We’re in a revolutionary time when people are becoming more and more philanthropic and charitable giving is as easy as a click of a button. It’s because of this that nonprofits need to take their donor engagement strategies more seriously, especially since there is a sizable pool of organizations in the in today's midst.
Donor engagement is no longer just about sending a piece of mail asking for donations or sending a thank-you letter after a donation. Today’s donors need more; they want to not only help your mission and cause, but they want to be a part of that community creating that change—because that makes them feel good.
In the “2019 Nonprofit Leadership Impact Study,” we found that 69% of our respondents used storytelling in their donor engagement strategies. Storytelling is a key strategy for nonprofits, because it gives the nonprofit a genuine opportunity to show existing and potential donors the positive impact that they are or could be making in the lives of those who need it most.
Through storytelling, donors are able to experience the good that is being created in the lives of those in need, and it also gives them the emotional connection between them and those who they are helping.
Birthright Israel Foundation is a nonprofit that seeks to ensure that every eligible Jewish adult is given the opportunity to visit Israel on an educational journey. I had the opportunity to talk to two of its incredible leaders, Noa Bauer, VP of global marketing for Birthright Israel, and Pamela L. Fertel Weinstein, VP of marketing and communications for Birthright Israel Foundation, to learn about how the organization uses stories to spark change within its donors.
Stories Change People’s Lives
People connect with Birthright for a number of reasons, and it shows that the nonprofit is doing a tremendous job at connecting with its donors. In 2018, the foundation had just over 35,000 donors. For these donors, they want to know that the gift they gave, regardless of size, had an impact on someone. And while the staff can get on the phone and tell people how great the program is and how much impact its making, donors want to hear it first-hand from the participants of Birthright’s program.
“We spend a great deal of time speaking to our alumni, sharing their stories. We launched a blog earlier this year to really make sure that no matter what kind of story you're looking for—maybe you're looking for someone who grew up in some rural small town where they were one of the only three Jews, they never felt Jewish and they never felt connected; so they went on Birthright, and their life is completely changed,” Weinstein said.
Birthright shares its stories through a number of ways: through blog posts, through creating videos, through bringing alumni to events. These stories are from real-life people who have been impacted by the donors of Birthright. These are the people donors want to hear from—not from people wearing fancy suits asking them for money and telling them how great it is.
“We really just want people to know that they are changing people's lives. And hearing that from someone who experienced and received this gift is better than any marketing piece my team could ever design or write,” Weinstein continued.
The stories that Birthright shares with its existing and potential donors is the strongest donor engagement strategy, because as the bond between donors who are already active with the organization and the organization itself grows stronger, those donors will share their passion for the organization to their friends and family. It’s like a domino effect: their enthusiasm, love and passion will be passed on to their network of friends and family, which brings in more supporters to Birthright.
“We as Birthright drive for excellence. We try to give the best possible educational program for every young Jew who wants to come to Israel. I think that part of our challenge is that this generation has changed,” Bauer explained. “So we try to get the best people, the best staff, the best tour educators, the best programming. We have seminars for fellows who are coming to staff on Birthright trips. And we know that it doesn't matter how much money we put behind marketing; our best asset is word of mouth.”