The Case for Cliffhangers

Fundraising appeals rely on story to pull readers in, create emotional connections and inspire donors to make a difference through giving. Knowing how essential stories are to success, the Frontier team is constantly trying to improve our techniques, so we can maximize results for our clients. Today we’d like to share the findings from one of our recent copy tests. 

How many fundraising stories are told 

Most appeals follow a similar pattern, introducing donors to someone whose life has been changed through accessing a charity’s services. Donors are immersed in the struggles someone has endured. Then the donor is told how their donation helped to turn a life around, and the story ends with the person housed or fed or reunited with family, all thanks to the donor’s support. The call to action is to give again to help the countless others still in need. 

Telling finished stories has an unfortunate consequence: it diminishes the need in the mind of the donor.
— Jeff Brooks

The idea behind this strategy is to show donors exactly where their last donation went, express gratitude, and create an emotional connection. The goal is for donors to see the real impact they’ve made. Such stories can inspire donors and they certainly have their place, but…

Is there a better way? 

According to some experts, sending appeals with “finished” stories that end with happy people who have already been helped may make donors feel good about their last donation. BUT this type of appeal may also decrease the motivation to give again because everything’s looking so rosy. 

As Jeff Brooks explains in his blog post titled Why (and how) you should not finish fundraising stories, he reminds us that actions have consequences! “Telling finished stories has an unfortunate consequence,” he says. “It diminishes the need in the mind of the donor. All donors hear about are people who have been helped, so they never emotionally feel the need your organization exists to serve, so they become less likely to give.”

On the other hand, by leaving stories unfinished - aka by writing “cliffhanger” stories, you create an URGENT call to action. You create space for the donor to step in and become the story’s hero. Without them, the story will not have a happy ending.

Sounds pretty good. But of course, the Frontier team can’t simply accept fundraising literature at face value. We need to test it!

The Test

An A/B test was conducted with Bissell Centre’s 2018 Easter appeal. The donor list was split in half randomly and two different versions of copy were written. 

Donor group A received an appeal that shared the story of a single mother of two who, with the support of donors, had escaped homelessness and was now housed, happily accessing Bissell Centre services and working hard to create a prosperous life for her children.

Donor group B received a story about that same single mother, except that in this version she had only recently connected with Bissell Centre and needed continued support to access services like free diapers, child care, parenting classes, housing services and support groups. 

Our hypothesis was that the unfinished version would bring in more revenue than the finished version. 

The Results

Although 14 fewer people from the “unfinished” story group gave, their average gift was $95 compared to $73 in the “finished” story group - that’s 30% higher and resulted in 15% more revenue! 

While these results are exciting, a single test conducted with 5,000 donors can’t prove that unfinished stories are the way to go, across the board. That’s why we retested with the Bissell Centre 2019 Summer Child Care appeal. We also sent Welcome Hall Mission’s entire list of 30,000 an unfinished story in their first Easter appeal, with the conclusion revealed in the follow-up, in order to make a year over year comparison. 

While we eagerly await the results of these appeals, we’re keeping story endings top of mind while we write, and planning even more tests for 2019.

Why Group Meals are Part of Frontier & Benifactor Culture

Is it possible to abandon the idle chit-chat that seems to be a fixture of traditional office life? To be honest, it’s not. However, you can redirect it into something purposeful.
— Samantha

Frontier is a fundraising agency that is part of a larger umbrella organization called Benifactor. Today we want to share a bit about the Benifactor-wide culture that bonds our agency with sister agencies like Charity Electric, and helps us learn from one another.

* * *

Everyone knows that life moves fast, but a 32 hour work week moves even faster. So, how do the Benifactor folk maintain a close-knit relationship? A family meal, of course. Every second week, each team gets together to break bread—or in this case—burritos. We alternate team lunches with bi-weekly Taco Tuesday Townhalls that include all agencies under the Benifactor umbrella.

This lunchtime routine may seem like a nicety provided by our fearless leader and CEO, but underneath the friendly gesture lies something more meaningful: efficiency. Most office cultures include the obligatory “water-cooler talk” that slows down the start of each morning. While catching up with co-workers may be essential to workplace socialization, the startup world can be unforgiving, making time a precious commodity.

Our culture is particularly unique due to its dedication to work/life balance. However, by choosing to work here, you accept the challenge to get the same amount of work done in 32 hours that most get done in 40. It may sound cliché, but at Benifactor we truly work harder in order to play longer. A week at Benifactor isn’t a marathon; it’s a sprint. We earn our three-day weekends.

Is it possible to abandon the idle chit-chat that seems to be a fixture of traditional office life? To be honest, it’s not. However, you can redirect it into something purposeful.

This is where “Taco Tuesdays” come in. Not only do they provide a break from the shorter, fast-paced work week, but they also give everyone a chance to share a delicious meal and some good conversation before discussing any upcoming events or work-related news. The discussions are guided, practical, and an efficient use of time. It has become an invaluable opportunity to come together to simultaneously strengthen our relationships and close any knowledge gaps across agencies.

And let’s just say it, who doesn’t enjoy a good taco!

— Guest Post Courtesy of Samantha Boiani, Charity Electric

FC_Taco Tuesday Blog_Blog Image.jpg

Birkmania: Giving You an Edge in Fundraising!

How important is finding the right people for your organization?

That’s a no-brainer, right? In fact, it’s common for business leaders to think this is the only necessary prerequisite to building a cohesive and effective team.

We’re inclined to agree—at least in part.

When you’ve engaged Frontier as your fundraising specialist, you’re getting a whole team that’s entirely focused on achieving the best results for you.
— Mariam Ghani

Equipping your organization with people who are competent and a great fit for your team is essential for the health of any business or non-profit.

At Frontier, we genuinely believe people are our most important asset.

Most organizations put daily operations above thoroughly understanding their employees.

Making sure your organization is getting to the task-at-hand, meeting deadlines, assisting clients, and getting everything done is paramount to being successful in your field.

But could you be missing out?

While these activities are absolutely essential for the health of any business or organization, if you haven’t invested in getting to know the nuances of each person on your team, you might actually be overlooking an opportunity to increase your team’s overall efficiency and productivity.

For any team to operate seamlessly, it’s crucial that everyone has an awareness of their own strengths, skills and areas of opportunities for growth, but it’s also key for each person to understand their teammates in the same way.

That’s where Birkmania comes in at Frontier.

What the heck is Birkmania, you might be asking yourself.

Let me fill you in. It’s an in-office event the whole team participates in together, based on The Birkman Method, which assesses your personality and perceptions. It reveals your interests, actual behaviour, stress behaviour, as well as your assumptions pertaining to the social needs of others versus your social needs in a variety of categories.

The Birkman Method illuminates contrasting perceptions, and focuses on strengths and productive applications, so individuals can learn to make use of their unique skills and perform with heightened efficiency.

The Birkman Method is a tool that facilitates growth for yourself and your team. It also helps your organization to better understand the strengths and interests of your employees and colleagues, so you are better prepared to meet challenges and opportunities in the future.

Birkmanity Insanity at Benifactor

Each time Frontier welcomes a new person into our weird and wacky world, we invest in them by discovering their Birkman type. Then, we throw an event, led by an official Birkman trainer, to delve deeper into the meaning of each person’s results.

With help from a Birkman trainer, we are guided through all of the different sections of personality analysis, with a special focus on appreciating how our team is similar and dissimilar.

One of the most valuable outcomes from this event is gaining reliable insight into one another’s strengths, competencies and weaknesses.

All About YOU!

This knowledge allows us to focus on our strengths and utilize the diverse skills found within our team, enabling us to optimize our abilities, so we can operate efficiently, effectively AND seamlessly for you.

Because we’ve invested in understanding the strengths of each team member, we’re more cohesive, productive and successful in what we do. Ultimately, this is good news for you! That’s because what we do is help YOU do good in the world.

When you’ve engaged Frontier as your fundraising specialist, you’re getting a whole team that’s entirely focused on achieving the best results for you.

Thanks to Birkmania, we’re able to offer you a team that’s effective, productive and ready to respond to just about any challenge. We ensure our team is flourishing, so we can help your team flourish, too.

How Storytelling Can Clarify Your Message

Reviewing Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand

Reviewing Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand

Always focused on improving results for our clients, Frontier’s print team has been reading Building a Story Brand: Clarifying Your Message So Customers Will Listen by Donald Miller. We’d love to share our main take-aways.

What is everyone doing wrong?

In Building a Story Brand, Miller explains that the main mistake marketers make is in creating messages that are too complicated for people to quickly, easily understand. The key to success is to clarify your message so people understand exactly what you offer and why it matters to them. As Miller says, “If you confuse, you lose.”

The second biggest mistake marketers make is in creating ads that focus only on the greatness of their product, instead of focusing on their customers and the reason they should care about the product.

Throwback to High School English Class

Miller’s strategy to create both clarity and relevance is to make use of one of humankind’s oldest activities—storytelling.

By adapting the age-old principles of the hero's journey that you may remember from high school into his Story Brand 7 Framework, Miller demonstrates how to invite customers into a story they will remember and respond to.   

Every great story begins with a character who wants something, encounters a problem before they can get it, meets a guide who gives them a plan, calls them to action and helps them to avoid failure and achieve success.   

Too many marketers position their brand as the hero of the story. But people don’t want another hero, they are already the hero of their own story. What they want, and what your brand must become, is the guide that steps in to help them survive and thrive.

What really makes people part with their money anyway?

Marketing often focuses on the external problem that a product can solve, but people buy solutions to internal problems and innate desires.

Seven of the most universal desires are to conserve financial resources, to conserve time, to build social networks, to gain status, to accumulate resources, to be generous and to find meaning. In other words, people want to be accepted, find love, achieve an aspirational identity, bond with others, and find meaning through connection with something larger than themselves.

These internal desires are far more powerful than the external problems most products directly solve. To be successful, your brand must tell a story that shows how you will help people meet these fundamental needs.

The key to success is to clarify your message so people understand exactly what you offer and why it matters to them.
— Donald Miller

How does this apply to fundraising at Frontier?

Building a Story Brand reinforced a lot of the best practices that Frontier already follows, such as positioning donors as the hero, keeping appeals simple, and always including clear calls to action. Discovering this was a great feeling for our team! There is always room for improvement, however, and the many reminders from this book have us feeling excited to move ahead with these points top of mind!

What are our main take-aways?

While writing stories with donors positioned as the hero isn’t new to us, we’ve gained a new understanding of the part our clients should play in the story—the guide. And a guide’s main job is providing a plan and a clear call to action.

This means each appeal needs to call people to action by asking, directly and repeatedly, for a donation, and showing them how that donation will make the world a better place. Because what we really offer is the opportunity to achieve an aspirational identity and connection to a meaningful cause.

People want to be generous, especially with others who may not have had the same opportunities in life. Nonprofits are the guides that step in to help donors fight villains like poverty and injustice so they can see themselves as heroes. Meanwhile, we fundraisers are the storytellers.