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Turning stories into fundraising asks

12/09/2012

We’ve said it and read plenty of times about how a great story can help to ‘sell’ your charity to a supporter or donor.  But just having the great story is only half the job; it’s (obviously) about how we use the story to underpin a fundraising ask that makes it valuable.

I thought I’d share with you a ‘test’ campaign run by Make-A-Wish UK which is simple in its approach, didn’t cost very much and, in my opinion at least, ticks several of the boxes needed to make a ‘story’ really useful for fundraising.

The charity grants wishes (experiences) to children with life-threatening conditions and as such has plenty of stories featuring the children they’ve helped over the years.  The wish stories include before, during and post-event elements and prove much more powerful when delivered face to face.

Make A Wish child MayTherefore, the fundraising team decided to test whether they could emulate the positive reactions they generated when speaking to people face to face via other channels and the “Remember Princess May” campaign was created.

Emails were sent to supporters with one including a picture of May (a previous wish child) on the two-year anniversary of her death.  The picture is all about the great experience the wish created for May and the positive memories it built for her family.  But more powerfully, the email linked to a Youtube video of May’s dad who tells more of May’s story, explains how Make-A-Wish helped bring some joy to not only May’s life but to the whole family.

His story, just like his emotion, is genuine and powerful and it this context which enables him to honestly and openly ask that viewers donate to the charity to help more families like his.

The campaign was also featured in the Make-A-Wish supporter newsletter, building on the messages featured in the email and volunteers also received updates not just on the campaign messages but also on results and to encourage them to support the campaign wherever possible.

The campaign isn’t perfect (what is?) but there’s lots to learn from their approach:

  • They used a very human story.  It features a little girl and her immediate family and individual donors can relate to this far more easily than huge scale issues or other great big numbers.  “Could you give to help this family” is much more real to many people than “A million people need your help…”  The first is a story and the second a statistic.
  • There’s lots of emotion without being trite, flippant or guilting people into giving (although some would argue this makes it less powerful as an ask).  And the emotion that is incorporated is positive – watch the video – is about helping bring smiles and creating happy memories.
  • Video, paper-based and email channels were used to reach as wide an audience as possible cost-effectively.  But key is that they were planned and appeared to me at least to be integrated rather than random messages.
  • There was an obvious progression to the campaign for volunteers so they could get behind it and push the fundraising message – including results and social media reach updates.
  • The team analysed other activity and recognised that a different approach was worth testing via channels that they hadn’t heavily used in this way.

As we said above, there are things the team could do differently if they decide to roll out the approach on a larger scale:

  • More frequent asks throughout.  The video contained a powerful message but it didn’t seem to come through with as much clarity elsewhere.  The only really prominent mechanism was the Remember May Justgiving page
  • More specific asks perhaps… specific amounts to deliver particular wishes eg: £50 buys XXXX, £25 helps us to YYYY
  • The campaign and link to the video should appear on the charity’s website home page, maximising chances for it to be seen.
  • And they could be using their social media channels more effectively and in a more coordinated way to really spread the work about May’s story.
  • Send the follow up information to donors as well as volunteers (this may yet be the plan, of course) to show how generous – or not – donors have been in support of the charity creating memories like this for other families.

I’ve donated and I hope the ‘test’ succeeds.  What do you think about how they shared this story?

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