[Podcast] Nonprofit Storytelling: Bridging the Giver and Good Gap

Matt Mundt joined us to share how CURE International bridges the gap between givers and the good that gets done by integrating story into every donor touchpoint. 

Matt serves as the Senior Director of Marketing for CURE International. In this role, he collaborates daily with his team to come up with the most creative and authentic ways to let more people know about CURE’s transforming work. 

Connect Givers with Good: 5 Best Storytelling Practices for Nonprofits

Nonprofit storytelling is essential for creating the experiences that donors expect. Here are 5 strategies Matt and his team used to connect with their audience and move CURE International closer to their goal. 

1. Invest in Storytelling

CURE invests in storytelling that connects with donors. “Our secret weapon really is our storytellers,” Matt says. “At each one of our hospitals, we have someone there with a DSLR, nice quality camera, and their whole job is to look for stories to be told.”

The storytellers go deep into the stories of the children who come into the hospitals for treatment. “Every single kid that comes through our hospitals, you could make a movie out of their life,” Matt says. “ And so we pick some of the best ones and we put them up on our website and then track their journey.”

These stories inspire donors at every touchpoint, from thank you letters to social media posts. Remember that stories can vary depending on what the donor wants. Some stories can be about a single trip to visit a single beneficiary. Some stories span years. What matters most is you find a way to tell the information to your donors in a way that interests and inspires them. 

2. Donors Love Personalized Videos

Video lets donors directly into your world, cuts through the noise of our hyper-connected world, and gets straight to the heart–especially when it’s personalized. Try creating short, personalized, fast videos as a way to connect with donors in real time. 

CURE uses Bonjoro to create personalized videos that connect with donors quickly and easily. “It’s made it so easy to [send donors videos] at scale,” says Matt. “We have systematized it from everything to thinking donors, to reactivating donors, and syncing it with our CRM.”

Video delivers the emotional connection that inspires giving. When he was offered a Bonjoro trial, Matt immediately saw the potential to engage 600 lapsed donors, who’d previously given $1000 gifts, but hadn’t given again in the past year. Matt and his team made a video catching up with three kids who had been to CURE hospitals, to share with these donors and show the impact of their gifts.

Matt says, “Just to feel like I was taken there into the ward, as these kids are healing up and just to see the joy on their faces that alone was worth it.” 

The campaign reactivated 3% of the lapsed donors, resulting in about 20 donations. By using a video tool, Matt didn’t have to worry about logistics. “Bonjoro was able to take the technical expertise out and let me just focus on, ‘Okay, what’s the story that we’re going to tell?’” 

3. Multi-Channel Engagement 

Facebook, email, text messages, voicemails…these days, there are so many ways to reach your donors. When people are connecting with you on different channels, it’s important to keep your message consistent across all of them. This ensures that no matter where your donors engage, they’ll get the important calls-to-action and information.

A busy audience may require several opportunities to engage with your information. Matt says, “I don’t expect someone to just drop everything when they see something coming from CURE.” He recommends a staggered approach to remind people of their intention to read the content, follow up, or make a gift. 

4. Donor Retention Starts Immediately

The work to retain donors begins the moment they make their first gift. “We know that if we thank them soon and we thank them with a compelling welcome pack that retention is going to go longer,” says Matt. “So I’ve really focused on the donor’s experience when they decide that they’re going to be generous and give to us. What are we going to do to make a mark, to make them feel thanked, but also have a better understanding of who we are?”

Matt has changed tactics recently. “We’ve been sending [new donors] a welcome pack, but it would come a couple of weeks later.” Now, within 24 hours of someone giving on the CURE website, Matt sends a video of kids from a CURE hospital waving and saying thank you. He links to the CURE documentary and has started to track clicks to see if this influences retention. 

5. Focus on What’s Most Important to Donors

To truly connect givers with the good they’re helping accomplish, you have to talk about what’s most important to them. Matt advises talking to your current donors to find out what motivates them. He says, “See if you can build something around that. Is there a certain newsletter that you send out, or an email, or a certain social media feed? Every Tuesday I do #TransformationTuesday, because we looked at the analytics and what did people care the most about? They wanted to see these journeys, these kids.”

There are a lot of cool things CURE could talk to their donors about, like the logistics of medical care, or the details of running a hospital. But they know that providing hope and healing to kids is what fuels their donors’ passions, so they focus their storytelling on kids whose lives have been changed. 

Full Episode Transcript

Noah Barnett: From Virtuous, I’m Noah Barnett, and this is the Responsive Fundraising Podcast, a show where we talk with fundraising leaders and thinkers to uncover how today’s top nonprofits craft remarkable donor experiences and build lasting relationships at scale. 

On this episode, I’m joined by Matt Mundt. Matt is the senior director of marketing for CURE International, and he works directly with his team to come up with the most creative and authentic ways to let people know about CURE’s transforming work.

For the past 20 years, Matt has led the digital marketing efforts and strategy for organizations like K-LOVE and Air1 Radio, also various other media outlets, and he’s a wealth of knowledge on how you can use the power of various mediums to transport your supporters to a place that they can feel and be a part of the impact that your organization is having on the grounds, even if that means countries away. 

Again, Matt provides a variety of insights, including how they’re using various mediums to build more personalized relationships with their donors. It’s an incredible conversation, so let’s dive in.

Matt, you’re the Director of Marketing at CURE International now. However, I wanted to take a step back and ask you what sparked you down the path of going into the for-good business, because you’ve been doing this for a while, so I’m just curious, how did you even get into this? What was the Plinko machine that led you to CURE?

Matt Mundt: Well, funny that you said Plinko because just totally random side fact here, I was on The Price Is Right about 10 years ago, and I won a car. Anyway, side note, but very fun either way. How did I get into-

NB: Well, I feel like we should just stop there for a minute. What’s it like to win a prize on a game show? Did you have to pay-

MM: It is surreal.

NB: It’s a mess, I heard.

MM: It is, but it’s also incredibly fun, but what’s wild is they call your name, and so there’s part of you going, “Okay, just don’t look like a fool on national TV,” but then it’s like, “Oh, man, I can actually win something,” and so it’s trying to remember back… because I hadn’t watched Price Is Right for years, and so I was like, “Okay, how do I actually win stuff now? I’m up on stage.” That’s a whole other podcast. I’ve got my theory on how you get on the show too, so maybe part two.

NB: Yeah, part two, for sure.

NB: Obviously, you’ve experienced The Price Is Right, so that’s part of your story, but what else got you to CURE?

MM: Yeah, so I mean, in a nutshell, I’ve always loved media and how media… specifically video. I was in high school 1998, 2000s, and learning video editing. I did it for my church youth group, and I just got to see the impact. When you told a good story, when you used different forms of media, you could capture people’s attention and share a story. I’ve worked at radio stations, I’ve worked at record labels, and I bounced back and forth between those. I loved working with creative people, and I also just loved the impact that a song can have on someone’s life.

Then a couple of years ago, CURE International came about. At first, I was like, “No way.” We have medical children’s hospitals around the world, primarily in Africa, and we have a Tim Tebow Hospital in the Philippines, and I thought, “Well, I have no medical background, never had any aspirations to go into mission work, going to the field,” but when I started realizing that those tools of storytelling and media is how you get donors in, that’s how you tell your story, how you get someone even interested in giving to a nonprofit.

As I started going through the interview process, light bulb starting popping above my head going, “Oh, wait, my radio background, well, we do radio to bring in awareness and get donors for CURE International to support the kids and the doctors in our hospitals.” I’ve done social media marketing. Well, guess what? Digital marketing is growing more and more in the nonprofit world as well. That’s kind of in a nutshell how I came to be working in the nonprofit world at CURE International.

NB: Yeah, and I love that you started with this idea of visual storytelling and how you actually didn’t realize that that was essential to nonprofits, but it could bridge the gap really from the giver to the good. One of my old consultants I used to work with, Steven Screen, always says that when someone gives to a nonprofit, the only thing they receive in exchange typically when it’s a pure donation is a hit of dopamine and the communications they receive from your organization.

In a typical sale, you’re giving something, they’re getting something back, but with nonprofits, it’s like the communications that you give back to your donors is really the only thing they’re getting from you. You mentioned the value of that to really engage donors. 

How does a storytelling nonprofit work?

NB: One thing I’ve realized with CURE as I was doing research is that your visual storytelling is central to all that you do, from your website to the videos that you put out to your impact report. You guys did a documentary. It’s brilliant. Could you take us behind the scenes though a bit and share the inner workings of how you all actually produce all of this and how you collaborate with the programs team. Take us under the hood a little bit because we only see the bright and shiny, and I want to… How does that actually happen? How are you guys structured, et cetera?

MM: Yeah, well, one, just incredible people who love the mission, but our secret weapon really is our storytellers. Their title is storyteller. At each one of our hospitals, we have someone there with a DSLR, nice quality camera that captures video, audio and photos, and their whole story is to… their whole job, I mean, it’s to look for stories to be told. The number one story is kid comes in, hear their story. Why have they not been able to walk their entire life? What gave them those severe burns, these very compelling stories. I mean, every single kid that come through our hospitals, you could make a movie out of their life.

We picked some of the best ones, and we put them up on our website and then track their journey, follow along. Okay, they’re going in to get surgery, and they’re… and paint the emotions too. I mean, imagine an eight-year-old kid, whose, one, never thought they’re going to be able to walk, or their parents have never even thought they can be able to walk. Now, they’re in this brand new setting of a hospital, and they’re being loved on and cared for, but it’s still scary for a child. Our storytellers are great writers too in finding what are those little quotes to be able translate over here to America for us to understand what it’s really like for these kids to have their life radically, radically changed at our hospitals.

I can’t say enough about them. It makes my job as a marketer easier because Christmas time rolls around, and just send an email, send a message, send a Slack out to all of our storytellers in the hospitals and say, “Hey, I need a photo of Christmas trees and Christmas lights,” and then I’ve got five to 10 photos to choose for on social media. It’s pretty incredible to be able to have storytellers at every single hospital to do that.

NB: That level of commitment to having storytellers on the field I would assume is a realization that program staff, or those on the ground doing the work, are very busy because I worked in international development, and we made those same types of requests, but we were making them to our partners on the ground who have a lot of competing priorities, and in your guys’ case, you’re actually saying, “No, we’re going to make this someone’s dedicated job and make sure they’re actually talented at this specific task,” which to me indicates that there’s a commitment at the organizational leadership level of the importance of story. Could you unpack how leadership reinforces those investments and how you all navigate that or how do you keep that centralized because I don’t think that’s standard for a lot of nonprofits.

MM: Yeah, I mean, I have to give credit to people who have come before me who set up this program to have seven, eight people on our staff whose titles are storytellers. Of course, they do more than just storytelling. I mean, they fill in the gaps here and there. They’re doing marketing on the ground. We’re doing marketing here in the states to get donors, but they also are doing marketing in Africa to get the word out to kids who have disabilities, treatable disabilities that, “Hey, our hospitals are here for you. Come here to our services. We’ve got great service for you.”

I would just really give credit to the people who’ve come before me to do that. But we’ve seen the result of it. You’ve mentioned our documentary, our website. If you go to our CURE.org, you can see the kids that are currently right now in our hospitals receiving treatment, and it’s tied into our sustainer program, our recurring donor. 

When people give each month, every single month, they’re getting a different child that they’re helping heal. It’s really kind of baked into everything that we do. I mean, you know better than anyone, every single day, I mean, video only continues to grow. The visual mediums continue to grow. Social media is really a driving force behind that. It’s really not too hard to justify their role when all things are pointing to “we just need to tell better stories,” and one of the best ways to do that is with visuals.

How can nonprofits use video to drive donations?

NB: You mentioned monthly giving or your sustainer program, and I definitely want to talk into that, but the other thing you mentioned was the importance of video. You and I actually met through a mutual partner, Casey at Bonjoro, which is a video personalization platform. He had sent me one of the videos of CURE’s staff, which I assume was maybe one of your storytellers had made for a donor. 

I was just blown away with the level of personalization and how it really brought the giver into that moment where he’s sitting with the children that they’ve helped and being able to present that and showcase that to the donor. Is this something you’re doing at scale, and how is this infused into how you nurture donors today?

MM: I am a huge advocate of Bonjoro because it’s made it so easy to do it at scale because otherwise it would be incredibly hard. I mean, we’re set up perfectly to do this because we’ve got these storytellers in every single hospital. In the past, a major donor, I wanted to send them a video, we’d asked one of our storytellers, “Hey, can you shoot this video?” They email it to me, or they Slack it to me. Then I send it to our development person, and then they text it out or email it.

With Bonjoro, we’re able to really take all those steps out and send it out with a nice customized template with a call to action. We have systematized it from everything to thanking donors to reactivating donors and syncing it with our CRM. One program that when Casey at Bonjoro reached out, he said, “Hey, we want to give your guys a trial with our service. What do you want to do?”

I instantly knew what I wanted to do. Mind you, this was pre-COVID, but we had about 600 or so mid-range donors who had given a thousand dollars to us at one time, and a thousand dollars at a CURE hospital completes a surgery for a child. There were about 600 of these folks who hadn’t given in the past 365 days, and we wanted to show them the impact that that thousand dollars had. We had a new video created. It caught up with three kids who had been to our different hospitals, and just to check in with them and go, “What’s life like now after you’ve had these surgeries?”

We sent these videos to them. It was so easy to do. It was actually fun to do it. Then these donors are able to send us messages back, and they’re able to see realtime also because these videos, again, you mentioned our storytellers are in our hospital sitting with the kids preop or postop, and just that alone gave me chills. It was like I enjoyed seeing those videos because I’ve only gone to our hospitals once, and it was the most incredible experience, and so just to feel like I was taken there into the ward as these kids are healing up and just to see the joy on their faces, I mean, that alone was worth it.

Bonjoro was able to take the technical expertise out and let me just focus on what’s the story that we’re going to tell, what’s the visual, how are we going to send this and get people’s attention so that they actually engage with the content that we’re creating because that is the hardest thing right now is how do you break through the noise? 

There’s so many things for people to watch on their phone and on their computer. They’re constantly being pinged. How are we going to actually get someone’s attention? Bonjoro has also thought through how to do that. Animated GIF in the email of our kids in the hospital waving their hand. Think about that. In your inbox you see CURE International said, “We shot a personal video for you,” and there’s three cute kids with the storyteller having fun in our hospital. The open rate was like 70%, I believe.

NB: When I heard this story from Casey, I was just like, “This is incredible.” I think it hits on some key things that we talk about here at Virtuous a lot around the need to be able to earn attention and not just seek out to try to capture it or steal attention or compete for attention because we believe attention is actually the most valuable currency nowadays, and if you look at some of the biggest companies in the world, they’re monetizing our attention in some capacity.

How can a nonprofit personalize donor communications?

NB: That idea of getting attention is something a lot of organizations struggle with, especially now that we’re in midst of challenging times, whether it’s with COVID or current and the racial tensions in the US. Every time we turn around, there’s some sort of news story that’s breaking that’s trying to capture people’s attention. 

You guys were able to leverage personalization through video to be able to circumvent that. But I’m curious, because we advocate for personalization as a way to really go around the noise, but how else besides with Bonjoro and video are you infusing personalization into your cultivation at CURE?

MM: A lot of it is the multichannel approach. We’ve used these Bonjoros, like we’ll send the Bonjoro to folks, but also to complement it with a direct mail piece that they’re getting, and then Facebook ads targeted to them. I’ve used a new service recently. It’s called Slybroadcast, and it will do a ringless voicemail. Again, it’s not a spammy voicemail. 

I mean, it’s an informative one. It’s a voicemail from one of our doctors in the field with a message to these people, but really trying to… the same message, but on different platforms because I don’t expect someone to just drop everything. 

When they see something coming from CURE, I would love to think that they love our brand and love what we do so much that they’re going to consume the two-minute video that I’ve created for them, but they’re going to forget.

Tiering it, we’ll send out the direct mail piece and then send them an email and then maybe a voicemail and then a Bonjoro personalized video and then Facebook ads, not at the same time, but just staggered so that your chance of reminding someone, “Oh, yeah. I meant to go watch that,” or, “I meant to read that,” or, “I meant to give.” I mean, hopefully, they meant to give.”

One other thing I want to share about this donor reactivation thing that we had done with was, like I said, this was right when COVID-19 was starting, and this was before we knew, “Should we ask for money yet or not? We know we need to.” Really had no time to think about it yet, and we came to realize, “Yeah, you need to still ask.” But instead, we led with the personal video, and we linked them to a page. It was a donation page, but top and front and center was content. It was that video where you got to catch up with three kids who had received surgery at our hospital.

In the email and in the video, there was nothing saying, “Hey, give to this campaign.” It was purely “we want to show you the impact that you had,” and that had good results. I mean, that we reactivated about 3%, so we got about 20 donations out of it sending it out to those folks.

How can I engage donors throughout the donor life cycle?

NB: I think that idea of just being able to give value and making even suggestions to donors at various life cycle stages, that isn’t just to give, but also, building on the momentum if they do take that action. We talked a lot about this with responsive fundraising is that you want to maintain momentum. 

If you engage with a supporter and they engage with a story, why not give them the opportunity that’s the next right step? Netflix and Amazon do it. Why are we tapping into that same things where it’s like, “You did this. Now you might want to do these things.” I think that video really showcased that opportunity.

You mentioned this idea of trying to reactivate donors, but then multichannel. Can you talk a little bit about how CURE looks at their donors overall and tries to use multichannel personalization across the donor life cycle? I’m just curious how you guys are approaching this at different levels of the donor life cycle.

MM: Yeah. We want to do more. In fact, we’ve been having conversations of should we upgrade our CRM and get more features, fancy features, or downgrade and really build from the ground up so we can have a little more data behind it because, honestly, we’re flying by the seat of our pants right now and just going, “Okay, we’ve got our general donor segments. We’ve got our recurring sustainers. We’ve got our one-time donors, kind of mass donors. We’ve got our mid range, and we got our majors, and we’re customizing based on the ask of what’s an appropriate ask for these folks, but looking at where they really are in the donor journey.” 

We just honestly haven’t had enough time to do that. We know that we want to do that, and just fostering especially the one-time donor.

We just did a big radio campaign, brought in a lot of new donors, and a lot of one-time donors, and so now we’re kind of going, “What’s the next approach? How do we get that second gift out of them?” I love doing it. It’s a fun thing to brainstorm, collaborate with our team, but we’re also going, “Okay, but we also got to maintain the current donors that we have that are recurring.” There’s a lot of different verticals, and we’re trying to do the best on all of them, but also realizing you got to focus on one at a time and do the best for each segment accordingly.

NB: Yeah, but I think you bring up a good point because we talk to a lot of nonprofit leaders who maybe are in the same shoes as you are or where you’re like, “Hey, we know we could do better. We know personalization works. We’re trying to figure out how to engage this, but it’s just too big of a task, so they don’t start. You guys are definitely kind of taking that approach where it’s like, “Hey, we’re going to start where we can, and we’re going to move forward knowing that we could always do better.” I think that’s really exemplary.

How do I get started with donor retention?

NB: If you’re sitting there, like if someone’s listening to this, and it’s like, “Okay, Matt, we get it. You guys are awesome… ” We couldn’t do that at our organization. We don’t have leadership buy-in. We don’t have storytellers on the field. What advice do you have for someone listening that may not be in a more of a promoting environment like you all are at CURE but still knows that this is the right thing to tackle?

MM: Start small, but also focus on what you think is going to move the needle most. I mean, you’re not going to know that unless you’re measuring, so be measuring. I’ve even been in that situation now where I would love to do.

There’s all these grandiose ideas of what I’d like to do, but I started with, “Okay, we’re getting new donors trickling in all the time. We know that if we thank them soon and we thank them with a compelling welcome pack, that retention’s going to go longer,” that’s going to make my job easier in the long run.

I’ve really focused on what’s the donor’s experience? When they decide that they’re going to be generous and give to us, what are we going to do to make them feel thanked, but also have a better understanding of who we are? Thankfully, we got a documentary that’s very compelling, and you can watch it on YouTube and Amazon Prime. It’s called Modern Day Miracles. But even without that, we’ve got just like these videos we talked about on Bonjoro, I have… It’s a generic one. It’s not personal. 

We’re going to do personalization soon, but within the first 24 hours of someone giving on our website, I send them a Bonjoro video, and it’s from one of our hospitals, kids waving and saying, “Thank you,” and then our storyteller just saying, “Hey, we’ve got a documentary. Click on the link below, and you can watch it for free and see how your donation is healing kids.”

I’m going to be tracking it and seeing, “Okay, did we see that our donor retention went up starting May of 2020” because we really hadn’t been doing that. We’ve been sending them a welcome pack, but that would come a couple of weeks later. I kept on hearing on podcasts like yours that thanking people in the first 24 to 48 hours had incremental results on your donor retention.

I took the tool, Bonjoro’s just a tool, and was like, “How can I apply that to help this be a more scalable thing when it’s really me doing it right now?” I don’t have someone that I can just say, “Hey, go send these videos out.” It’s me. But once a day, I just go in there, and I’ve got 5 to 10 to 20 new donors to send a video out to. I’m excited to see the results of that to compare how the retention has been, and then the second, getting a second gift from these folks who hopefully are feeling thanked and appreciated from us in a very visual way again.

They’re being thanked by the kids that they are helping heal and give surgery to, which I think is one of the most powerful things. You can put up a before and after photo to see the difference that you’ve made, but when there’s actually a kid waving and telling you, “Thank you,” I hope that’s a powerful… it’s something that people want to share with their friends and family. That’s really my hope that this will also have some virality to it, “Oh, my goodness,” water cooler talk, “I can’t believe it. These kids at the hospital that I gave to, they just sent me a thank-you video,” and we’ll see. It’s fun.

NB: Yeah, and I think at the end of the day, what you’re hinting at, even if you’re an organization listening to this that maybe is in animal welfare or healthcare or a variety of other community services or arts or activism, is that you’re leading.

There’s two things. One is that you’re identifying key milestones in a donor’s journey that matter not more than others, but have a bigger impact on that experience. Your first experience with anything is essential, so that’s a great milestone. There are other milestones that you can identify that you can start with, whether it’s year one, they’ve given to you one year, how do you then engage with them in year two and set expectations and showcase how other donors get involved.

The other thing that you just highlighted I don’t lose sight of is that you’re leading with why the donor gave. The donor gives because they want to support kids receiving health care, so you’re saying, “Okay, well, let’s deliver on that. We’re going to send them a picture of kids that have received healthcare and are now happy.” 

I think it’s so simple, but in the midst of the complexity of how do we set this up and where’s this and where’s that, let’s send this, let’s do that, we miss the point that people gave for a reason. Why don’t we just close the loop on that? I think that’s what your approach that you’re testing, and we’ll see what the results are, as you said, really reveals because you’re bridging that gap, which is cool.

MM: One other thing I want to share with that, so before we recorded here, we talked about StoryBrand and how we love that. It’s so important here. Donald Miller, StoryBrand keeping it simple and focusing on the main thing. For us at CURE International, we’re operating these first-world hospitals in these developing countries, it’d be really easy to say, “Here’s how we’re doing brain surgery in Uganda and all these different nuances.”

I mean, doing medical care in Africa is a whole fascinating thing in itself, but majority of our donors are not doing that. We’re telling them, “Provide hope and healing to kids.” When we thank them, I want to show how they provided hope and healing, not how they grew this expanded wing so we have 10 more hospital beds to do more surgeries. That’s very important and neat, but focusing on one kid or a couple of kids whose lives have been changed because of their generosity.

NB: Absolutely. I think it’s that curse of knowledge that we have where we’re like, “Oh, but these things are so awesome and cool and advanced,” and it’s like no one actually… It’s not that they don’t care. It’s just not necessarily the most important thing, as you mentioned.

How does storytelling influence monthly giving?

NB: I know we mentioned it briefly, but I want to dive into it a little bit is that monthly giving. I want to talk about monthly giving. We all know it’s important. Some organizations really get this right. I know this personally because I spent three and a half years when I started fundraising actually managing a monthly giving program, and I’ve seen what CURE does. It’s incredible, the approach that you take. 

Just for our listeners, could you unpack CURE’s approach to monthly giving and why you’ve chosen to lead with that as the primary suggested ask because every time I engage with you all, you’re like, “Hey, give monthly, serve this.” It feels like the primary ask, but maybe I’m off there.

MM: No. No, it’s definitely our primary ask, one, just because once you get them in the door, we believe that people are going to love being a part of the CURE family. We call them a CURE hero, and being able to be actively engaged each month seeing a different child that you’re helping heal. 

A lot of times when people see it, they go, “Oh, it’s child sponsorship.” It’s like, “Not quite. We love child sponsorship, and it’s great. This is you’re sponsoring a surgery. You’re sponsoring healing each month,” and so we try to highlight those uniquenesses about what we’re doing, and so being able to send a get well message to the kids.

Beginning of the month or each month when your card is charged, you get a photo and the story of the child that you’re getting help heal, and then you can send them a get well message. When possible, we try and send messages back, but you can at least get to see a photo of the kids reading your message, and then you get the updates. It’s like a mini social media feed of these kids that are in our hospital. They’re going into preop today. Oh, they’re playing in the playroom today. They met some friends.

Our storytellers do a great job of humanizing it too so it’s not just this, “Here’s the before and after photo of the kid. Now give us more money.” No. Here’s a chance. If you’re a family or an individual giving, be engaged with it and follow along with these different kids that you’re getting help heal. As a parent, I love it because, one, a lot of times, these kids are so young, they can’t talk, so you get to hear the voice of the parent and the hope that you’re giving them.

That I resonate with incredibly, but also, for kids to be able to see kids that look like themselves. You hear these stories of these kids being picked on and bullied in these cultures because of a disability that they had no choice over. It’s definitely rewarding and fun, I hope, for our donors to be an engaged donor and use it as a tool to teach their kids generosity and just to have a perspective of what the world is like through our hospitals.

NB: You hit on the same point again. You’re closing that loop. But I do think what’s really unique about your monthly giving program, as an example, if you dissect it, is that you could have also been in a situation where you’re like, “Hey, you need to fund surgeries for this hospital,” or, “Hey, we need to raise money to be able to provide children with surgeries,” but instead, you all packaged what you do in a way that was accessible and relatable to your core ideal donor base. 

I think a lot of organizations look at this and say, “Oh, well, that’s because you’re set up that way,” but I think the thing that’s missed a lot of times is that you were able… at one point, it wasn’t necessarily like that, or if it was, it was intentionally designed because you wanted to make sure you bridge that gap.

I think a lot of organizations have the same opportunity, even if they don’t have a child surgery or a child sponsorship or a clear monthly giving component to dissect what they’re doing and repackage it in a way that it aligns with a donor’s need or donor’s desired investment opportunity that’s unique for that organization. 

I want to make sure we didn’t jump off of this and be like, “Oh, look at what CURE is doing,” but it’s like, no, there’s actually some key elements here that if you dissect it, you can actually apply that same dissection model and re-architect it for any nonprofit so those listening can do that as well. Any thoughts on that as organizations trying to navigate monthly giving that maybe aren’t designed from the ground up to be monthly giving organizations?

MM: I think a first step is to talk to your current donors, what do they love about giving, and see if you can build something around that. Is there a certain newsletter that you send out or an email or a certain social media feed? Every Tuesday, I do #transformationtuesday because we looked at the analytics, and what did people care the most about? 

They wanted to see these journeys these kids came. It’s a photo of when they first come to our hospital, them in surgery, and then after surgery, and maybe some fun smiling photos, playing bubbles in the playroom and stuff. But so ask your donors, “Why did you give? What made you so passionate to give?” and can you build it around that?

How do I fundraise during a crisis?

NB: Yeah. I think that’s a great point. Well, we’re almost out of time, but I want to make sure we take the opportunity to take a step back. Obviously, you mentioned some of these campaigns you were doing pre-COVID, but obviously, we’re in the midst of COVID. The world is responding to some of the systematic racism that we have in our culture and the Black Lives Matter protesting and movement that’s going on right now. 

I say all this to say 2020 has brought with it a lot of new challenges and new things that nonprofits are having to navigate. As a marketer who’s leading communication from your organization to your supporters, what advice or guidance do you have or even just questions that you’re asking yourself would you share with others that are trying to navigate this same landscape for their organization?

MM: About a month ago, our biggest radio fundraiser of the year happened. We spent countless hours going into that, partly just freaked out going, “Okay, how do we message this?” because we don’t want to be tone-deaf and ignore what’s happening all around us, but we don’t want to dilute the core message of what we’re doing. 

Going into this big radio fundraiser, I mean, we had a million messaging ideas. We had plan A, B, and C if it didn’t work, but what ended up working was, thankfully, due to talented people at this radio station and on our team, we stuck to the core messaging of CURE.

We said, “You know what? We get it. The world’s crazy. You maybe lost your job. If that’s the case, we’re not asking you to support, but if you’re doing okay, let me tell you this story about a kid in our hospitals who right now has no hope. He’s been on a waitlist so he can get his foot straightened for two years.” We just did that formula over and over again, acknowledging what’s going on, but then telling people, “Hey, let’s go do something. Let’s change the narrative. Let’s go do something, and let’s help someone else.”

Then with the messaging to our donors, they know a little bit more about it. That was to get new donors in, and so we had to especially stick to the core CURE messaging of what we do, how our hospitals operate, and then story. Story, story, story. “Here’s the kids that you’re going to be helping provide surgery for.” But then with our donors, we’re able to go a couple layers deeper and explained how has COVID impact.

I mean, being a medical ministry in a medical field, it was only natural for us to explain, “Here’s what we’re doing to prepare for COVID in our hospitals. Here’s how we’re equipping our doctors and nurses during COVID, and this is the… ” and had some fun with it too even, like, “Here’s how the kids are socially distancing in the ward,” but again, not guilting people, like acknowledging that this is a crazy time for everyone, but here’s the joy that we can be a part of, and here’s the difference that we can make if we come together and do it.

I have to give credit to our team. I mean, it’s been, again, countless hours of brainstorming and we kept on coming back to, but we want to make sure people know what they’re giving to because we don’t want to do bait-and-switch, like you’re giving to COVID-19 response. No, actually, you’re giving so that we can keep our hospitals going so we can keep on giving these kids surgeries who desperately need them. We’re still learning, and I think everyone is, but it’s been such a joy to be a part of a team that’s been able to come up with a plan that far is working. It’s an honor to do it.

NB: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a good reminder, like acknowledgment so you’re not tone deaf, and balancing that, but also not losing yourself amidst it as well because ultimately what you do is important pre-COVID, pre-2020, pre-everything that’s going on, the news cycle, the political banter, the economic uncertainty, all of these different things, and so you should stick with that because that’s what matters and what’s sustaining in some ways.

MM: I heard a quote early on in COVID. I forget who it was. I wish I could give them credit, but it really resonated with me. They said, “If your mission was important before COVID, it’s still important now,” because I think all of us, at least I know for myself, there’s a part of me that just said, “You know what, we need to shut down here and let this thing pass,” but no, these kids are still waiting at our hospitals for surgery, and we need to keep on going forward. That quote really, I think, encouraged me to keep on going, “Okay, we just got to keep on going.”

The word of the year is pivot, I think. There’s just a lot of pivoting and listening to feedback, and again, collaborating with your team. You’ve got people on your team who love your mission. You’ve got donors. You’ve got board members who love your mission. Have these open dialogues because nobody has the manual on how to deal with this. 

I think we can maybe learn from this too is how do we take what we’ve done during this season of COVID and apply it post-COVID? How do we make sure that we’re getting ideas from everyone and hearing all these voices and ideas and coming up with a concise plan that’s taken into consideration people’s creative ideas within the organization?

NB: Absolutely. Well, Matt, this has been really great. I appreciate the time.

MM: Thank you.

NB: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Responsive Fundraising Podcast by Virtuous. Each episode we’ve designed to really give you the insights into the philosophy process and playbook of leading nonprofits so that you can grow giving and build deeper relationships with the people who matter most: your donors.

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