COVID-19 forced all of us to re-evaluate how we do marketing and storytelling. Without that face-to-face, personal interaction so many of us rely on when it comes to storytelling and fundraising for our nonprofits, how can you still cultivate empathy and share your story? Copying and pasting your other marketing strategies over to digital doesn’t work. Digital storytelling is unique, its platforms are unique and therefore its strategy must be unique.
COVID-19 was a wake-up call that showed us the importance of digital when it comes to nonprofit work and the need for solid digital storytelling resources out there.
Let us be that resource.
During COVID, so many things moved to digital platforms, simply because it was one of the only ways to effectively stay in touch with donors, employees, clients, even your own family and friends! And while this demonstrated the importance of digital in times of crisis, it’s just as important in the “normal times” as well. Over the next few weeks, we’ll walk you through a mini blog series, sharing some helpful tips and tricks to know when it comes to digital storytelling.
Lesson #1: Embrace the authenticity that’s unique to your brand.
If we take a step back and look at digital marketing from a 30,000-foot view, we see one thing: that the purpose of digital marketing is brand – not direct – marketing. This means raising awareness, generating excitement and getting on people’s radars. Digital platforms move people down the user funnel from awareness to consideration to decision.
Digital marketing and storytelling can be key drivers of the awareness and consideration phases. People need to be repeatedly exposed to your content and build trust in your brand authenticity. Digital allows you to engage your audience with consistent, strategic messaging that piques their interest and makes them want to learn more about your work and their place in it.
This may all sound great in theory, but you’re probably wondering what to do if you don’t have the luxury of time and resources to slowly build those connections. For example, during times of crisis like COVID-19, how can you speed up the awareness and consideration phases when fundraising and support are more critical than ever?
Here are a few ways to get your digital story out there during a time of crisis and make it resonate with your audience:
1. Show how your work is part of the solution. Even if it’s not immediately obvious, demonstrate your industry knowledge and thought leadership by opening people’s eyes to the way the crisis is uniquely affecting the work that you do. For example, when the quarantine started, exploitation of the poor probably wasn’t the first thing that came to your mind. But because International Justice Mission is fighting to eradicate modern-day slavery, they were able to give their perspective and share their expertise on that particular consequence of the quarantine. Their CEO and President Gary Haugen filmed a video from his home, using the hashtag #UnsafeInLockdown. This story got picked up by the news because they were able to demonstrate how their organization was addressing a unique need that came as a result of the quarantine.
2. Even if your work isn’t directly related to the crisis at hand, show what happens if your organization ceases to exist. This is also a way of sharing your mission without getting into the weeds. Who gets left behind? How many kids won’t be fed? How many homeless people won’t have a place to stay? One of our clients, CORRAL, used this approach in an effective email campaign. Their subject line simply stated: “Why CORRAL Can’t Afford to Close.” Even though their work isn’t directly related to COVID-19, they painted a picture of how much more their girls were at risk during this season and what the impact would be on them if CORRAL had to close its doors after COVID-19 had passed.
3. Cut to the chase. This might feel counterintuitive, but you don’t have to give the whole backstory of your organization, your history and your mission to show your value. State your “why” and make the ask. Get donors in the door and then when the crisis is over, continue to cultivate those relationships. Crisis flip flops the process of acquiring new donors: you might not have the luxury of time to build a strong relationship first. So, make sure you capture their information and then intentionally build the relationship after the crisis is over, thanking them for stepping up to the plate during a challenging season.
4. Lean on your faithful donors. They signed up to support you through thick and thin, so don’t be afraid to get in front of them via email, a video of your Executive Director making an appeal or a thoughtful phone call. Take care of them in the good times and they’ll step it up for you in the hard times.
5. Beware of trying to go “viral.” The temptation, especially during a crisis, is to get your content out there in front of as many people as possible. But going viral in the short-term doesn’t necessarily translate to more dollars or more followers in the long-term. You create a moment, not a movement. Avoid trying to force something to catch on. Do what you’re good at, show the heart of who you are and always be raw and authentic. It doesn’t have to be complicated. An email sharing “why you can’t afford to close” or a tweet from your living room with a clever hashtag – these are the things that draw attention and move the needle during a crisis.
We encourage you to embrace these practices so that you can keep your brand and your digital channels relevant, useful and encouraging in a way that only YOUR organization can do. In part 2 of this series, we’ll show you how to further support your brand by posting strategic content and identifying the right channels for your unique storytelling voice!
– Hannah Jessen, Digital Account Executive