[VIDEO] More Clicks and More Gifts Through Effective Storytelling

Madison Gonzalez will teach a practical method on how to tell your nonprofit’s story in a way that your audience can’t help but consume.

Full Transcript:

– [Steven] All right, Madison. I got 3:00 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started? 

– [Madison] Absolutely. 

– [Steven] All right. I’m excited, this is great. Well, welcome everybody, good afternoon. Good morning, just barely, maybe almost, if you’re on the West Coast. But if you are watching this as a recording, I hope you’re having a good day, no matter where you are. We are here to talk about getting more clicks and more gifts, something we both want here, specifically through an award-winning virtual fundraising campaign method. 

Nowhere a little clue in the title but you are not going to be disappointed in the unveiling, it’s going to be a great one. I’m Steven, I’m over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s little discussion, as always. And just a couple of housekeeping items. Just want to let you all know that we are recording the session, and we’ll be sending out the recording and the slides a little bit later on. 

You should’ve already gotten the slides, but if we missed you, don’t worry, we will get that to you later today, as well as the recording. It’ll be an email from me. So if you have to leave early or maybe you’ve got another appointment or you get interrupted by a toddler bouncing into your home office or something, don’t worry, we’ll get you that stuff later on. But, most importantly, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your Zoom screen. 

A lot of you already have, which is awesome. Introduce yourself, tell us who you are, how the weather is where you are, whatever fun thing you want to tell us. But, most importantly, we’re going to save some time for Q&A. So don’t be shy, we’d love to hear from you, we want to answer your questions, just as many as we can, before the 4 o’clock Eastern hour. You can also do that on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed, if you want to ask questions there. 

But don’t sit on those hands, don’t be shy, we’d love to hear from you. And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, welcome. I know we always have a few first timers every week but we do these webinars every Thursday. We love doing them. We’re now in our 9th year, hundreds of sessions. In fact, I think we’re approaching 1,000 actually, so that’ll be kind of a fun milestone. But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, what we are most known for is our donor-management software. 

So if you’re interested in that, or maybe if you’re shopping sometime soon, check out our website. All kinds of videos you can watch, you know, you won’t get haggled by a salesperson or anything like that, still get a good look at us. So check that out. But don’t do that right now because I’ve got a fellow Hoosier, which I’m really excited about. My buddy Madison Gonzalez is joining us from beautiful Carmel, Indiana, which is just north of Indianapolis, if you’re familiar with that. 

Madison, how’s it going? You staying warm up there, doing okay? 

– [Madison] We’re staying inside, so yeah, staying warm. 

– [Steven] A good day to stay inside, I regret it. Yeah. Don’t go outside, if you’re in Indie, because it’s gross out. I’m not looking forward to my drive home. But this is great. Madison, I’ve been getting to know over the past few months. She has been a regular contributor to our blog, to great fanfare and acclaim from our readers. 

And we thought, “Jeez, we got to have her on to speak in person.” If you don’t know her, check her out. She’s over at Morning Light, Inc., here in Indianapolis, which is a great nonprofit, valuable work in the hospice arena. But she’s also a coach and a nonprofit consultant specializing in storytelling, which is a really hot topic we will talking about later on. 

And this session was actually the top-rated session at the OneCause conference, a few months ago, and we thought, “We’ve got to have her on and see if she can share all that knowledge with the Boomerang crew here.” So I’m excited. I’ve been looking forward to this one for many many weeks. And when I came into work Monday, I was so excited, I was like, “Oh, it’s Madison week, this will be great.” 

So I’m going to pipe down. I’ve already taken away too much time for you, Madison. So I’m going to stop sharing my screen here. 

– [Madison] All right, I’ll take over here. 

– [Steven] Yeah, let’s see if we can get it working. 

– [Madison] Right. 

– [Steven] There we go. 

– [Madison] Does everybody see that? 

– [Steven] Yeah, looks like it’s working. 

– [Madison] All right. So, hi everybody. Thank you for joining us today. As Steven said, this is all about getting more clicks and more gifts. Which is something, I think, we all want, right, as nonprofit professionals. Steven already … let’s see. There we go. 

Steven already introduced me a little bit, but my name is Madison Gonzalez, I am the Advancement Director at Morning Light. I’ll tell you a little bit more about Morning Light here in a second, and how, you know, my passion for storytelling really got started. It really got started after I, you know, started my work with Morning Light. And I’m going to share that story soon. But, like most of you, since you are tuning in to a storytelling webinar, I’m assuming you’re a story fan. 

And I want to know, you know, some of your favorite stories. What have you been binging on Netflix lately? I’m sure a lot of us have been spending a lot of time indoors, I hope we have, throughout the pandemic. So what’s your show of choice right now? If you want to leave that in the chat, I would love to hear. I love <i>Once Upon a Time.</i> I don’t know if anybody’s watched it, but it’s very story-heavy and I’ve watched it at least three times. 

So … if you have any, you know, fellow <i>Once Upon a Time</i> fans, let me know. Let’s see. There we go. The agenda today … so we’re going to have a little intro into storytelling and why it’s important. We’re going to get into the nerdy part, the science of storytelling. The secret to a successful storytelling campaign, so I’m going to give you the step-by-step instructions of the storytelling campaign that won Morning Light an award. 

The structure of storytelling, so how do we tell a good story. I’m going to show you an example of a campaign that we’ve personally run so you can see exactly what that looks like and maybe implement it in your own organization. And then it’ll be your turn to ask me some questions and give me some comments. So intro into storytelling. 

Why story? Storytelling is one of the most effective forms of communication available. We are all hardwired to connect to story. We start hearing stories as little kids, right? Bedtime stories and watching movies. And there’s just something that goes on in our brain when we hear a story that makes us pay attention and makes us remember it. 

I could talk forever about why I love story but I thought I would just share a story, as to how I got into storytelling. So this is the Abbie Hunt Bryce Home, this is here, in Indianapolis. Morning Light operates this home. And, as Steven mentioned, it’s a hospice home. It serves the terminally ill who have nowhere to go in their final days of life. So hospice homeless individuals come live here. 

It’s 12 bedrooms and they get, you know, three home-cooked meals a day and a hand to hold. And I’ve been there for a couple years now and I have learned so much from these people who have lost their homes. You know, they’ve lost their families or their support system for one reason or another. They’ve lost their health. 

But they still had their stories and they were such interesting and inspiring individuals. And I got to know them and I get to know them so well. And, you know, sharing their stories has just become such a passion of mine. So I want to share a story about a man named Richard, who you see here. And, you know, Richard is a great guy. Was a great guy. 

He graced the Abbie Hunt Bryce Home in 2018. He was a lover of milkshakes and funny T-shirts, you can see he’s wearing this neon-green shirt here, this was a Christmas in July party that we were throwing at the home. And really his mission was just to make others smile. He had a one-of-a-kind personality, though he did have a hard life. Starting early in his childhood, he grew up in a really rough area with what he described as an impossible-to-please father. 

You know, he didn’t have it very well. And this tough childhood really led to him sneaking sips of his parents alcoholic beverages as early as 6-years-old, which, ultimately, led to an addiction and liver cancer, which is what brought him to the Abbie Hunt Bryce Home. Like I said, you know, he had a rough life. 

He was incarcerated, he lost his children. He went through a lot before he decided to become sober. He decided to become clean on June 10th, 1999, and Richard described that date as his “real birthday,” is when his life really began. After choosing sobriety, he dedicated his life to helping others do the same, helping others choose sobriety. 

He joined Alcoholics Anonymous, he became a sponsor. He volunteered at, you know, local alcohol and drug addiction treatment facilities. And even after receiving his terminal cancer diagnosis, he never touched another sip of alcohol again. But he did come to live at the home, at the Abbie Hunt Bryce Home, in March of 2018, which is when I really got to know him. 

And, again, while his life was, you know, early life was characterized with loss and addiction and pain, he ultimately decided to change his life to make a difference and made it his mission to make others smile. He used his story to make a difference. He used his narrative to make a difference. And actually, while he was at the home, in his final months, he decided to keep a journal by his bedside, which he donated to Morning Light after he passed. 

And it’s just full of wisdom and insight and great takeaways. And the final takeaway, the final entry in his journal read, this is his handwriting, “Too many of us leave this world with our stories untold.” Too many of us leave a story untold. 

And Richard, being a friend of mine, and looking through these journals, it just really struck me that we all have something to offer. And we all have a message to share just from our very existence, and that we need to be sharing the stories of people who maybe don’t know how to share their stories. And as, you know, nonprofit professionals, we encounter inspiring and incredible and resilient and touching people all the time. 

And, if we can really, you know, use their story, you know, partner with them to use their story, we can really maximize the impact of the nonprofit as a whole. So that’s what we decided to do. At Morning Light, we switched our messaging from, you know, “Here’s what we do, we serve the terminally ill, homeless,” to, “here’s who we are.” And we started sharing the personal stories. 

We started sharing Dixie’s [SP] story, we started sharing Jim’s story, we shared Richard’s story, we shared Dewey’s story, who I’m going to share later. And it was through these names and through these faces and connecting people to people, and not just concepts, that our donations increased 35% in just one year. So I met Richard in 2018, we started sharing stories in 2019, our donations increased 35%. 

And a lot of that is attributed to the power of communication and the power of connecting people to people. People aren’t as concerned with what you do, they’re more concerned with why you do it. So it’s great to tell, you know, what your organization does, but you have to tell them why it’s important. And, not only that, you have to show them why it’s important. 

And story is a show and not tell form of communication. You’re painting an image, you’re giving them a narrative that they can really relate to and that they can really understand. Instead of just saying, “This is important,” you can say, “This is why it’s so important. This is the difference that we’re making.” So how does this apply to your organization? 

Well, every organization has a story because every organization has people involved. Even if your organization doesn’t, you know, serve human beings, there’s still people involved in your organization. Your organization is making a difference. And so it’s really important to start, you know, kind of brainstorming, “Okay, whose story could we be sharing? How can we connect people to people in our organization?” 

We’re going to get more into that in a minute, but first, I want to get into the nerdy stuff, which is the science of storytelling. I love this part because I really like psychology. And stories act like a drug because they actually produce chemical reactions in the brain. So when you’re listening to a story, and even when you’re sharing a story, your brain releases certain chemicals that create better bonds. 

And so we’re going to get into just how to do that right now. So one chemical that’s released is called dopamine. Dopamine is everyone’s favorite party guest because it, you know, really makes you feel something. You’ve probably heard the word “dope,” you know, like “that’s dope,” “that’s cool.” But, you know, dopamine, it helps with focus. It helps your audience pay attention, it helps them remember things better. 

It’s really important that your audience remembers something. You know, after you share something, you want them to go home and think about it. You want them to be motivated, and dopamine helps with motivation. So to produce dopamine, what you need to tell … you need to tell a story that peaks their interest with a hook or a twist. 

So give them, you know, something to look forward to. Tease them a little bit. You know, what’s the method you haven’t heard of yet? Right? You want to know more. So hook them, it feels good. Or you can do a twist later on in the story. 

You can do this with an interesting question, a suspenseful statement, maybe a cliffhanger, or a plot twist. Especially during the beginning or the ending of a story. Cortisol. So cortisol is the stress hormone. It doesn’t feel great but it definitely draws attention. It commands the brain’s attention, it’s like a warning. 

So you want to do this only in small doses, really. You don’t want to, you know, flood your audience with too much stress. Right? But it is important to kind of share the intensity of a story. What’s the struggle of the story? What is the person, you know, trying to overcome in the story? Doing that will help them see just how important it really is. 

It’ll make your audience, you know, pay attention. And to produce this, you just want to include a few sentences that really highlight the story. But again, you don’t want to live that, you want to give them some relief a little bit later, with a good outcome. Oxytocin. So oxytocin is actually the same chemical that floods a mother’s body after the birth of her baby. So it’s the bonding hormone. 

And it’s really powerful. So just think about what stronger bonds, you know, between you and the community would do for your organization. Oxytocin is the key to evoking empathy in your audience. Empathy is really important. It helps your audience trust you more and become more generous. And really what it’s doing is just creating a sense of authenticity, you know, pulling back the curtain a little bit and showing your audience that we’re all human. 

To produce this chemical, you want to tell stories that tug at the heartstrings. And, again, make your audience feel human. Being a little bit vulnerable and honest in your stories will be a major factor in triggering oxytocin because we all relate to authenticity. Endorphins. You’ve probably heard that endorphins come from exercise. 

Right? The feel-good stuff. They make you laugh. They make you happy. I have a little movie trivia here, if anybody knows what movie this is from, leave it in the chat and you get some bonus points. “But exercise gives you endorphins; endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” It’s from <i>Legally Blonde</i>, one of my favorites. 

But, anyway, all joking aside, telling funny stories and silly anecdotes can help put your audience at ease. So, you know, maybe tell them a humorous moment or a happy moment. You know, we showed the picture of Richard at Christmas in July and he’s smiling, and it just makes you feel good, it’s heartwarming. You can share an embarrassing moment, if you’re that brave. 

Or even something a little unexpected that they might not have seen coming, to kind of trigger the endorphins in your audience. So really, if we mix it all together, if we combine dopamine, the feel good stuff, you know, endorphins, the happy, laughy, jokey kind of stuff, cortisol, some stress, oxytocin, some empathy, some emotion, then you really have a great story and you have a captive audience ready for action. 

And a good story will produce all of this in your audience, and we’ll talk a little bit more on just how to do that in a moment. This quote is from Joseph Campbell, American Mythologist, he says, “When an audience listens to stories of ordinary people called to great things, it helps confirm the belief that we can also become heroes in our own lives.” 

So people aren’t just listening to your story, they’re listening to how they can relate or fit in. So when you share an inspiring story, when you share a good narrative, your audience is subconsciously wondering to themselves, “Okay, what does this have to do with me?” 

Draw [inaudible] a parallel [inaudible] lay it out, you know, with a call to action or with something, you know, that they can say, “All right. I see how I can fit into this. This is what they’re asking of me,” or, “That inspires me. I think I want to do something similar.” 

Right? I want to take one second. After I get, you know, through that section, I usually get questions on a little bit of ethical storytelling. So two of the common questions … and, you know, I can’t do a super deep dive but I do want to try to address them and just answer them really quickly, because, I’m sure, maybe the chat box is already asking these, is, first of all, “How do I share stories? You know, I don’t want to exploit the people that we serve.” 

And to that, you know, I say, you know, “I think we’re kind of, a society, we’re taught not to ask a lot of questions.” Right? You know, that’s their business and let’s leave it at that. But, if you think that you might be giving someone an opportunity to use their story to make a difference, then it’s more of an opportunity. 

Right? You’re not forcing anybody to share their story, you’re simply asking, “Wow, this really inspired me. Would you mind, you know, if we work together, to share the story?” You know, you want to maintain their narrative, you don’t want to change their narrative and fluff it up or change it in any way. But, in Richard’s case, for example, he left a journal and we worked together to craft this story that we could share, so that his life could make a difference. 

So, you know, you might be the only person ever to ask someone their life story. I mean, and that’s a big deal. It’s a cool experience to be somebody who takes interest and says, you know, “Your life has inspired me. Let’s share this.” But, of course, they can say no and, you know, we never want to pressure anybody. 

But it’s also just really important to maintain their narrative. Right? Don’t change things, don’t tweak things, don’t try to, you know, exacerbate things. And then, two, ethical storytelling is, you know, “What if I have to protect anonymity?” Right? Like, “I work with children, I can’t share their story,” “I work with health,” you know, “care. I can’t share their story.” 

This is definitely common in a lot of nonprofits. There’s a lot of different ways and techniques to do this. And I wish we had more time, but kind of an umbrella would be, you know, you can always change the name and say, “This is based on a true story,” right, when you’re sharing this. And your audience will understand, especially if you say, you know, “We had to change the name and a little bit about this story to protect those that we serve. But this is based on true story, this is something that,” you know, “the organization has done.” 

You can also show, you know, silhouette pictures. You can get quotes and just say, you know, “Anonymous,” or, “someone we’ve served,” quotes are really powerful. But, hopefully, those are just a couple little tips. I don’t want you to shy away from sharing stories because you don’t want to expose identity. There’s some techniques you can do right to just kind of switch that up a little bit. 

So now we’re going to get into the secret to a successful storytelling campaign, which is the episodic approach. So, like, raise your hand if you’ve gotten … I think this is like a vintage Netflix “Are you still watching?” screen. But I’m sure, during the pandemic, a few of us have seen the “Are you still watching?” screen. And when do you get that? 

It’s when you can’t consume enough. Right? Like you just keep going. You love the show, you just watch another one, watch another one. Then Netflix is like, “Are you still there?” You’re like, “Yes. Yes, I am.” and continue. 

This is what we want our audience to do, right, when they’re consuming our content that we share. So this is how we do it. Really quickly, I just want to give you some stats as to, you know, how this campaign worked for Morning Light, and this is the exact, you know, campaign and stats that won us the award, the Storyteller of the Year award. 

So when we started using the episodic approach, after the first half of our campaign, our January donations … and keep in mind, Morning Light is very small. You know, we just operate one home, we’re in Indianapolis, that’s it. So these gains are big gains for us. And I know there’s probably a lot of small nonprofits on today as well, but our January donations had increased from $10,690, in 2018, to, again, in January of 2019, $15,170. 

So it was a huge jump just from the way that we were doing our campaign, how we ran it. And, by the time our entire campaign had concluded in the first quarter of 2019, we had exceeded our 3-month fundraising goal by $35,000 in the first quarter. And our special event topped 70,000 gross for the first time ever, which is a big deal for us. And it really came down to how we packaged this episodic approach campaign. 

So here’s how to do it. Marketing statistics tell us that consumers need to see something between three and seven times before acting. They need repetition, they need familiarity. Good stories are presented in three acts. Coincidence? 

So what you’re going to do is you’re going to present your stories as episodes using the three-act story structure, which we will get into in a moment. So basically what you’re going to do is you’re going to break your content up to make it more digestible and give the opportunity for more touches with your audience. So what you’re going to do, you’re going to pick two stories. Use the singularity effect where you choose one face for each story. 

So you would choose Richard and then you would choose Dewey, who I’ll share in a second, or you would choose, you know, a board member, or you choose someone that you serve, or you would choose a staff member and another, you know, volunteer. Think of one person, two people, use the singularity effect. Because studies show that when, you know, you just have that one face to face, the audience is able to connect better than if you have a group story, right, or an abstract story. 

It’s the person-to-person connection that we’re going after. So think about it, which stories have the biggest trial and triumph, which have the greatest change and results. The greater the struggle, the greater the story. Think of one person right now who you feel embodies or represents your mission, and type their name into the chat. 

Think about it right now, think, “Okay, who’s one person that I feel,” you know, “we’ve really made a difference for?” and type them into the chat right now. Stories can be, like I said, about board members, they can be about, you know, the families of those you serve, volunteers, beneficiaries. You can think outside the box a little bit, especially if you need to protect anonymity. Right? Maybe share a board member’s story, maybe share a volunteer’s story. 

Okay. Now what? So you’re going to think of your first story, and what you do is you’d send one email and you would post on your socials once a day for 3 days in a row. The three-act story structure. So you’re going to, you know, maybe send out an email Monday at noon, Tuesday at noon, Wednesday at noon, and post on social at the same time. 

What that does is that already gives you, you know, just from one story, you’ve got three hits with your audience. Wait a week. Choose your second story, do the exact same thing. Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday. This gives you six total emails to your audience, six total posts, and really all you have to do is collect two stories. 

We usually do this mid-year, and then at the end of the year. So we do it about twice a year, if we can collect those stories. So this is usually what we do for our end-of-year campaign, and it works really well. And then, on every single email and every single post, you’ll include a call to action. Invite the audience to become part of the story. So maybe you’ll include a question. 

You can ask your audience for feedback, you know, maybe get to know them a little bit better, that can help you cater your message better in the future. You can give them the next step, so maybe invite them to watch a video that you’ve prepared or, you know, visit your website, maybe invite them for a site tour. I don’t know if you’re able to do that, during the pandemic, but maybe when the world gets back to normal. Include an ask. 

You know, and ask I usually save until the end, but you really want to give those specific dollar amounts too during your ask, right? Like, “$10 helps buy a blanket,” you know. Tell them exactly the amount that you want and then what their gift will achieve. You can leave the links in your emails and your posts. So, again, this gives you multiple touches, multiple ways for the audience to engage. 

Maybe they just want to like you on Facebook, maybe they do want to give, maybe they want to volunteer. Think about the different asks that you could do throughout your campaign as well. To maximize the campaign, you want to use consistent messaging. So, you know, keep the posts and keep the emails similar. The audiences really like familiarity. 

They like to know what’s coming and what to expect from you and your brand and your nonprofit. Right? So try to use consistent messaging. And use the multi-channel approach. So you’ll post your stories simultaneously, while you’re sending out your emails, but maybe even go a step farther, Morning Light’s done this, you know, submit your stories to the press. What newspaper, you know, what news stations, what radio stations might be interested in your story? 

Because they’re always looking for these kind of nicely pre-packaged … it’s like you’re handing them a gift, you’re like, “Have this really inspirational story, maybe you’d like to run it.” You never know who it might sit well with. And maybe even consider adding a mailing component. That’s something we also do, we send out one letter with the story, or two stories, to our constituents as well. 

It’s just those multiple hits with the same campaign really helps your audience know, like, and trust you, which is what we’re all looking for; helps you get more clicks, helps you get more gifts, right? How can you tie those stories into your events as well? So another tip for you. You know, the stories that we shared throughout the year, we like to print them and leave inserts on the tables at our events. 

Because then the guests go, “Oh, yeah, this is that person that I saw in the emails back in,” you know, “July or in December.” And you’re just creating that familiarity where they really feel like they’re a part of something and they really understand you and they really know the people involved. So you must be wondering now, “Okay, how do we do the three acts? How do we do these three emails that keep them opening them?” right? 

Like, “I want my audience to continue to engage with my stuff, I don’t just want to,” you know, “spam them for 3 days in a row.” So here’s how we do it. Act 1. You’re going to set up, you’re going to set the scene. So introduce the who, the what, the when, the where, the why. Introduce the character. Like I said, you’re going to set the scene for them. 

Paint a picture of normalcy for them, help them envision where it’s happening and what’s going on. And then you’re going to include that hook at the end. And I’m going to show you the examples that we prepared as well, so you can see exactly what that looks like. Act 2 is the confrontation. So this is where the rising action is happening. You want to talk about the goals of the character and also their struggles, what’s keeping them from, you know, reaching their goal. 

You’re going to communicate the conflicts, the obstacles, the risks, the dangers. All the different things that are working against the character. How does the tension build over time? Then Act 3 is that resolution, that aha moment, you know, where the questions that were raised maybe in the hook, in the first part and throughout the rising action, now you’re really going through and kind of tying them up and answering those questions for the audience and giving them that relief. 

And then, also what was the point? What’s the lesson to be learned here? What circumstances changed? What’s different now, over time? And, for my visual learners, this is what it looks like. So I drew this and I’m actually going to use a different story. I’m going to run through this with a story I think we all know and, hopefully, love. 

I know the holidays were a couple months ago but we’re going to use this to kind of demonstrate the Grinch. Okay? The Grinch who stole Christmas. So how would we do this? How do we break this down? So we set the scene. Right? 

Now, in the Grinch, there’s a lot of “Whos.” Not just one who, there’s a lot of whos. But there’s a big who, right, and who’s the Grinch? The what. Well, what’s going on here? Christmas is coming and it’s the holidays. And the Grinch hates Christmas. 

Why? We think it’s because his heart’s too small or there’s something’s wrong with him. Right? He doesn’t like what Christmas stands for. He doesn’t like the noise-noise-noise-noise and all the stuff. Right? And it’s in Whoville. 

And so, you know, the beginning, we’re really gathering, “Okay, what’s going on here?” The struggles start to rise because Christmas is practically here. And I can’t stand Christmas, so what am I going to do? I’m going to hatch a plan and I’ve got to steal the stuff. Right? And now we’re worried because like these poor Whos, they’re going to lose their Christmas presents and their Who hash and all of that. 

Right? He’s going to sneak into their houses. So we’ve got some, you know, obstacles and a little bit of conflict going on. And maybe a little bit of risk and danger when, you know, Cindy Lou comes down and he’s caught and, you know, you’re starting to see all these struggles. But he does it. Right? He steals everything. 

He doesn’t leave anything, not even a crumb for a mouse, or whatever. You get to the top of the mountain, literally, Mount Crumpit, and then the crisis and the climax happen. So the crisis is when like things just can’t get any worse. Right? Like he gets all this stuff, the Who’s stuff is gone, he gets to the top, he’s completed his mission. But what do they do? 

The Whos start to sing, and he just, like, has a meltdown because he’s like, “Why?” like, “I stole everything.” But the climax is that aha moment, right? That, “Oh, okay. Maybe Christmas is actually about more.” And so then we start to enter into the resolution. His heart grows, he literally goes back down the mountain, in the sleigh, and returns everything to everyone. 

And, you know, everyone’s joining hands and singing and he himself, the Grinch, carved the roast beast. Right? I’ve seen the movie a few times. So we want to communicate that change or at least, you know, get the audience to recognize the change. So what was the change in the character? His heart grew. And the situation changed because now he’s joining in with the festivities, instead of just hating them, you know, alone on his mountaintop. 

And the audience has learned that maybe Christmas perhaps is a little bit more. Right? And we can all kind of take that away and say, “Okay, it’s a spirit, it’s a feeling, it’s about inclusion.” Right? So I just wanted to kind of demonstrate how that story structure works in, hopefully, a story that you knew. But I also now would love to share the email campaign that Morning Light has done, and I’ll, you know, read it to you and you can kind of, hopefully, absorb it and see where maybe you can relate it to your own organization. 

So one thing I wanted to show was the open rate retention for this particular campaign. Because, you know, like I said, sometimes people are like, “Hey, Madison, I don’t want my audience to get annoyed. I don’t want them to like,” you know, “unsubscribe [inaudible] stuff.” But, if you can reach them in [inaudible], the email the next day so they can follow up on the story. 

So we have email number one. This is about a man named Dewey. This is Dewey. We start with a picture, you have that singularity effect, that one to one. That’s a picture of him when he was a little bit younger. And we say, “Meet Dewey, Part 1,” so we’re already communicating to the audience that there’s going to be multiple parts to this. 

So we say, you know, “As with the end of the year, the end of life is often a time for reflection. At Morning Light, we’re honored to carry on the legacy for hospice residents at the award-winning Abbie Hunt Bryce Home. The stories we’re about to share with you, over the next few days, are filled with trial, regrets, triumph, optimism, and wisdom.” So we are hooking them in, we’re telling them what they can expect, and what they’ll gain from reading this stuff. 

“Meet Dewey, fondly known as Mr. Dewey. You may have seen his face before but do you know his incredible story?” So, again, we’re enticing them to read more. “As a man in his 9th decade of life, his body was failing him. Mr. Dewey was hard of hearing and confined to a wheelchair. ‘Parkinson’s got the best of me,’ he said. And while he may not have had his health, he still had his memories, memories he held as close as the photograph above.” 

What we’re doing here is we’re going to start to introduce his human side. Right? He was full of, you know, stories from his past as a farm boy, a veteran, a father. So here’s who this person was. Maybe, you know, something being said resonates with somebody in the audience. Right? So Dewey served in the Air Force, he trained and showed horses professionally for 50 years, and Dewey danced. 

“I can’t walk but I can dance,” said Dewey.” “He especially loved to dance with his daughter. But, like many of us, Dewey had heartache and struggle. More on that tomorrow.” So we’re already telling the audience that they can expect more from us tomorrow and, hopefully, have kind of hooked them and peaked their interest just a little bit, “Okay, what’s going to come up?” 

“Continue to check your daily emails from us this week to learn more about our inspiring resident, Mr. Dewey.” And then we have our call to action. So, “In the meantime, please visit our website to learn more about our mission and what you can do to be a part of it.” So we haven’t made a financial ask at all yet, we’re just inviting the audience to kind of, you know, further learn about us and come into the story even more. 

Then, the next day, this arrived in their inbox. We’ve got another great picture when Santa visited the home and is giving Dewey an air-force hat. As we had told, you know, everyone yesterday that he’s a veteran. So, “Yesterday we introduced to you one of the residents that made the Abbie Hunt Bryce Home extra bright, Mr. Dewey. Like any other life, Dewey experience joy with pain.” 

So here we’re starting to get into, you know, that second act, the confrontation part of the story where you’re communicating some of the struggles. Right? So, “Dewey’s wife and mother of his two children was killed in a car accident when the kids were just 11 and 12. Dewey raised him the best he knew how and hoped he did a good job, as most parents do. His children visited as they could while Dewey lived at the Abbie Hunt Bryce Home.” 

“Dewey also lost his brother to Parkinson’s, the same disease that slowly stole his own independence.” “During the reflection of his life, Dewey wished he had done more good, though he wasn’t one to dwell on regrets. At the home, he vowed to do whatever he could to do good in his final chapter. And, while he was not as physically able-bodied as he used to be, he certainly knew how to brighten the days of everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him at the home.” 

So we’re communicating the struggles, right? But then we are helping relieve the audience a little bit with some of this optimism and some of these, you know, meaningful thoughts that Dewey had in his final days. “Dewey made the most of the life he lived at the home. He enjoyed bird watching, television, snacking, and holidays.” Again, we’re looking for those kind of common denominators that the audience might relate to, saying, “This is a real person,” you know, “This person’s just like you who might enjoy a lot of the same things that you do.” 

“As you’ll soon see, Dewey even developed a very unlikely friendship that is guaranteed to warm your heart. But that’s the story for tomorrow.” So, again, we have a little bit of a hook for tomorrow for them to open their email. “But until then, please like us on Facebook.” So our second ask was just to engage with us on social media, just like us, so that they’ll start to get our social media more. 

So they can click this button, and that’s the second ask. Still no financial ask from us yet. And then this is Day 3. So this is actually a little story about Dewey and my daughter. So that’s actually me, in that picture, my hair was a little bit different back then. But this is the story of my 3-year-old and Dewey becoming friends. 

And it’s really supposed to be one of those, you know, heartwarming stories, that’s a feel-good way to leave your audience. So “In yesterday’s email, we promised an extra special story of friendship. So, in addition to introducing you to Mr. Dewey, we’d also like you to meet Julia.” Again, Julia’s my daughter. 

Basically, Julia shared the same love of horses as Dewey. My daughter does horseback riding as well, she started when she was little. And I shared that with Dewey and he began sending me home with magazines, you know, magazines that he collected for decades, throughout showing horses, to give to her. And then she would, you know, send him cards in return that she had made. 

And they formed a special bond and she even visited him, as you saw in the photo. And so we shared that with the audience. We made a video about it as well and put it on our social. So our ask was, you know, “If you would like to see more on this touching story, please,” you know, “click the video.” And then we have a quote from Dewey himself saying, “This place is like home. They treat you like whole people. More than a number.” 

So quotes are extremely powerful, if you can use those in your stories as well. But then, at the bottom of that, we make the audience the hero of the story. Right? So Morning Light serves these people. But we couldn’t do it without your support, right? We want to invite the audience to become part of the story, you know, “These special bonds and memories cannot be made possible without your support.” 

That’s where we make our ask, so, “If you would like to support free hospice care for patients like Dewey, shop our catalog. You can donate here,” you know, here’s the button “I Want to Help.” So at the end of the three days is when we made our financial ask. So it’s different ways to invite the audience to become part of the story. So I am a poet and I actually wrote a book called <i>Dear Mirror.</i> And so this is, you know, a poem that I’ve written about storytelling, which says, “For if we can’t chart our chapters and shout them from mountains, then what is the point of reaching the peak? 

Trust me, when I tell you the answers to the questions “who are you” and “why” are worth the climb.” And so I just invite you to think about, you know, how you can use storytelling to make an impact, but also the fact that you, as nonprofit professionals, have your own story. You’re doing things all the time to make a difference. 

Right? You have your own experiences, your own struggles maybe, and your own insights that will make a difference. And you’re doing something, even just being here to learn how to better, you know, tell a story, you’re learning things and doing things that are making the world a better place. And so just, you know, reflect on that as well, as we close out of this, that you have a powerful story to share as well. 

And then this is how to get in touch with me. We’ll open up for Q&A. I don’t know how much time we have for it, but I’m happy to answer some questions. But, yeah, on Instagram, I’m @toldpoetry, it’s my poetry account. But if you want to email me, madison@toldcoaching. And then you can always find me at LinkedIn, Madison Gonzalez. And I think I’m probably linked somewhere on Bloomerang. 

So that is that. We’ll end on that. And, Steven, if you want to come back on … 

– [Steven] Yeah, that was great. Thank you, Madison. Awesome info. Why don’t you leave your contact info up during the Q&A, just in case maybe people want to grab it. But that was awesome. Thank you. Jeez, I mean my eyes were tearing up, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one here. 

My birthday is June 10th, by the way, so that was … 

– [Madison] That is so amazing. I just got [inaudible]. Oh, that’s wonderful. Oh, wow. 

– [Steven] That really hit me. So that’s cool. And I’m never going to watch <i>The Grinch </i>the same way again either, so that was really eye-opening. 

– [Madison] I ruined it for you. Now you know all the secrets … 

– [Steven] No, it’s the opposite, it’s going to expand my appreciation. That was great. And it occurred to me, it was really interesting, Madison, that we had a Boomerang customer who did an email sequence, and it was really successful. And I’ve looked at it several times but it never occurred to me that it had the story structure and the episodic approach, exactly that you outlined. 

So, as soon as this is over, I’m going to go back and look at this … 

– [Madison] Yeah. 

– [Steven] … because you really opened my eyes to what folks are doing and why. So this is great and we’re getting a lot of good chats here, so I think I’m not the one who thinks that. A couple questions that have already been asked around social media. So how did you do that exactly? Was it kind of a one-to-one recreation of the email, as like a Facebook post? 

– [Madison] Sure. Okay. That’s a great question. 

– [Steven] Yeah. What did that look like? 

– [Madison] So emails are going to be a little more thorough. You know, on social, it’s such a kind of scroll culture, right? We need something that really hits the audience and makes them stop. And, if they see too many words, they get overwhelmed a lot of the time. So, you know, social media is more visual. You can still kind of share, I would say, you know, just try to condense your story down to the nuts and bolts as much as you can. 

But you can always, you know, invite them to subscribe to your email or maybe you want the full story on your website, you can link them through to that. But I think that, you know, bogging your social media down with too much of the wording actually is counterproductive. So maybe pick like your favorite quote or your favorite kind of, you know, little paragraph and throw that up there and say, “For the rest of the story,” or, “if you’d like to learn more,” you know, link it through. 

That would be my advice on that. 

– [Steven] That makes sense, move them from the post to your website or somewhere else … 

– [Madison] Which is the goal ultimately anyway, you know, kind of funnel the traffic to your website so they’ll click that, you know, Donate button or Volunteer button or just get more in touch with you. 

– [Steven] That’s great, that makes a lot of sense. And then, along the same lines, a few people also asked about the episodic approach when it comes to like algorithms and availability … or visibility I guess is the right word. So I think the concern is, you know … and this is always the trouble with with social media, this is why email is so much better for this stuff anyway, but I think it’d be interesting to talk about, you know, maybe somebody sees the first story but then they don’t see the second story because their news feed, or whatever … 

Is that even worth trying to overcome? I know it’s really hard to get, you know, those robots to do what you want. But what do you think? 

– [Madison] No, that’s a great question. The algorithm is something we’re always constantly battling. I think encouraging your audience to engage with your stuff as much as they want to, you know, if they want to see your stuff, they need to be engaging. So, “To make sure that you see this tomorrow,” you know, “click Like or even share it.” The more that your audience is engaging with your social media, the more the social media goes, “Okay, they like to see that, we’ll show it again.” 

But you might need to prompt them to do that, prompt them to like the post or, I don’t know, maybe just encourage them at the bottom, “check back tomorrow to see how we were able to solve this problem for this individual.” 

– [Steven] A little teaser. That’s a good idea. That’s cool. 

– [Madison] Yeah, that’s not a, you know, cut-and-dried easy answer either. 

– [Steven] That’s a hard one. I mean, yeah, we could do hours of webinars on those … 

– [Madison] Social media, yeah. 

– [Steven] Dang algorithms. But email, I mean … 

– [Madison] Email works. 

– [Steven] Email was the big driver of this campaign. So that makes sense. There was an interesting question here about maybe using this format in an event setting, even if it’s a virtual event. Have you seen that work? 

– [Madison] Absolutely. 

– [Steven] I mean have you guys done events [crosstalk]? 

– [Madison] Yes, yes, yes. You know, if you can do the three-act story structure throughout the event, so maybe introduce the character at the beginning of the event, maybe take a break, in the middle of the event to share the struggles, and then wrap it up at the end before the ask. Because really, you know, you want to solve that problem and get them in that emotional state. That’s a great idea and, you know, it gives you more opportunity to get up and really engage your audience on a … you know, what am I trying to say? 

Talk to them more, I guess, throughout the event. But also, you know, if you can’t really find time in your event to break it up into three, just one really solid story before your ask is going to make all the difference. You don’t necessarily have to break it up like that at an event. 

But that is a really creative and great idea. Especially on a virtual event, I would say, because, you know, that’s going to keep them from logging out. People are going to leave your event, you know, if they’re in-person, but, if you can kind of tease them at the beginning and then share a little bit in the middle and then not give them the result until the end, you’re going to keep them more engaged, I would think, throughout the event. 

– [Steven] Yeah, that makes sense. That’s really cool. 

– [Madison] Great idea. 

– [Steven] What about the actual collecting of stories? This is one where, you know, I’ve seen first hand, and maybe you have, Madison, too, that, you know, maybe there’s a lot of stories and an employee’s head at the organization? And turnover, being as high as it is, they leave and all of that institutional knowledge is gone. 

What do you recommend, is it as simple of like a Dropbox folder of just Google Docs or whatever, is that the simple solution? And how do you encourage people to do that? 

– [Madison] Yeah. So, on Bloomerang, there’s a blog about it, it’s called a story bank, and I would recommend doing it on … so, you know, you can go look, there’s a blog post that you guys have that I wrote about story banking and how to do it, how you can work with your team to categorize these stories. 

I would recommend, you know, Dropbox or some kind of like community. But definitely you don’t want stories [inaudible]. So write them up and then store them and even categorize them, you know, so that future employees can go and access those. 

– [Steven] Yeah, I’ll post the blog post in the chat. That was a really good one. And, by the way, Madison has been writing every week for us this awesome stuff, so I’m going to put that in the chat as well. Yeah, that’s great. And it might be, it just occurred to me, as you said that, that maybe it’d be a good, like, training and onboarding opportunity beyond all the purposes that you put in here. 

– [Madison] Well, definitely. And even, you know, sharing stories with employees and board members as they’re coming on board. You know, we’re not just trying to get the loyalty of donors, right, we want to also communicate to our employees why this is important. Hopefully, they already know, hopefully, they already share our passion. 

But those stories always help, you know, just kind of further that morale, I would say. 

– [Steven] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. What about … I know you touched on the topic of, you know, not exploiting someone by telling their story, especially if … you know, I’m thinking of domestic violence victims, certainly minors. This is hard, right? 

And I think your advice of, you know, it could be an opportunity to give them agency is a good one too. What about in situations when their identity just, period, cannot be shared? Is it okay to anonymize a person or maybe aggregate multiple people into kind of, I guess, a fictionalized persona [crosstalk]? 

– [Madison] You know, I think, you know, fictionalizing but based on a true story kind of thing works. And I also think the audiences understand, especially if it’s something like domestic violence. You know, your audience isn’t going to be like, “Why aren’t they telling me the name of this person?” You know, they’re open and receptive but they still, in a lot of ways, have no idea what that looks like. And so even just giving them a little bit of a window into even the day of the life of, you know, someone at the organization and what they see and how they, you know, try to help these individuals. 

Maybe share … you know, someone that had definitely, you know, could not share any identity for legal purposes, it was like, “Well, could you take a picture of the room of the clinic that you treat these individuals?” 

And tell the story of, you know, what goes on in this room. You know, you can still find these angles for these stories, just the the whole goal is to connect the audience to the mission. Right? And the best way to do that is through people, but, when you can’t do it through people, still just help them get that visual of what a day in the life looks like and the difference that you’re making. 

– [Steven] I love that idea of the room. It reminded me … I don’t know if you saw this, Madison, but you’re in Indie, so you might have the Exodus Refugee work here? 

– [Madison] Yeah. 

– [Steven] They did, I think it was a Facebook post or something where, same issue, right, they didn’t want to put faces on camera basically. But these refugee kids had done some artwork while they were waiting to be placed or … I’m really sorry if I’m using the wrong terminology but they were waiting basically. And that was the post, like, “Hey, here’s some kids and here’s some artwork they did. They’re so excited to be here in the States.” 

And, again, you just illuminated that as the strategy. Yeah, it doesn’t always have to be a person. And it might even be better, in some cases, right? I mean to show what they’re going through? Yeah. 

– [Madison] Exactly. You’re just trying to create a visual for the audience because, you know, most of us have never had to experience something like that, we have no idea what that’s like. But any kind of window into that world is going to, you know, help the organization meet more people. 

– [Steven] Yeah. So I know you wrote a blog post about this one because it was the most recent one I think you wrote, but interviewing. You know, maybe you’re sitting these folks down and you want to pull that story out of them. I’ll post the blog in the chat, but any quick tips there of, you know, maybe how you should approach that, maybe … 

even before the actual interview, I’m thinking, you know, inviting them or explaining the idea there. How do you approach that? 

– [Madison] Yeah. I mean, you know, first just consider who might be the best person in the organization to do the interview. Who has, you know, rapport with them already? You know, sometimes you might be in the office and you never get to meet the people that you serve. So is there someone who does serve them that can say, “Hey, I’m representing the organization and I’d just love to get your story.” 

You know, arm them with questions, right, and different things, you know, so they’re not going into it like, “I don’t know what to say.” But really it’s just a conversation. You know, I think the best stories that I’ve ever gotten from our residents were from the people that I knew and just appreciated and, you know, valued their insight. And so it was like, you know, “Do you mind if we,” you know, “share this?” 

And I have found that most people are more than happy to kind of share their experiences, if they feel like it’s … you know, especially if they’re dedicated to your mission and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, this will help,” you know, “more people be able to have access to the help that you gave me? They think that’s pretty cool and they’re happy to do it. 

So, you know, I would say, like you said, there’s some good questions on the blog to kind of get your mind going, but really just think of it as you’re just getting to know someone, you know, you’re just having a human-to-human, maybe over a coffee or something, conversation. 

– [Steven] There’s an interesting one here in the chat, I’m really curious, your take on … what about the shelf life, for lack of a better phrase, of these stories? You know, how often should you be going back? Should you be worried that, “Oh, jeez,” you know, “we’ve been using this story for a while,” I kind of feel like maybe there’s a little bit more pressure internally than perhaps there is perception externally, that a story is old, you know. 

But maybe I could be wrong about that. What do you think, how often did you refresh things? 

– [Madison] Sure, yeah. No, that’s great. You know, I think we try to share new stories every year. But I mean that’s just personal preference. It really depends on your constituents and what they’re engaging with. If the story is ongoing and, you know, maybe you’ve got someone in youth and now, you know, they’ve been a part of your organization for 5 years, you can still keep sharing that story. The audience knows that person, they’re connected to that person. 

I think, you know, that’s not a clean-cut answer either, it kind of depends on the organization. But also, you know, if you want to get really fancy, you can share older stories with newer donors, and they’ve never heard that story before. You know? So if you can kind of segment your constituents into, “Okay, this is someone who’s just joined us this year,” they have no idea about these stories. 

The shelf life goes on and on and on and on and on. 

– [Steven] Now you’re speaking my language, Madison, because I’m like, “Oh yeah, that’s great. Yeah.” And you’re right, the example of the kid, you know, maybe follow them and update, you know, “Here’s an update on this student,” or this young person or whatever. I love that, that makes a lot of sense. Jeez, this is great. We probably have time for maybe one or two more questions. 

A few people have asked about video. Any experience with … I know a lot of the examples were photos and texts, and that is good for email, obviously, but, you know, it’s kind of hard to make video now. Right? You know, we’re socially … 

– [Madison] Oh, it depends. You know, I mean I know we hire, like, a videographer to do our videos for our events because we want them to be really top-notch. But I have taken my iPhone out and recorded some of my interviews with residents and gotten just great beautiful, you know, 30-second statements from these people. And you maybe can transcribe it, if they’re difficult to hear or something, but those are great for social media. 

It really doesn’t have to be anything fancy, and, in fact, sometimes those are even more meaningful because they feel more authentic. So, you know, at a big event, it’s nice to kind of have this professional look, of course, but, you know, if you don’t have the budget for that all the time, or the manpower to do it, really an iPhone will get the job done. If you put that on social media, it’s still really effective. 

– [Steven] That makes sense. That opens up the whole world to Webcam, Zoom. I mean … 

– [Madison] Of course, yeah. We’ve recorded Zoom, you know, conversations before. We do an annual memorial every year. And we couldn’t do it in person this year, so we had, you know, people just get on Zoom and record and share their memory of their loved one and then what the, you know, organization meant to them. And it was super effective. 

So you can get kind of creative even just, you know, within your own little office, if you don’t have the budget for a big production. 

– [Steven] I love it. And a comment in the chat that those new iPhones probably rival any of those fancy cameras. So, yeah, I kind of feel for those videographers, but maybe they’re just using iPhones and it’s fine. So, yeah, it’s kind of hard to do bad quality these days. Jeez, this was a lot of fun, Madison, this was just a treat to have you and finally talk to you in person after emailing for so many months. 

– [Madison] Yeah, absolutely. 

– [Steven] Any final thoughts, people reach out to you? I know we probably didn’t get to all the questions but we’re about out of time, so I’ll give you the last word. 

– [Madison] No. You know, I’m very happy that everyone joined. Thank you for everybody who listened. And, you know, I absolutely love sharing this, it’s my passion. So thank you for having me, and I appreciate you all. 

– [Steven] Any time. And it’s always nice to hear from a practitioner that’s, you know, boots on the ground. 

– [Madison] In the trenches. I’m with you all. 

– [Steven] I love it. And thanks to all of you for hanging out. I mean I think we had over 500 people at the height, so, you know, that’s 500 hours that you weren’t doing your day job. So thank you for doing this and taking the time. You know, I hope you found it valuable. And like I said, we’re going to share the recording, the slides. I’ll get that out to you here before dinner time. 

I promise. But we got some great webinars coming up in the future. Next week, same time, same place, my buddy Rachel is going to be talking about how to stay productive as an ED. If you’re an ED, perfect session for you. If you aren’t, come anyway because I think you’ll still get some takeaways and, you know, maybe you’ll be an ED someday and you can get a jump start on productivity. 

Rachel’s awesome. Again, someone that has been in your shoes, and still is, and it’s going to be a fun session. She’s a buddy of mine that I’ve known for many years. And you will be entertained and enlightened, I can assure you of that. So next week 3:00 p.m. Eastern. And, again, we’re recording, so if you can’t make it, register anyway because you’ll get the recording. 

It’ll be great. So we’ll call it a day there, it’s just about the top of the hour. But, again, Madison, you’re awesome. Thanks for doing this. And, yeah, don’t go outside. 

– [Madison] [inaudible] really enjoyed spending the hour with you all. 

– [Steven] Yeah. Go get some hot chocolate, you deserved it. I’m going to brave the weather and try to go home. But look for an email from me with the slides and the recording, and, hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday, have a good weekend. Stay safe, stay warm. And we’ll talk to you again soon. 

Bye now. 

– [Madison] Bye.

Kristen Hay
Kristen Hay
Kristen Hay

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