How to tell great visual stories in major donor solicitations

How to tell great visual stories in major donor solicitations

Many nonprofits make the mistake of not investing enough time and money in a compelling major donor solicitation.

If your organization’s approach has been more text-driven in the past, you are underestimating the power of making your message visual. Consider that 90% of information transmitted to our brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text. Forty percent of people respond better to visual information than plain text; so even when you have text-rich content, you must make it visual—it’s the key to getting donors’ attention.

Distilling complexity

When the work you do is large and complicated, you can make the mistake of being too detailed and taking on too much in your storytelling in your major donor solicitation. Catching a donor’s attention requires a concept that is clear, simple, and visual.

The key to success is telling the larger story of your work through ONE visual example.

A great major donor solicitation cannot be too complicated, but must include enough detail to connect to your donor’s values and beliefs in a meaningful way.

Your major donors are educated and connected to your organization, and you need to continue to deepen that connection. They need to know WHY they need to give and why now. Choose a story that shows them the answer to both questions.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights

Their mission: “NCLR is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, legislation, policy, and public education.”

NCLR’s mission reflects complex work that needed to be captured cleanly in a major donor solicitation, so they hired us to work with them on that project.

Our approach was to take the concept of protecting your/our LGBT rights and bring that to life through a single example. In order to best illustrate protecting LGBT rights, we worked with NCLR to choose one case and break it down into its basic anatomy in a compelling, visual way.

Knowing we needed to tell a story that demonstrated impact, we chose one that went all the way to the Supreme Court: Christian Legal Society v. Martinez—an important case, and one that NCLR felt represented the reach and importance of their work perfectly.

anatomy of a court case

The mailer unfolded to reveal a large poster. As you can see, the case itself was complicated. You have to be brutal in your editing. The job of the solicitation is to paint a picture of the work you do in broad strokes, and convey why it is important—not communicate every detail. We selected only the major milestones to tell the story and engage our donors.

In order to address the question of why donors need to give, we chose to contrast what would have happened if the case had been lost. We did so by framing the story through the ripple effects of the victory, and what the ripple effects would have been if they had lost.

What resulted were powerful examples that not only answered the question as to why major donors needed to continue to give generously right now, but also connected the donor in a more meaningful way to the impact of NCLR’s work.

The donor needs to feel that their donation is what makes this work possible, so a complex case that took years to win showed NCLR’s long-term commitment to full equality and social justice that wouldn’t have happened without donors who also had a long-term commitment and similar values. In this case, defeat would have set the entire LGBT movement back nationally. This is a great example of how you can visualize and activate very heavy, text-driven information in a compelling, visual way. The great news is that it worked: NCLR raised 103% of its nearly $2,000,000 goal, and engaged more donors than ever before during this campaign.