How Habitat for Humanity Used Storytelling To Exceed Their Giving Day Goals

Human beings have been sharing stories for thousands of years. In fact, there are cave paintings in France that are 30,000 years old! We are hard-wired for storytelling, which is why storytelling in nonprofit communication works as well as it does.

Effective storytelling centers on people, NOT ideas or statistics. Apartheid is a powerful story partly because of Nelson Mandela’s story. And the story of flight can’t be told without talking about the Wright brothers!

A more humble and mundane example is Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity’s success last week during Give To The Max Day in Minneapolis.

A few highlights from their results:

  • Total donations via GiveMN: $215,973 (compared to $55,000 in 2012)
  • Total donors via GiveMN: 694 (compared to 350 in 2012)
  • Matching gifts: $110,000 (compared to $15,000 in 2012)

Pretty impressive!

Focusing on stories about people

When asked how they did it, Brian Juntti (Director Marketing & Communications) mentioned their strong messaging first: “Give to the Max. Impact a child’s life forever”Not “Hey, give us money”. Instead, “You can change someone’s life!”

Leading up to GiveMN, they shared stories about people. Like, Collin Griffith, a teenager who thrives among his diverse neighborhood of 17 Habitat homes. And because of their affordable home, Collin’s mother can buy a new car and take him on vacations.

Notice that this story is not about creating affordable housing for families, a rather insurmountable problem. It’s also not about how homeless live in Minneapolis, or the plight of the working poor.

Instead, it’s about a mother and her son. It’s personal.

An example of a “people stories” pitch

If you watch their GiveMN video, you’ll notice how powerful their messaging is, starting with stories about people.

Here’s a summary of the video’s 5 key messages, from beginning to end:

  1. A habitat home can change a child’s life forever (a people story). This oils the emotional gears within the potential donor (starts thinking about children they love, or remembering their own childhood).
  2. There’s a $75,000 match incentive offered only on 11/14. This creates the urgency for those gears to start moving (pulling a credit card from their wallet).
  3. Your $1 = $2 for Habitat for Humanity. This helps them process the idea of a match and how it applies to their specific donation.
  4. Three consecutive call to actions: 1) Help us reach this match, 2) Help us build more homes, and 3) Give now and change the child’s life forever. Most people need to hear consecutive CTAs before they act. And three is a magic number.
  5. Thank you. Even if someone feels like they wasted their time watching the video, at least they get a proper “thank you”.

Develop your story now for GivingTuesday

Following TCHH’s example, carve out some time with your biggest supporters and stakeholders to discuss your messaging for #GivingTuesday. Make it emotional, concise and urgent.

You can even steal Habitat’s 5-point message!


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