Is there a pattern to questions asked by your members and prospective donors? If yes, read on...
Volunteer John sets down the phone. "Wow! I must get asked that question ten times a month!" Across the hall, Angela chimes in. "How about this one?" she asks, adding another FAQ to the mix. John is already nodding vigorously.
Now, your nonprofit's website might already have a section for Frequently Asked Questions, and that's a good thing.
But what happens when folks take the time to call, write or email you directly? Who fields those questions?
Chances are, whoever gets to them first.
Even if you have a bona fide member services department, can you decisively say that your organization answers every inquiry:
- Respecfully, AND
- In a 'voice' that's consistent with both your other donor communications and your organization's brand?
Leaving these front line stewardship communications to chance is risky business. Instead, use syndicated solutions.
Some organizations call them 'standard reply templates': pre-crafted, pre-approved replies to common customer queries, logically organized for all donor-facing staff to access.
Five steps get, and keep, you rolling...
Step 1: gather inquiries. Talk to the people who regularly answer questions from donors and prospective members. Collect actual copies of emails and letters, both questions asked and answers given.
Step 2: build a house list of common 'customer' queries. See if some of these inquiries fall into a common category -- for example, folks who want to donate something other than money (food, clothing, vehicles)... or people emailing to report a lost dog or cat... or those looking to volunteer.
Step 3: evaluate the quality of your current replies. Look at the responses being sent: some may be well-crafted and easily adapted for use as a reply template.
Some, however, may horrify you. Once upon a time I was asked to audit and revise the standard email replies of a large national charity. There I found serious inconsistencies in tone and style, grammatical issues and sorely outdated messaging.
And all among communications to people who directly contacted the organization seeking answers.
Step 4: craft a standard reply that can easily be personalized, for each frequently asked question.Get them into a file for all to access.
Step 5: schedule regular follow-ups to: add new reply templates, freshen existing replies, modify those replies that need it and, if you can, assess feedback.
Are you dead sure your stewardship is stellar?
Consider a 'mystery shopping test' and confirm it.
Ken Burnett explains the technique, in Zen of Fundraising:
In a mystery shopping test a fictitious persona is created to put one or more public organizations through its paces, under controlled conditions, to see how good or otherwise it is at responding to a typical customer.
You can find a really great example of such an experiment, complete with samples at -- where else? -- SOFII. Click here.
And if you have any questions at all on standard replies, please don't hesitate to email me.
(Note: the term 'syndicated solutions' isn't mine. In WAYMISH, the process is called 'syndicating answers.' Wonderful book.)
Everyone talks about the wonders of storytelling for nonprofits. Rightfully so: it works. But where do you get the magic 'seeds' for a great story in the first place?
It's fine to discuss the merits of story-based messaging: stories are more viral, get better response rates, increase donor engagement, that kind of thing.
To tell a powerful story, though, you need ‘story seeds.’ Open-ended questions give you those seeds.
Story seeds is my made-up term for the details you collect during an interview that bring your story to life: scents, sounds, sights, touches, tastes, feelings, dialogue... direct experiences, directly from those whose lives you've helped change.
You get these seeds by asking open-ended questions (OEQs). OEQs pack a punch because they get people to, well, open up... tell a tale, describe a situation, reveal hopes and dreams.
And that's when the emotional pull-quote becomes a Johnson Box, and the surprise happy ending becomes a P.S.
It's when, through your story, donors can feel the terror of life on the streets as a 19-year-old girl -- or the heart-jumping joy of a neglected dog who feels sunshine on her face for the very first time.
So, nonprofit storytellers, make sure you have your satchel of story seeds before you spin the tale.
Here are 25 open-ended question starters to help you.
Plus places to find more, below:
1. Will you help me understand...
2. Describe for me...
3. Would you please tell me about...
4. What are your plans for the future?
5. What's the best/worst thing that's happened to you...
6. Where do you think you'd be now if you hadn't/had...
7. How did you first hear about...
8. If you could say one thing to the people who support XXX, what would it be?
9. What have you learned since...
10. How did you make that choice...
11. What does that mean to you...
12. In what way does...
13. How is life different for...
14. How did you feel when...
15. What made you decide to...
16. Why did you start...
17. What did you do next?
18. When did you feel most afraid/happy/sad...
19. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
20. If you could say one thing to others who now stand in your shoes, what would it be?
21. Is there anything else you'd like to tell me today?
Four more adapted from Common Language Project's Journalism How-Tos. (If you generate any kind of online or offline news-based content that donors and prospects access, read "Interviewing 101" and "Humane Reporting." Fabulous.):
22. Can you re-enact the story for me, please?
23. What was the moment when everything changed? (Ask for the turning point)
24. What are the biggest challenges you face/faced?
25. What is your ideal solution/resolution?
Equally excellent: Kivi Leroux-Miller's top questions here.
Two final tidbits:
* When interviewing, note concrete details too: hair color, eye color, tall/short, bright smile, booming voice. The more details you have, the more to choose from later. And if you're tying to a specific appeal, craft at least one question that relates.
* If you need a sample, see this story-based appeal on SOFII.