginning a campaign by considering which "constellation of voices" ought to be heard β€” and then finding spots where they best fit (e.g., some voices in the direct mail appeal letter, some in the lift notes, some in the emails).
      ​
    2. About this quote from Paul Courtney of Children's Hospice South West (UK): "Step into a belief that fundraising is not just about funding care, but is a part of care."
      ​
    3. About this interview question for people (e.g., kids, seniors) who may struggle to answer complex questions: "Describe [organization] in 3 words."
      ​
  3. ​Steven Screen has us thinking . . .
    1. It's helpful to frame the readability-versus-jargon problem not only as inclusive-versus-exclusive but also as common-ground-versus-higher-ground.
      ​
    2. Effectiveness correlates with clarity. You should want busy and often distracted donors to be thinking, "Oh, I know what that is" when considering your offer.
      ​
    3. It may be helpful to forget terms such as donor-centered or community-centered and replace them with the idea of other-centered fundraising. ("It's not about us.")
  4. ​Ligia PeΓ±a has us thinking . . .
    1. Activating autobiographical memory especially via generational identity is a key concept of narrative psychology that can help you appeal to donors' desire to do more good by leaving a gift in their will.
      ​
    2. You should be sure to use living donor stories showcasing current donors who have already put your nonprofit in their will (rather than use stories of donors who have already died).
      ​
    3. You can and should use more jargon and technical language AFTER a supporter expresses interest in leaving a gift to your org in their will.
  5. ​Beth Ann Locke has us thinking . . .
    1. When interviewing, you should focus on "deep listening" β€” which can be summarized as active listening plus self reflection and empathy. It's the interactive, relational interplay of these three that increases your chances of eliciting the kinds of responses that will help you most.
      ​
    2. You should consider asking this interview question: "How did your family do charity when you were growing up?"
      ​
    3. And this one: "What's the most important thing we now need in our community?"
  6. ​Jeff Brooks has us thinking . . .
    1. You should avoid "the trap of pretty." E.g., in A/B testing of outer envelopes for direct mail appeal letters, pretty-looking images usually fare more poorly than those with "ugly" design elements. (Brooks cites the Dirty Bastard font as performing particularly well.)
      ​
    2. You should avoid "the trap of complex." E.g., blank outer envelopes or ones with a single idea usually outperform those containing messages that express multiple ideas. The same goes for appeal letter messaging. Focus on one idea, one offer, that busy donors hovering over the recycling bin can quickly understand and feel. (One of the best teasers? DO NOT BEND)
      ​
    3. You should avoid "the trap of clever." E.g., if possible, do not allow the signer of the letter to change your copy so that jargon wins out over readability or so that information trumps feelings β€” as the two former might feel good to the signer and other insiders but the two latter will better inspire and motivate your donors. (To the old complaint, "It doesn't sound like me" Brooks replies "Sorry, if it sounds like you, it's not gonna work.")

Of course, there were many sessions at the conference. No doubt we missed a lot. If you also attended β€” or if you "have thoughts" regardless β€” please reply to this email. We'd love to hear from you! 😊


Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you

For your brain, heart, and funny bone...

  • Fundraisingly Informative β€” They challenge your fundraising appeal. How should you respond? by Mary Cahalane (a blog post featuring 9 problems you may encounter if you follow best practices and then are subject to editing by people who are not trained in fundraising writing)
    ​
  • Mysteriously Connected β€” Victor and Maite via Heavyweight (a 32-minute podcast episode in which Jonathan Goldstein seeks to understand why Victor has painted thousands of paintings of his ex-wife, Maite, and why she still poses in studio for him once a year, decades after they parted)
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  • Selectively Sparing β€” The Christmas Tree Effect by David Epstein (a blog post about why it's usually best to avoid the natural tendency to keep adding things rather than remaining focused)
    ​
  • Immeasurably Funny β€” Washington's Dream via Saturday Night Live (a 5-minute SNL sketch in which comedian Nate Bargatze plays George Washington as a man dedicated to forming a new country where "We choose our own laws! β€” We choose our own leaders! β€” And we choose our own system of weights and measures!")
    ​
  • Convincingly Alarmed β€” Snow leopard mom pretending to be scared when her cub sneaks up on her to encourage them to keep practicing their stalking skills..​ via @buitengebieden (a delightful 12-second GIF that shows the lengths even snow leopard moms go to to raise their young)

Until next time: May you always be effectively, fundraisingly adventurous β€” without going bananas β€” you cheeky monkey!

Grateful,

PS: Here's the latest in our weekly video series, Win It in a Minute. You can (and maybe want to?) subscribe here.

In this video, Anonymous asks: β€œOn a reply piece for an annual appeal, should we include additional options β€” for example: 'learn how you can volunteer,' 'learn about planned giving,' etc.?"

video preview​

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