Using Data and Storytelling to Support Your Fundraising

By Jennifer L. Hipple, Communications Consultant Whether we’re 9 or 90 years old, we all love a good story. As a nonprofit, storytelling is one of the most compelling tools you can utilize for building rapport with donors (and potential donors) and helping them better understand your mission and how you’re impacting lives. Combining your storytelling with data you’ve collected will help you in painting a picture of your effectiveness.

Your clients’ stories can be incredibly powerful. You should develop a plan for collecting stories, throughout the year, from not only your clients’ point of view but also that of your staff, volunteers, Board members, and community partners. Diversifying how you tell these stories, using personal accounts, and conveying journeys and successes will enable you to appeal to a wide array of donors. Success stories create an emotional connection for the donor and generate interest in being a part of your mission.

When using data to support your storytelling, it’s critical to keep it focused on what’s important to your donors. Use provable data, tracked over time, that reflects how your work is directly affecting your clients and supporting your end goal or mission. This builds trust with donors.

Illustrate and Resonate To make your storytelling effective, share specifics to make your message resonate with your audience. Think about the story you want to share. Should it be in the client’s own voice or perhaps shared by a volunteer or staff member? Perhaps a volunteer could share why he chooses to spend time supporting your mission. A Board member could share how or why she got involved with your organization and her vision for the work you’re doing together.

Sharing an individual’s or a family’s story is important but your donors will want their gifts to have a wider impact. That’s where data comes into play! Complement your storytelling by sharing data that illustrates the breadth of the problem you are addressing and your impact in the community. For instance, while your food shelf may be serving thousands of families and individuals, a client story will help make your mission’s impact more personal, emotional, and relatable.

Data Conveys Accountability Show your donors that you understand the scope of the problem you’re addressing by sharing data that quantifies it. Your data can also illustrate the impact you are making in the community. One way of doing this is to include data that shows what you can do (or purchase) with specific dollar amounts (i.e. $25 will provide X number of meals).

Tell Them a Story Your audience needs context in order to fully understand your data. Tell the story behind the numbers and why each gift of support (and donor!) is important. For instance, using the example of the food shelf, your data can point out that 1 out of every 20 kids in the school district is living in poverty but when you tell the story of a family that’s been helped by your organization, it makes the numbers more impactful, and the need more personal.

How do you decide what information to include? Bear in mind the three things donors are most interested in:

  1. How are donations and grants used (where is the money going)?

  2. How were these decisions made?

  3. What do you want/need from donors? What is your ask?

infographic sample

infographic sample

Infographics: The “Shorthand” of Conveying Data  Creating an infographic helps make data easy to understand and absorb. Infographics allow you to combine data with text and images to illustrate the scope of your mission, programs, and challenges. If you’re looking for some examples, check out Beth Kanter’s Nonprofit Infographics on Pinterest.

If you’re looking for a tool to help you create an infographic, check out Easel.ly. This is a free HTML-based online tool for creating attractive and easily digestible infographics. There are 15 pre-existing templates/themes or you can create one of your own. You’ll see lots of customization options, too. Easel.ly is very intuitive and user-friendly. You can check it out before registering. You can also download your newly created infographic as a jpeg or PNG.

Another Way to Forge Connections Combining data with storytelling will help you connect with your donors, educate them about your mission, and maximize your fundraising potential in new and create ways.