Your Brand Story: Change the Fundraising Game by Driving Donations and Building Relationships

April 26, 2017 Trent Thompson

This article was originally published on npENGAGE.

Fundraising professionals continuously seek better methods to cultivate individual donors and obtain major gifts. To that end, making the right first impression is vital. In the very first meeting with a potential donor what you do, why it matters, and how they can help should be crystal clear to your audience—and all are absolutely critical to moving the supporter relationship forward.

Real-world experience highlights the potential impact this clear positioning can have. As The Children’s Center in Detroit learned first-hand, their unique and compelling brand story was the secret sauce for touching the hearts and moving the minds of donors. It was a game-changer.

The challenge

The Children’s Center serves nearly 7,500 children and families each year who are challenged with mental and behavioral health issues; often, these children are traumatized by the scars of poverty, abuse and neglect. As The Children’s Center expanded from a handful of services in 1929 to nearly 30 today, staff and members of the board struggled to talk about their work in a consistent, meaningful and relevant manner. To solve this problem, we helped craft their story.

During a brand and communications audit, we asked parents, staff, donors, board members, volunteers and other supporters, “What does The Children’s Center do?” We expected the answers to vary, depending on the type of interaction each person had with the Center. What we did not expect was that far too many didn’t even know how to begin to answer the question.

If your leadership, staff and key stakeholders don’t know your brand story, how can they share it with others?

What is a brand story?

A brand story is a special kind of story. It evolves over time as it responds to the changing needs of those you serve. It answers the most fundamental of all questions: “Why?” Why does your organization exist? Why does it matter? Why should anyone care? Why should I care? A brand story will unite those working within your organization and connect with those you serve and support on the outside.

When crafted properly, a powerful and compelling brand story improves your fundraising results, establishes relevance and increases brand visibility. The right brand story builds donor trust and grows confidence in your organization. A brand story deepens existing relationships and helps forge new ones. An inspiring brand story will intrigue, engage and connect emotionally with your many audiences. It will help strengthen agency pride and improve cultural alignment to re-establish that vital link between your vision, work, staff, board and community.  It will even help you attract top talent to your board, staff and volunteer ranks.

True story

At a recent meeting with a donor, the Chief Philanthropy Officer (CPO) at The Children’s Center shared the new brand story with a long-time donor. After reading it from cover-to-cover, the donor reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pre-written check for $10,000 – his annual gift. Then, he shredded it. Imagine the panicked mental monologue in the CPO’s head. She was thinking, “He didn’t like it.” “Maybe I shouldn’t have shared it today.”. In fact, the donor was so moved by the story that he called his finance manager into his office on the spot and requested a new check in the amount of $25,000. Not only did he ask for ten copies of the brand story to give to colleagues, he offered to host a gathering in his home to share The Children’s Center story with his friends and colleagues. The new brand story changed the game – and more than doubled an annual gift.

9 copies of a nonprofit's brand story laid out on a desk

A game-changer

When done properly, a powerful and compelling brand story can literally be a game-changer for your nonprofit. It will help connect your mission with existing and prospective donors on a much deeper and emotional level. In today’s challenging and competitive environment, organizations who don’t tell their story well risk donors choosing another organization who does a much better job at telling theirs.

The next challenge: sharing your brand story with everyone

With a compelling brand story in hand, your ultimate goal should be to share it with everyone – and their mother. The next challenge? Navigating the cost to print and distribute your story on a large scale. We created a solution. In my next article, I’ll share ways you can solve that problem and scale telling your brand story to the masses.


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