Balancing Data Strategy and Story

Balancing Data, Strategy, and Story

Balancing Data, Strategy, and Story in Non-Profit Marketing

We recently featured Than Baardson, Co-Founder of Unseen, on The Ministry Growth Show podcast and his episode is full of great insights and direction for non-profits. You can LISTEN wherever you consume podcasts HERE. Unseen is partnering with organizations that are engaged in the human trafficking fight so that they can grow their impact and reach. Unseen has seen its partners grow from $3.6 million to a total portfolio revenue value of just over $11.5 million in the last year. Unseen is accelerating the work of their partners and supporting them with everything they need to go raise their own money from their own donors. As a leader of an organization design to help organizations grow in reach and impact through fundraising and marketing, Than brings a ton of value in this episode. This article is an extension of the ideas and topics we discuss in this episode. 

“We are measuring a lot of data that is coming in from our partners, but we want to make sure that we balance that with the individual story of one…”

During our conversation Than makes a statement about the balance between storytelling and data that I think is significant. He says, “we are measuring a lot of data that is coming in from our partners, but we want to make sure that we balance that with the individual story of one (speaking about the individual stories of beneficiaries), as there are people being rescued and cared for on an individual basis across the world.”

What Than is saying with this statement is that it’s important to find a balance between data and statistics-driven communication, strategy communication, and story-driven communication. Non-profits are generally working in areas with dreary statistics. Unseen in particular is working solely with organizations that fight the global issue of human trafficking. It’s widely known that there are an estimated 40 million people enslaved in some form or another, globally. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and focus all of our communication on those statistics in an attempt to encourage partnership and donor investment. In contrast, Unseen’s strategy is to focus their strategies on a single beneficiaries story.

But why? Why would we want to focus on a single story when the issue is so much bigger than one individual? The reason has to do with the audience. People don’t relate to statistics and data, people relate to stories. If we can tell a story to an audience (our donors and potential donors) that engages them emotionally, they are much more likely to support and stand behind your cause. 

Now, on the other side is the need to communicate the data, statistics, and strategies. In our conversation Than says, “Donors don’t want to throw their money down a wishing well and hope that it does something good.” There needs to be a balance in our communication between the data, statistics, strategies, and stories.  We didn’t get into what that balance looks like for Unseen and their partners, but in an upcoming episode of the podcast we talk with Brittany Baker from IJM and she shares some helpful tips that I think will shine a light on the subject. 

In the meantime, I can share the recommendations we would make at Reliant. Start with your stories. Your first interactions with potential donors must be story-driven. Just like Unseen is doing with their partners, tell individual stories. If you watch IJM, they’ll design an entire campaign around a single story. Once you’ve got an audience engaged emotionally you can support those stories with data, statistics and strategies, but we have to get people in the door. If you’re looking for a percentage, default towards heavy story focused communication. Yes, as we stated already, your data, statistics, and strategies are important, but only in support of your stories. Your initial engagement with a new audience should start with a story and as your audience gives you permission you can share the finer details of your organization in support of your stories.

Start with Story-Driven Communication

Now, if we are talking about major donors that’s a different topic and discussion entirely. I’m specifically talking about mass fundraising efforts with this recommendation. Start with stories and as you move your audience through your donor funnels you can support those stories with facts. We’ll discuss this idea further in the coming weeks.

What does your organization’s mass fundraising strategy look like? We’d love to hear how your organization finds a balance between data, strategies, and stories. 

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