Gates-Sponsored Storytelling Themes: Do They Work For Fundraising?

GlobalGiving was one of 10 organizations that road-tested Narrative Project findings.


The Big Question

Do Narrative Project themes motivate people to donate?

What We Tested

The Narrative Project—a large-scale research project driven by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, InterAction, and other major NGOs—aims to build public support for global development. It suggests weaving four core story themes (independence, shared values, partnership, and progress) into your nonprofit communications to increase support for development.

Why It Matters

Let’s face it. The public is skeptical about the effectiveness of the global development sector. Combating the pessimism and inspiring people to support us is absolutely critical to making the world a better place. The Narrative Project offers a road map, but under-resourced nonprofits often don’t have the luxury of storytelling with no bottom line. We’re required to tell stories that raise funds. Before we implement the Narrative themes, it’s crucial to explore their efficacy in our everyday ecosystem.

Our Method

GlobalGiving launched two experiments to test The Narrative Project’s fundraising efficacy. We analyzed language from 50,000 stories that our nonprofit partners from 165+ countries shared with supporters over the past eight years. We also sent six A/B email tests to more than 160,000 subscribers, comparing the results from control email appeals to Narrative-aligned email appeals.

The Ultimate Outcome

What we found surprised us. Stories that aligned with the four Narrative Project themes triggered a statistically significant lower number of average donations than the non-aligned reports, and our Narrative-aligned email appeals, on average, performed 117% worse than non-aligned appeals. It’s important to note that GlobalGiving was one of 10 organizations that road-tested Narrative Project findings. All but one of organizations that the tested the project’s fundraising effectiveness reported mixed, null, or negative findings.

“I suspect there were few people out there who wanted this test to ‘work’ more than me. But I realize now the irony in my optimism; I don’t believe that there’s one ‘silver bullet’ for solving the complex problem of poverty, why would I believe there is one easy solution for all communicators, whose work is nuanced, creative, and complex?”
— Alison Carlman

Make It Yours

Have we completely invalidated The Narrative Project research as it relates to fundraising? Not at all. Our experimentation was admittedly limited, and there’s a lot left to test. Perhaps more importantly, The Narrative Project is sparking crucial conversations about how we communicate in the development sector. To make this test yours, analyze the language your nonprofit uses in its day-to-day communications. Does it align with Narrative themes? Does it empower or further marginalize your community of service? Does it amplify seldom-heard voices? Does it damage the public’s understanding of the problem, and their perceived ability to make a difference? If you want to go one step further, design an A/B email test like ours, and take a look at the results. We’re certain you’ll learn something new, too!

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Featured Photo: Aroh Foundation brings education to children living in slums.

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