Understanding Your Audience is the Most Important Part of Nonprofit Storytelling

Posted by | · · · · · | Nonprofits · Photography · Social Media · Storytelling · Video & Film

Have you put time and energy into a campaign or video, published it online, and gotten fewer than 100 likes or totally missed your fundraising goal? I’ve been there. It’s a horrible experience. Storytelling is supposed to be the magic bullet to get people’s attention, right?

Nonprofits sometimes assume donors want to know their story simply because the work that they do is important. But the truth is you have to give people the kind of content they want in order to keep their attention. And in order to give them what they want, you need to get to know them better.

A few weeks ago I was talking to a potential client who works with children about what media works best for her organization. She told me that some of their most popular videos show kids dancing to music while she films on her phone. She said it’s a silly thing, but that donors love it and often watch them over and over.

There is a term for this type of content: the “time out experience.” It’s a particularly effective strategy when targeting women. It was no surprise to me to learn that my potential client’s primary donors are women between the ages of 30-50 and are primarily mothers. The dancing videos give these women a minute or two of pure happiness where they aren’t thinking about the stress of their day or the needs of their kids. They love those videos not because the mission is important but because the videos make them feel good.

Once you start giving your target audience content they want, they are more inclined to engage with your other content. If you get to know your donors you should look at your communications with them as a mutual conversation. They may be providing you funds, but you are providing them something that they enjoy on a deep, personal level. Stop making the media you think your audience wants; make the media you know they want.

Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Use Google analytics and Facebook to analyze who comes to your site, what posts they love, what kind of causes/programs appeal to them;
  • Send out a donor survey;
  • Make a list of your target donor’s demographics (age, sex, education, nationality);
  • Make a list of your target donor’s demographics psychographics (habits, hobbies, values);
  • Create an ideal customer profile (or two) and craft media directed at that profile;
  • Interview donors to see what is important to them, why they give to your organization, and what media they love.


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Image: © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com


Sara ell says:

May 5, 2017 at 8:08 pm

Interesting post! Which method of data/information collection tends to be the most fruitful? I usually end up using analytics, but i love the idea of involving people through surveys!

the insight about “not because the mission is important but because the videos make them feel good” is a fascinating one to me. Can this ever BACKFIRE? sometimes organizations need to communicate , so for that reason i think it’s important to cultivate a diverse emotional atmosphere.

I’ve seen some very effective campaigns where organizations set up a DISTINCTive aesthetic and then doing something very different from that every once and a while. It takes your audience by surprise and shows them the importance of the work you’re doing.


Crystaline Randazzo says:

May 9, 2017 at 7:45 am

Hi Sara. Great to hear from you. I recommend a combination of analytics and real donor interaction. Analytics give you a solid overview. But real donors reveal their motivation for supporting you, the media they prefer, and key language that you can use to attract others like them in a future campaign.

I like your question about whether giving donors what they want can backfire. I believe that giving donors the types of posts they like makes them feel deeply connected with your organization. And it also makes them open to receiving other messaging from you. A balance between emotional narratives and carefully selected facts make great stories. But if you have too much emotion or too many facts you run the risk of loosing people.

In general, we need to think more deeply about our donors as people. Too often we jump on whatever media bandwagon is popular without thinking about our donor’s experience. A good example of this is the UN International Days craze. So many nonprofits send out newsletters and blog posts about every international day without thinking about the experience it creates for their donors. Talk about donor fatigue! I work in this industry and get sick of my inbox being flooded with posts that don’t relate to me or the organization I support.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not opposed to the international days (we even do a few a year at NGOStorytelling), but we all need to be more selective about the content we make and choose media that relates to our issue and audience. Making less content that is more relatable and has real impact means we really value our donors experience with our organization. I think they recognize that and become even more invested.


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