From giving your donors an opportunity to personally connect with your conservation work to delivering a vision for the future, here are five conservation storytelling tips to try in your work.
Fundraising is hard. Fundraising for conservation is harder. Why? In short, conservation programming often misses two components critical to influencing a donor’s choice to give: 1) short-term, visible outcomes, and/or 2) an ability to make an emotional connection between your work and your donor.
To conserve means to protect, and it makes sense that your current story might focus on protection: protecting a forest from timber harvesting, or a wildlife habitat from urban development. A success here means “no action” is taken: the forest remains standing, the wildlife habitat in tact. It can be hard to find support for “no action” and to persuade your donors to support initiatives where the status-quo is actually a major win.
It’s also difficult to persuade donors to support a future they cannot see: a coastline reforested to defend against future storm surges, a community-wide commitment to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions. This work is invaluable, but intangible in the moment. Measuring these programs take decades, while donors want to feel their gift is making an immediate impact.
So, how do you overcome these challenges? The solution might be in how you tell your story.
From giving your donors an opportunity to personally connect with your work to delivering a vision for the future, here are five conservation storytelling tips to attract and engage donors:
CONSERVATION STORYTELLING ACT I
1. Set the scene and introduce your character.
Your character is the most important part of your story, and in the world of conservation, you may have to look a little harder to identify your main character. Imagine you’re a fundraiser for a nonprofit that installs solar panels. Extend your focus beyond the solar panels and explore who the panels impact. Perhaps the who is a child who was able to receive an education because her school finally had solar-supplied power. Your character should be likable and relatable. When developing your protagonist, consider the following questions:
- Who is this person? (Give details!)
- What is their role in the community?
- Does this character remind you of someone in your family or community? Or how will this character relate to your donor?
- What is this character’s goal? (What is this story going to be about?)
As a conservation storyteller, your job is to make your donor invested in what happens to your character.
CONSERVATION STORYTELLING ACT II
2. Describe the barriers facing your character.
Every story has a conflict. The challenges your protagonist face bring a story to life and build further investment from your donors—they are rooting for this person!
Barriers can take multiple forms—people, weather, infrastructure, governments, etc. As you develop this part of your story, consider asking:
- What or who is keeping them from reaching their goals?
- Is it a single incident? Or a trend?
- Are there multiple conflicts?
Give your protagonist one to three challenges to overcome for a short story.
3. Tell your donor how you helped solve your character’s problem.
This is your time to shine! Your protagonist has just run into their most complex barrier yet, and now is your moment to show your donors (who are invested in what happens to your character) how your organization helped them overcome barriers.
- What solutions did you provide?
- What specific actions did you take?
- How did you help your protagonist and their community overcome barriers?
Give details here. This is the time to introduce your organization’s work and set the scene for the impact you have in partnership with the community.
CONSERVATION STORYTELLING ACT III
4. Go beyond actions. Share your results and plans for the future.
So often results are measured by quantifiable outputs (i.e. number of trees planted, students graduated, solar panels installed), but it is critical to share with donors the outcomes, or effects, from these actions. When describing your outcomes, think about the transformation of your character and/or community. This is also the time to tell your donors your plans for the future.
Consider the following questions:
- How has your protagonist’s life changed? What are they able to do now that they couldn’t before?
- How are the physical and emotional circumstances of the community better?
- What are your plans for the future that will continue supporting your community?
Here is an example of how an output differs from an outcome:
OUTPUT: Your organization installed 50 solar panels on five schools in the community.
OUTCOME: 12-year-old Sarah received an education because her school had power.
The outcome here is much more powerful. Combining your outcomes with a vision for the future is key to securing new donor investment.
5. Wrap it up… and ask your audience to take a specific action.
It’s time to bring your protagonist’s story to a close, but that doesn’t mean their everyday challenges are resolved. As you think about the close of their story, tell your audience what your protagonist and their community need in order to continue improving their lives in partnership with your organization. This is your “call to action.”
Whether you are asking for donations or volunteers, or simply making a request to share your story, be specific with how these actions will help you continue to serve people like your protagonist.