You Have a Pandemic Success Story—Now It’s Time to Milk It

The pandemic has a silver lining in the form of a new, potentially compelling line of messaging for your organization. Read on for some tips on uncovering and presenting that story.

Over the past year-plus, associations have had to deal with curveballs as diverse as membership growth, canceled meetings, office-management headaches, and general challenges with executing their missions.

That has been tough to navigate, but associations made it out on the other side and learned to thrive despite all that. And that has created opportunities to tell stronger stories that could compel interest from both donors and new types of members.

And there is potential to see improvement in donations during this difficult time. Recently, Giving Tuesday reported a 5.2 percent increase in nonprofit donations in 2020 compared with 2019, but challenges with retaining donors.

Still, donors continued to be engaged in nonprofit missions. At the start of the pandemic, a report from Fidelity Charitable found that 54 percent of donors expected to maintain their current levels of charitable donations, while 25 percent expected to increase their totals. And in the year since, trends in fundraising have suggested that affluent donors are more willing to donate locally.

But engaging a potential donor begins with shaping a compelling story, something that Vanessa Chase Lockshin, a consultant and founder of The Storytelling Non-Profit, knows a lot about. She suggests that it’s important to highlight both the challenges and successes that organizations face.

“In pandemic storytelling, I think the best thing organizations can do is really tease out the impact the pandemic has had on their work,” she says. “Helping their constituents and donors understand the new and emerging problems they are facing is key.”

A few ways to do this:

With video, focus on simplicity. Video is perhaps the most important way that many nonprofits reach their audiences these days. And thanks to smartphones and social media, casual video is seen as both common and authentic, Lockshin says: “Most of what we see on social platforms is taken on someone’s phone with minimal to no edits.” She adds that this more casual approach can also help to simplify production considerations. There is room for something more ambitious—see, for example, what the Emergency Nurses Association did in collaboration with a documentary film director last year. But don’t feel like every video has to aim that high. “There is a place for highly produced video, but it’s good for organizations to take the pressure off so that they can start hitting record more often,” she says.

When targeting, focus on personas. Of course, it’s not just about telling the story in a compelling way, but also about considering the target audience—and ensuring that the person saying it is the right match for reaching that audience. “If you could pick anyone to tell their story, who would it be and why? Dig deep and explain the ideal characteristics of your persona,” writes Joe Fuld, president of The Campaign Workshop, in a post on the blog of the technology nonprofit NTEN. Fuld adds that finding the person and the specific story might require a lot of looking, but organizations should put everyone, “from your president to your interns,” on the lookout.

On social media, stay laser-focused. Social media has increasingly proven an effective way to put a message into the world that can build an effective donor pipeline—after all, look at the success of Giving Tuesday. But it’s important to consider building a tight focus into what you’re trying to say, Lockshin says. “Social media’s relationship to storytelling is about marketing. It can help you get eyes on your story,” she says. But the messaging should be more deeply considered than a casual tweet. “Be sure to think about what the goal is for the post,” she adds. “Likely it’s getting people to take some kind of action.”

For existing donors, highlight the impact. Reaching new audiences with an effective message is one thing, but what about donors who already have a history with your organization? Ultimately, that portion of the story should emphasize impact. “With existing donors, messaging should touch on the role donors have played in making the story possible,” she says. “Show them the important role they play in making your work possible.”

(HAKINMHAN/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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