How to make a magnificent mini-impression

Posted on February 21, 2012. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: , , |

These insights and tips should help you to start formulating some attention-grabbing ideas for your storytelling videos. Good luck!

Thank you for sharing, Katya!

Kathie van Vugt

How to make a magnificent mini-impression

People decide very quickly whether something appeals to them – usually in a matter of seconds. If you work in communications, marketing or fundraising, it’s wise to remember to focus on that mini-impression formed in the first few instants of engagement.

You can be sure the Super Bowl advertisers knew that – heck, they were spending $116,667 a second to make a good impression. They didn’t always do a good job, but there is a lot to learn from their successes and failures.

In the Harvard Business Review blog this week, Ron Ashkenas shares reflections on the three things needed for the best possible mini-impression, drawing on lessons from the Super Bowl. He says to think about your favorite commercial and three things that might have made it great. Did it:

1. Capture attention. Which part of that commercial stays with you? What technique did the advertiser use to draw you in?

2. Convey a clear message. Consider the key message for the target audience. What did the company try to convey, and how did the advertiser use that to connect with viewers? How did they frame the message to make this point?

3. Differentiate. Think about what distinguishes your advertiser from the rest. How did the company use the commercial to portray its unique brand?

Now think about how this applies to your work. What attention-grabbing technique can you incorporate into your next important conversation? How can you ensure your audience walks away with your most critical takeaway? Are you making clear what sets you apart from others?

Good advice. You don’t have to have an insanely large marketing budget to master the mini-impression – you just need to remember these basics. In fact, if you have a small budget, these tenets are even more critical. You want to leave a big impression right away, every time you get the chance.

Source:  How to make a magnificent mini-impression –

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How to use microsites to better tell your nonprofit’s story

Posted on January 24, 2012. Filed under: Effective Website Design, Storytelling | Tags: , , |

This insight into how microsites have been implemented by 3 organisations gives good examples of how you may be able to implement similar microsites for your specific topics or causes to help cut through the clutter and get to the heart of your message, aiming the microsites at specific segments of your target audience.

This article is a very worthwhile read, thank you for sharing Carla!

Kathie van Vugt –

How to use microsites to better tell your nonprofit’s storyHow to use microsites to better tell your nonprofit’s story

Microsites can be a powerful tool for online fundraising and marketing

Let’s face it: Nonprofit websites often suffer from multiple personality disorder.There’s the “program” side that wants to tell you all the amazing ways your programs help save homeless pets, feed the hungry, find cures, protect our children, or empower women. There’s the “events” side that must sell tickets. And don’t forget the “communications” side, whose press releases and news items help raise awareness. While often a complicated web of messaging, it’s a necessary evil when many departments must relay information using a single corporate website.

So as fundraisers, how can we tell the real story – expose the true heart of an organization – when our messaging is only one part of a huge multi-dimensional website? The answer is simple: Create a microsite that allows you to focus on a particular topic, present specific calls to action and, with the help of social media, reach large numbers of people much more quickly than a traditional website.When done correctly, a microsite can be one of the most powerful storytelling tools available to fundraisers. But don’t take my word for it, here are some examples of wonderful and highly effective microsites.

3 examples of successful nonprofit microsites

Abolish Child Trafficking
Abolish Child Trafficking
1 Covenant House is the largest privately funded agency in the Americas providing food, shelter, crisis care and essential services to homeless and at-risk kids. In an effort to mobilize their existing activists and acquire new ones, Covenant House developed a microsite that digs deep into the issue of domestic child trafficking.

Through the stories of four young victims, the A.C.T. microsite raises awareness of a crisis that affects thousands of American kids each year and issues an urgent call to action. Clear, concise information, bold statistics and striking graphics help further engage the audience and dispel the misconception that human trafficking is a trend confined to foreign soil.

While the content makes a strong case for giving, the main goal of this campaign is to use the broad reach of Facebook, Twitter, email and free infographics to help raise awareness. There is a valuable lesson to be learned in this strategy. Microsites do not have to be used solely for fundraising. Even though microsites cost money to develop, there are times when building a solid warm-prospect list is a legitimate goal that deserves the investment.

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
2 Problem: How do you educate people about racism in the post-Obama era? For the Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), America’s first and foremost civil rights legal organization, the solution had to be educational, factually accurate and, most importantly, compelling enough to remind people that the fight for equality is not over.

LDF decided to tell the story of minority Americans – in 38 states across the country – who still face obstacles at the voting booth. Their microsite revealed documented, widespread threats to voting rights in America and effectively weaved localized challenges into a broad picture of the problem.

Any one of these local challenges may be too small to spark a national call to action, but when combined, they serve to rally a renewed commitment from LDF’s constituency.

This microsite allowed LDF to take a complex issue like voting rights and break it down into small, easy-to-understand pieces. The site also enabled the Legal Defense and Education Fund to break out of its normal website messaging mode and dig deeper, providing more detail, substance and emotion. The Voting Rights microsite shows that often the greatest impact is made with a singularly focused story.

Making AIDS History
Making AIDS History
3 Dedicated to ending the global AIDS epidemic, American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) has invested nearly $325 million in innovative research and awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams since 1985. It has increased the world’s understanding of HIV and helped lay the groundwork for major advances in the study and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

While finding a cure for AIDS is the driving force behind amfAR’s work, their motivation comes from the sum of 50 million personal stories of heartache, courage and triumph over adversity. To help mark the 25th anniversary of their founding, amfAR decided to share a handful of these stories on the Making AIDS History microsite. With compelling video and a simple call to action – a $25 gift in recognition of amfAR’s 25 years – this microsite encourages a renewed, collective commitment to the organization.

Making AIDS History is an example of how a microsite can complement its parent site and act as a powerful fundraising tool at the same time. While the main website establishes amfAR as a world leader in HIV/AIDS research, their microsite connects donors to the people who have benefited from the research.

Is a microsite right for your organization?

There is no question that microsites allow you to effectively tell the story of a single compelling issue – one that is important to your organization and the people you serve. They can easily take off, gathering new supporters for your cause and generating many types of action. They are also just as effective for mobilizing your existing base and serve as a starting point for engaging people in social media conversations.

But don’t jump on the microsite bandwagon just because other nonprofits are doing it – make sure you put some careful planning in before deciding if a microsite is right for your organization. Only use microsites when you have something urgent to say, when you feel a specific topic or area deserves specialized attention and when you’re willing to set aside or reduce your core messaging. It’s true that microsites allow you the freedom to break away from your normal brand – but remember, you have to give a microsite as much attention to detail as you would a flagship site. You need to create a good design, you need to do keyword research and SEO, you need functional/practical on-site navigation and ultimately you need to have a compelling story to tell.

We are all looking for innovative ways to reactivate our existing audiences and cultivate new ones. The more we can provide constituents with interactive ways to connect with us, the better we will be in growing our communities. While microsites are an investment, they are a powerful tool in the new age of online fundraising and marketing.

Source: How to use microsites to better tell your nonprofit’s story –
Author: Carla Chadwick, Creative director, SankyNet
Image: Microsite built for The Center for Reproductive Rights by SankyNet.

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How non-profits become experts at Social Branding

Posted on January 17, 2012. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: , , |

This article by Simon Mainwaring is very insightful and I would recommend every nonprofit to take the time to think about this topic in the context of their own branding.

Thank you Simon, you’ve definitely given some food for thought here!

Kathie van Vugt

How non-profits become experts at Social BrandingSimon Mainwaring

There are two elements critical to the success of any branding effort, non-profit or otherwise. The first is compelling brand storytelling, and the second is fluency in social technology. Unfortunately few brands effectively master both, as veteran storytellers struggle to deeply understand social technology, or digital natives rush to emerging technology only to overlook the importance of storytelling. Here’s how a non-profit effectively combines them both.

Brand storytelling, the process by which a company defines and shares its purpose or message, has three parts:

1. You have to make a conscious decision to look inwards and work out what your brand stands for. This is even more difficult for non-profits as often the cause itself can mistakenly serve as a substitute for this important work. A cause is not your brand and this work is important if you hope to define your core values, business strategy and vision for the future.

2. Having done the difficult work of defining your core values and purpose, each non-profit must now frame their story in a community-facing way. Like most marketers today, many non-profits still tell their story in a way that positions themselves as the focus or destination. Instead, every brand must shift from being the celebrity of their community to being its chief celebrant. That means the brand and its story exist to celebrate the success of its donors, field workers or community at large, and in so doing, inspires further fundraising and volunteer efforts on the basis of shared values and a sense of community.

3. Like any product category, every non-profit must also frame its messaging in a way that distinguishes it from competitors within the cause space. This is not being done to beat out “competitors,” but rather to make it very clear to donors as to why they should support your particular non-profit.

The second major element of social branding success is fluency in social technology. The beauty of effective storytelling is that it ensures your brand makes an emotional connection with its audience and that’s when social media works best for you. For what compels a reader to share your cause, event or donation drive with others using social media channels is not the tools themselves but their emotional connection to your brand.

Fluency in social technology is a complex issue but there are three key elements.

1. Fascination: Despite limited resources and time, every non-profit must develop a persistent interest in emerging technology because that is where their customers or donors can be found. This should include a daily diet of blog posts from industry leaders, a study of best practices and case studies, and a curiosity about how for-profit brands are using social media in ways that you can also leverage.

2. Familiarity: Every member of a non-profit should engage in social media themselves to understand the tools and the human dynamics that drive engagement. This takes time and new competencies but the rewards are waiting for those that tap into the scale made possible by these new, relatively inexpensive tools.

3. Failure: Failure implies a willingness to learn new things and to risk mistakes. It demands a decision to be accountable and to apologize. It implies recognition of the fact that online engagement is now a tireless organic, fluid and real time practice.

It’s through the marriage of brand storytelling and social media that non-profits become effective community architects. It also makes them better candidates for for-profit partnerships as the alignment of values, stories and communities becomes far clearer to prospective strategic partners. Ultimately, it is this powerful combination of effective storytelling by non-profits and purposeful branding by for profits that will transform the lives of millions, and ultimately our economy, country and future.

Source: How non-profits become experts at Social Branding –
Author: Simon Mainwaring, Founder/Author WE FIRST 

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Empower Others to Help

Posted on December 22, 2011. Filed under: Social Media Marketing, Storytelling | Tags: , , , , , |

Geoff Livingston’s article will resonate with clients who use video to tell their stories because one of the key concerns is ensuring the content is viewed by as many people as possible to increase awareness of the cause. By empowering others to assist the network is expanded beyond the organisation’s own membership and supporter base.

Take Geoff’s advice, empower your ambassadors and see how your level of awareness begins to spread!

Kathie van

Empower Others to HelpEmpower Others to Help

One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits and fundraisers make is going at it alone. Part of building effective communities in networked media is letting other people become a part of your effort and helping out. But to do that, you and/or your organization have to empower them.

Will another person be as effective as you or your development director? Maybe, but unlikely.

Will other persons collectively be more effective than you in social media-based fundraising? If you cultivate and empower your online ambassadors, this outcome is a real possibility.

To play off of Spock, the power of the many outweighs the power of few (or the one). Team-based fundraising can significantly extend an organization’s reach well beyond the house file. For the individual fundraiser, friend networks also go beyond your electronic address book.

How much work does it take? There’s no question that this is real relationship development and cultivation. But in comparison, the networks of 150 people are much more powerful than a single person’s large social media account–if they act on your behalf.

Cultivate Your Influencers

If you have core supporters and friends who are as passionate about your cause as you are, why wouldn’t you want them to advocate on your behalf.

These influencers aren’t usually the people with biggest blog or Twitter account. Rather, they are the people with the most passion and willingness to advocate for you. This is the heart of true word of mouth and grassroots marketing.

The work here becomes about providing the means, and making it easy for them. Provide easy access to logos, stories, updates, widgets and messages.

It’s about giving them the latitude to be them as they fundraise, and not over-controlling their outreach. They know best how to interact with their friends.

And it comes down to quid pro quo. People want to be recognized for their efforts. Acknowledge them. Give them shout outs. Help them out when it’s their turn. Let them know how their efforts are positively impacting your ability to fundraise. Even have friendly competitions among your ambassadors to make it fun, and reward them.

Source: Inspiring Gereosity – Empower Others to Help
Author: Geoff Livingston
Image: Mavik2007

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Telling Your Story Like Steve Jobs

Posted on November 14, 2011. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: |

Lately, I have been emphasizing storytelling with the articles I’ve been posting to our blog, having read these you will be aware that it’s rather an important aspect of nonprofit communications.

In this article posted on the Inspiring Generosity blog, there are some great insights into what made Steve Jobs such a brilliant storyteller.

You can take some cues from Jobs to implement into your own organisations’ storytelling. In my mind, one of the key components is the use of visuals. However, it is worth adding here that your organisation is not limited to a stage presentation scenario with the topic of an inanimate object. Your human stories about real life situations can be told using the power of video to take supporters on a journey.

And, of course you can monetize your video stories and use the connectivity of social media to engage your audience, expand your reach and enhance your relationship with your supporters.

Kathie van

Telling Your Story Like Steve JobsTelling Your Story Like Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was a classic storyteller. With every product launch, he took us on a journey into the world of possibility. He peeled single ideas with clever anticipation drawing in our curiosity with more intensity, “wowing” us with a product’s features, functionality, design and must-have aura. How? By turning a product launch into more than a product–into a presentation that delivered a story.

In your communications, are you trying to make sure and pack every “key message” into your delivery? Doing so can dilute your message and your mission. Let’s review four lessons we can learn from the presentation and storytelling style of the great Steve Jobs.

Lesson #1: Package your main point into a punchline.

When Steve Jobs launched a product, he introduced it with a punchline–one clear, descriptive message that read more like a headline. It was social media friendly (watch those character limits!) and evoked a sense of wonder.

For example, when Jobs introduced the MacBook Air, Apple’s ultra-thin computer, he simply said, “It’s the world’s thinnest notebook.” With the iPod, he said, “1,000 songs that fit in your pocket.” Get in the mindset of the volunteers, donors or stakeholders you’re talking with and think about what message resonates the most with them. Get rid of the bullets and package the value-add your offer into a tangible one-liner. Avoid the jargon–and get right to the punch.

Lesson #2: Use less text and more visuals.

Why do you think the use of infographics as a storytelling tool is increasing? People not only like visuals, but they remember them. When you say something orally, people remember 10% of what was said. Add a picture, and people recall 65%. You can say more with less.

Lesson #3: Go for the experience.

Are you pushing out communications and printing posters and pamphlets yet not seeing your desired ROI? Perhaps it’s time to consider the donor experience you’re offering. Jobs was about creating great products, but he was also about creating and designing unique experiences. How can you better integrate the concept of “experience” into your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts?

Maybe it’s by taking engaging area businesses and supporters in a cup night, inviting fundraisers to scale down a high rise, helping others honor their moms, or participating in a lip-synch contest. Get those creative juices flowing!

Lesson #4: Find an antagonist.

Every good story has a villain. Who or what can your supporters rally against? In the infamous 1984 Macintosh commercial, Jobs and Apple painted IBM to be the villain–and now sits as one of the best commercials ever-made. A more current example comes from with their, “F*CK: Famine is the real obscenity” video. It’s jarring, but it immediately turns your perspective upside down, gets your attention and draws you in. What’s working against you and how can you make it work for you?

What’s your story?

You can make the content and the technology work for you. But until you have your story fully developed and thought through, neither one is going to be too compelling in the long run when it comes to fundraising (online or off). At your next meeting, ask each team member to tell your organization’s story. You may be surprised, moved and inspired by what you hear.

Source: Telling Your Story Like Steve Jobs –

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HOW TO: Tell the Story to Your Donors

Posted on October 26, 2011. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: , |

I’ve been adding a lot to our blog lately about the importance and power of storytelling and the reason I’ve been focussing on this topic is because I believe it is fundamental to effective nonprofit communications.

For most people, it is a skill that needs to be studied and doesn’t necessarily come naturally. This article posted on the Inspiring Generosity blog has some great examples of how a nonprofit can shift the sentiment of a story to ensure maximum connection with the reader.

These techniques work not only for written communications, but can also be applied to video communications. Take it one step further and monetize your video content and you have a viable and powerful fundraising channel.

Now, all you need to do is implement an effective online communications strategy and the tools to manage it, and your organisation will be tapping into a new, untied revenue stream.

Go for it!

Kathie van

HOW TO: Tell the Story to Your DonorsHOW TO: Tell the Story to Your Donors

After Friday’s Give to the Max Day training, I came back with great, practical ideas from experts like Beth Kanter and Katya Andresen on how nonprofits can tell their stories to effectively convey the importance of their mission. The best part is that they dug deep and outlined easy steps anyone can follow.

Why is it important to tell a good story? Because, as Katya said, one person’s story will have a better chance at getting empathy from your target audience. But the more people you talk about in your story, the less compelling your story is.

Find the Story of One Person to Tell

Every nonprofit has a story to tell. Instead of using statistics—which are the death for storytelling, says Katya—find one person your organization has served, or talk to a volunteer that has done something for you. Interview them and find out what their story is. Don’t talk about the masses; by honing into the story of one person, you’ll maximize your chance of gaining empathy from the people you’re asking to donate.

Here are two examples to show you:

Bad storytelling:

“Hundreds of senior citizens are left without health insurance, and consequently can’t afford their medications.”

Good storytelling:

“Rose is 83 years old and six months ago, she reached the “Donut Hole” in her insurance. She can’t afford her asthma medications anymore, so she’s been taken to the emergency room five times so far, gasping for air.”

Be Emotional But Show Your Work

Your nonprofit does great and important work. So when you tell the story of that one person, show how your organization is working to help that. Give concrete examples of how you helped or can help that one person and make a difference in their lives. For example:

“When Rose asked for help, we quickly worked to help find a prescription drug program that significantly lowered her costs and we’re able to cover her medication until her insurance kicks in again. Rose is back on her prescribed drug regimen, and hasn’t had an asthma attack ever since.”

Tell Your Donors How they Can Help

Spell it out for them in a few, easy steps. And explain how is their donation—no matter what amount—going to be a worthwhile investment.

“Rose isn’t the only person who is struggling to find ways to pay for their prescriptions and we need your help to reach others. Your donation will go towards paying for medications and medical services that people like Rose, who need it but can’t afford. Please help by mailing back your donation in the preprinted envelope.

Thank Them With a Story

When you get that donation, you’re gold. More than likely, you successfully won the empathy of the donor but you’re still on shaky grounds. What comes after the donation is almost more critical than how you made the ask.

Get into your donor’s shoes. When they made a donation, they believed in it. They thought they were doing some good, making a difference in someone’s life. So if you don’t reaffirm that belief, they may get discouraged and you could lose them forever.

So thank them. Profusely. Don’t just send them an auto-generated email. Send them a personal message. Send them a story of how they helped someone. Tell them how you couldn’t have done it without them, and how grateful that person is for what they did.

Thank you for your $50 donation, Eric! Your $50 went towards paying for a prescription drug plan that is helping someone like Mark, who joined our program last month. Mark is 65 years old and has diabetes. He’s a happy man, a grandfather to 3 girls. When he retired, he couldn’t keep up with his medical bills, but your contribution made it possible for him to never skip a beat. Now he’s overwhelmed with joy and relief that he gets to take his 7 year-old granddaughter Alexa fishing on the weekends without having to worry.

These are just some examples of how you can gain compassion from donors. Try different things and see what gives you the results you’re looking for.

Source: HOW TO: Tell the Story to Your Donors –

Photo by: Francisco Osorio

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The Power of Nonprofit Storytelling

Posted on October 3, 2011. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: , , |

I found this article by Wilton Blake and it’s a goodie (although I haven’t quite worked out the significance of the Star Wars Leggo image yet -I guess it’s a reference to the “Tens of thousands of years of tales being told by firelight”…?). 

Whilst researching Blake’s Blog page, I found another article I found interesting in which Jacqui Banaszynski is quoted as saying: 

“Certain tools work better for some things than others: audio (the human voice) is intimate; still photos freeze a moment and capture time; video allows action to play out; text (good old print) is best for complexity and connections and depth.

But the underlying elements of good storytelling are eternal:

  • Find the humanity at the center of a situation.·
  • Look for the universal theme or meaning in individual situations.·
  • Be as specific and vivid as possible.·
  • And sometimes tell. Put stories in context so readers know what world they come from, time they live in, situation they are related to.”

I think that’s very good advice…

Kathie van

The Power of Nonprofit Storytelling

The power of nonprofit storytelling

Why is storytelling so powerful?

We all tell stories. It’s one of the most natural ways to communicate. The power of storytelling is unmatched. And there are several proven reasons for that.

Storytelling is in our nature

The oral tradition of storytelling is one of the oldest and most powerful teaching and learning methods we have. It is the way human beings have communicated information since before written language.

Tens of thousands of years of tales being told by firelight. Thousands of years of written stories. Hundreds of years of stories performed in the theater. A hundred years of stories on the silver screen. Decades of stories broadcast over the airwaves.

Through generation after generation, our brains have evolved to look for the familiar patterns of stories.

Storytelling transfers knowledge

The storyteller is still the best teacher. Stories transfer unquantifiable elements of knowledge, the most important element being experience. When we hear stories we absorb second-hand information and it becomes first-hand perception. We learn from each other through stories.

Stories help us remember

Because our brains are structured around stories, its easier for us to remember facts if they are wrapped in a story. In Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory), Roger Schank concluded that human memory is story-based. He also advocates for a story-centered curriculum.

And there have been many research studies that show that stories are fundamental to how we learn, organize, and recall what we know.

Stories unite meaning and emotion

Life situations, in the moment, are typically either intellectual or emotional. As time passes, we may feel this way or that about an intellectual situation. And we may intellectualize an emotional situation. But stories blend the intellectual with the emotional, in the moment.

Stories give an emotional charge to ideas. And when that idea is charged with emotion, it becomes powerful, profound, and memorable. Robert McKee put it perfectly in his screenwriting book Story when he wrote:

“. . . a story well told gives you the very thing you cannot get from life: meaningful emotional experience.”

When we hear stories, we are moved. Sometimes moved to tears. Other times moved into action.

The right story motivates greater giving

People tend to give more to one clearly identifiable victim than to a large group of similarly suffering people. People also respond greater to victims of loss than to victims of chronic conditions. See the Sympathy and Giving section on my Nonprofit Storytelling Resources page for links to these studies.

Stories are your best tool

Again, I can’t say it better than Robert McKee:

“A story becomes a kind of living philosophy that the audience members grasp as a whole, in a flash, without conscious thought—a perception married to their life experences.”

So it is through storytelling that you can best communicate your organization’s mission, successes, and future. It is through storytelling that you can activate donors, win grants, rally supporters, motivate staff and volunteers, and ensure your sustainability.

Author: Wilton Blake


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