Storytelling is a major part of how brands connect with their audiences, but nonprofit storytelling is unique. It can be a major challenge to do it well so that you do more than just grow your donor base. We spoke with Beth Guckenberger who has been using storytelling to build relationships with her donors in order to connect them to the work of her nonprofit.
Beth is co-executive director at Back2Back Ministries. Along with her husband, Todd, they have been focused on international orphan care since 1997. They have been able to grow their reach by mastering how to use storytelling for fundraising.
The Guckenbergers have found that it often feels like the nonprofit is the medium between the donor, who funds the cause, and the cause itself. Despite the organization’s best intentions, it can actually widen the space between the donor and the work they wish to fund. At Back2Back, they want to shorten the distance between what’s happening in the field and the donor. Great storytelling shortens that distance, makes the donor feel caught up in the story and part of it.
Their goal is to build relationships between the donors, the nonprofit, and the cause. That’s why the most important thing is to use stories to build those relationships.
Don’t have time to listen to the whole podcast? Here’s the TLDR:
Nonprofit storytelling best practices: Key Takeaway
When we interact with someone who has some of the basic facts about our mission, our goal should be to entice them with our stories so that they would want to be educated on what we’re doing.
After they’ve been educated, then it’s time for advocacy-level asks, like sponsor a kid, and go on a trip, and give to this campaign, or whatever.
We found that when we jump to an ask—some kind of advocacy ask, etc.—on the first interaction, our audience responds with, “Well, I don’t even know who you are, why would I … ” That’s not how relationships work, and it makes for ineffective storytelling.
The most powerful storytelling is active. There’s back and forth: you learn about them, and they learn about you. They get to ask questions, and then you get to a place where you have earned the right to say, “Would you like to be involved with something like this?”
Why would we be put out social media posts, or email campaigns, or stand on the stage, or put out magazine articles that right off the bat assume an audience is ready to put some skin in the game? It doesn’t make sense.
So we now have targeted communication for each of those four categories, and a whole communication strategy that makes sure that we don’t just err on advocacy because that’s where we want to land, and we’re kind of short of that process.”
Announcer: Welcome to the Modern Nonprofit Fundraiser Podcast, where we help nonprofits reimagine generosity, and put the joy back in fundraising. Hear from leading nonprofit fundraisers and marketers as they reveal strategies for strengthening donor relationships to propel your nonprofit forward.
Gabe Cooper: Hey everybody, this is Gabe, welcome to the Virtuous Podcast, today I’m so excited to have Beth Guckenberger with us. Beth is the co-executive director of Back2Back Ministries. Back2Back is doing some amazing stuff in the orphan care space. Beth is leading the organization, she’s also a prolific author, speaker, and mom of 10. So Beth, welcome to the program.
Beth Guckenberger: Thanks, thanks for having me today.
GC: Yeah, absolutely. So before we get into Back2Back, which is super interesting, I’d love to hear a little bit just kind of about your personal story, your family, how you ended up passionate about adoption and foster care.
BG: Yeah, I did not grow up with adopted siblings, I’m not even sure I knew anybody who had done anything like that. But I fell in love through YoungLife with my husband, who we went to college together and then I used to say my major in college is Campus Crusade for Christ, which is not a major, but through my involvement with CRU I got on a lot of airplanes and went to a lot of foreign countries, and really my heart was captured for the nation.
And after graduation, Todd and I began to pursue our professional careers, but always in the back of our minds we knew that there was this mark on our hearts for vulnerable children, and for international ministry. So in 1997, we moved to Monterey, Mexico for what we thought would just be a year, we were living off of a savings account and just wanted to learn the language, and build some relationships internationally, and put our big toe in that water and see what that might want to do if we would build a bridge between folks who needed whatever it is that we thought we needed at the time, support, love, attention, resources, and people who had that in spades.
And when I look at the last 21 years and what God has done, I certainly never traveled there imagining what would eventually unfold. We really just simply had a call in our heart, and a burden for marginalized children. But as we entered into orphan care work that year, I didn’t get pregnant with our first biological child, but I knew even though that we could build our family in those ways, that God was planting seeds in our hearts for kids who didn’t have families.
So my daughter was born in May of 1998, and our first adopted child was born two months later in July of 1998. So those guys have grown up essentially as twins, even though they are two different colors, and that was the start of a family that has now grown to 10 children. And I just … I think adoption and foster care is calling, I don’t think it’s everybody’s calling, but certainly as we have … this is now what we do full-time, and as we’ve traveled around the world and met kids, and made a family, we’ve just sensed several different times God asking us to step forward for a child.
So I think we’re all done, but you never really know, you just always keep listening for whatever the Lord has for you and … But that’s kind of how it all got started.
GC: That’s great. I know this is a little bit off topic, but I’m so passionate about adoption and foster care in general. You said it is a calling, but not for everybody. So if I’m a family and just thinking about adoption and foster care, is there like … I know it’s this easy, but is there like a checklist of things that I should be thinking about? Like how do I know if this is right for me?
BG: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I usually encourage to befriend a family that has foster or adopted, and just kind of get into the nuance of what that involves. I think there’s a lot of things we see on the internet, or we see on peoples’ social media that just paint one side of this adopted and foster care story, and there’s all kinds of facets to bringing a child that’s from a hurt background, or had the trauma history, into your full-time family, and I think if you get involved, and befriend, and minister to, and come alongside a family who’s already doing it, they might be able to share with you kind of in real time the things that are total celebrations, and [inaudible 00:04:35] things that our hearts get full about it, and then the moments when kind of the rubber hits the road and it impacts biological children, or it impacts the marriage, or it impacts your finances. And just making sure that somebody understands not only the benefits of adoption but also the cost so that they walk in to that story with their eyes wide open, have all the right kind of perspective on anything the Lord asks us to do, it’s always going to be worth it, but it doesn’t mean it’s always going to be easy.
BG: And so I have wonderful adopted children, and I wouldn’t trade any of those stories, but they certainly are not all easy. And anyway … I would just say, before you read any books and before you take any classes, and before you sign up on a [inaudible 00:05:18] agency, I would just get involved in the life of someone who’s done it, and ask them what their journey has been like.
GC: Yeah, I really like that idea. In our experience, with us and other families around us who have done foster care and adoption, it is a hot mess but it’s a beautiful mess. But unless you’re-
GC: Up close to it with other families, it’s hard to sort of put into words those … how it feels, you know, and so I love that suggestion.
BG: Yeah, I say to my biological children, or to some of our kids who have been in our family longer, I know that there’s a cost and a benefit to the way we’ve chosen to build our family, and the mom instinct in me wants you to only experience the benefit and not have to pay any of the price, but I actually like who you’re becoming, and I like the way that these stories are shaping and forming you and your view of the world. I wouldn’t actually trade the cost, because I like the result of it in our lives.
BG: But it’s still good to be [inaudible 00:06:20].
GC: Wow, that’s great. The one other thing in there that, as a side note, my wife and I did Crusade in college too, and my wife, her summer project was San Diego and this past week we spent the week in San Diego so my wife could surf a little bit. So it’s funny how the trajectory of both of our lives seems to be very formed by our Crusade experience in college, which is great.
BG: Absolutely. Absolutely. A blessing, that organization’s a huge blessing.
GC: Yeah, yeah, it’s a great organization. Well, I mean, I love your story and it’s easy to see how Back2Back has been such a natural flow of your own personal story, can you tell us a little bit more about just kind of Back2Back in general? What you guys’ mission is, how long you’ve been around, what you’re trying to accomplish in the world?
BG: Yeah, for sure. We’re 21 years old, and we provide holistic orphan care in eight different locations around the world. And I would just say in terms of … I mean, that’s certainly the vision. In the beginning, all we could see were physical needs. So we just started vaccinating kids, and getting clean water places, and putting screens on windows, and better protein sources. And then we realized, we better make sure everybody knows this is because of Jesus, and not because of any humans, and so we started to add spiritual strategies and just giving communication with kids as we were meeting very acute felt needs. And that felt like the one two punch for a while until we had been there for a few years, and we realized generational poverty is really broken through education. So we began in 2001 this project called the Hope Education Program, which eventually takes orphans all the way through a bachelor’s degree in the countries they live in. And then that felt like, well, this is definitely the secret sauce.
We’ve got to meet felt needs, and make sure they know it’s because of Jesus, and then get them educated. And then we graduated our first college graduate and about six weeks after he had begun his first job, he came to tell my husband and I that he was quitting. And we were like, “Why are you quitting?” And he said, “Well, there’s this guy, he follows me around all the time and all he ever does is tell me what to do and he’s driving me crazy.” And my husband said, “Is he your boss?” And he said, “Yes, I can’t stand him.” We realized that, frankly, we had educated an emotional train wreck and he was incapable because we hadn’t addressed trauma and emotional health in all the ways that we should have.
He was incapable of maintaining a job, or submitting to authority, or managing a relationship with adult men. And it was such a pivotal moment for us to realize feeding hungry kids is not enough. Telling them about Jesus is not enough. Getting them to school is not enough. It’s got to have this more holistic approach to it.
So then we all got well versed in trauma and how to address trauma needs, and hired lots of counselors, and social workers, and psychologists in all the different sites that we have to address that piece. And the final part of the development of our mission was really … most orphanages around the world kind of function like tiny microcosms, they’re like these little independent cultures that are in and of themselves, orphans don’t usually go into town and go to the bank, or go to the grocery store, because it’s too hard to navigate that with the amount of kids and the amount of adults.
And so when you release an orphan into society and they don’t how to pay taxes, or volunteer at their church, or go to a hospital for help because that’s not the way their little community and culture they grew up in worked. And so we realized we really need to integrate socially the kids that we were serving into a larger community, if we want them to one day be leaders inside of that community.
So today we do what we call a five point child development plan which is a physical, and spiritual, and educational, and emotional, and social integration of support into the life of a kid. And we do that around the world, and of course you can’t love an orphan in isolation, you love their at risk mom, and you love their incarcerated father, and you love the churches that serve them, and the communities where they are birthed. So there’s a whole community development aspect to the ministry that we now oversee.
GC: That’s amazing. I know part of that for you guys, in the holistic care and kind of engaging the whole community and the whole person is great, because you guys do like mission trip stuff, work trip stuff-
GC: There too, right? So how does that work, and how does that integrate with what you’re doing … the rest of the work you’re doing?
BG: Yeah, we have about 2,000 mission trip guests a year that travel to any of those eight locations. And I usually talk about mission trip guests as kind of … they on ramp into an already well moving highway. So there’s full time staff on the ground all the time that are in some way executing strategies around those five needs of the kids that are in that community. And when mission trip guests come, it’s why I can’t totally tell you what you’ll do in two weeks if you come, because it depends on the needs that are occurring in the week that you’re there. So we don’t stop the ministry on the ground in order to accommodate the guests that are arriving, we just use the guests that are arriving and the gifts that they bring, the resources, and energy, and skills and all of that, to integrate into a kind of already fast moving river.
So yeah, it’s … it’s the way that we’ve kind of redeemed those short term mission experiences. They were very pivotal to my husband and I in our life, and I think can have great value, but certainly you can do them in a way that hurts the people that you’re there to serve instead of helps them. So we’ve worked really hard in the last 20 years to try to figure out ways in which to utilize the short term mission guests.
GC: So I love that you’re using the word guests. So intriguing to me why you’re using that word, can you tell me why you picked the word guest to describe the folks that are coming down there?
BG: Yeah, I mean, our organization is called Back2Back because we stand alongside of nationals who are doing ministry. So our goal is always to find strong nationals who have a heart for the Lord, and to come alongside of them. So in all those ways, they’re at the center of the story, they’re the chief of the story, they’re the architects of those ministry sites. The rest of us, even long term expat staff, are guests in that country, and we fold into instead of drive those agendas.
So when you’re a guest, you behave in certain ways, you defer in certain ways. You find yourself in postures of being a student and not a director. So we want our guests to come and learn as much as they can about the culture, and about the needs, and about what’s being done, and then take that new understanding back to their home countries. But they’re very much a guest.
GC: Wow, like that … it just resonates so much with so much of the work we do with our nonprofits, but then so many of the short term mission trips that I’ve been on, it seems as though … part of the most destructive thing potentially about short term mission trips is kind of the savior complex of you seeing yourself as the smart, capable savior. And-
GC: You effectively strip away all the dignity of the people you’re trying to serve, which is-
GC: Which in reality they probably have far more to give to you, and not in some sort of existential, you know, “I can learn from their poverty,” kind of way, but actually they’re probably a lot smarter than you. You know, and so that gets-
GC: Totally lost, and so using the word guests to flip that around, I think, even that one little word seems so powerful.
BG: Yeah, yeah, for sure. It needs to be an exchange. And I think that’s really hard, it’s actually hard for our short term guests to consider the exchange, because they are just so there to give of themselves, which I appreciate that, but when we don’t allow the child or the national to exchange with them, then it actually says, “You have nothing to offer me that I want.” And there’s something undignified about that, so we really look for that healthy exchange between two people that God brings together for purposes that we hope we have our finger on, but there’s always more than you can ever imagine.
Nonprofit storytelling best practices
GC: Yeah, absolutely. Well I want to jump and change topics just a little bit here. You’re a speaker and author too, you’ve written, what is it, maybe eight books, you’re out on the road speaking quite a little bit, and a lot of that is around the idea of storytelling. So tell me a little bit about what you do as a speaker and author, but then tell me how that idea of storytelling influences what you’re doing at Back2Back.
BG: Yes. So I’ve been writing books for a little more than 10 years, and I speak currently about 100 times a year.
BG: In front of all kinds of audiences of all sizes. And I think storytelling … what happened is we would have these short term guests that would come and I would want them to put themselves inside of experiences that they’ve never themselves and probably never would have themselves, but I was hoping to conjure up in them things like empathy, and generosity, and understanding. And so the best way that I could figure out to do that was to paint a picture, and to do that through story.
And when I think about my learning curve, in the beginning, if I was going to be honest, I probably had things I wanted people to know, and I was looking for a venue for them to hear my ideas on what I thought they didn’t know and that they needed to know, but that’s actually pretty prideful. I have no idea what people who are in an audience of any size know, or don’t know, or experience and don’t experience.
So in 2007 I had written a book for [inaudible 00:16:26] called Reckless Faith, and I was wildly naïve and it only lived in the hard drive of my laptop, I had never put it on a jump drive, or emailed it to myself. And 10 days before it was due I had had my laptop in a car where I was riding, and I jumped out of the car for like one minute to tell my friend where I was parked, and someone smashed the window of the car and stole that computer. And it was gone, the book was gone. And I told [inaudible 00:16:50], “You know what, I’m not going to be able to do this, I didn’t even have time to do in the first place, I’m so sorry,” and they reminded me I had signed a contract, and I absolutely had to deliver on it.
So I sat down to rewrite that book the second time, and I realized the first time I wrote it it’s about what I thought the world needed to know about the things I was seeing. The second time I wrote it, it was what God had taught me, and it was far more compelling. So where in the beginning I was like, “Oh my gosh, the enemy took this book,” in the end I ended up feeling like it was a branch that needed cut off. It wasn’t going to bear fruit. And that’s now how I tell stories. It’s not so much what I think everybody needs to know about what it is that I have figured out, it’s more about this is what this experience, this person, this story that I’m telling you, this is how it’s been transformative for me, and I’m going to trust that you as a listener, or you as a reader, can build all the bridges between my story and your own life.
And we just hear things better when they come in the form of testimony than when they come in the form of, “I know something I think you don’t, I need you to learn it from me.” So that’s now how I frame the stories I tell, is more like this is how this person, or how this experience has impacted me.
BG: It’s more compelling.
GC: Absolutely, it is. It’s so powerful. We think a lot about trying to shorten the distance between like a donor and then what’s actually happening in the field, and a lot of times when nonprofits talk about themselves or even give stats, or tell you what they’re doing, it creates this idea where the donor’s like this … they just give money, and the nonprofit’s the intermediary between them [inaudible 00:18:36] and the world. But for us, we’ve seen storytelling as a way that shortens that distance, to make the donor feel like they’re actually caught up in the story, they’re implicated in something bigger than themselves.
GC: And they feel actually a part of it. So I think in particular with fundraising, it’s so powerful to not just wrap somebody’s mind but wrap their heart around it by making them feel … so they can connect the dots for themselves, effectively.
How are you guys using storytelling right now even within Back2Back? Are you intentional about how you write copy, how you create media, how you talk about yourselves?
BG: Yeah, for sure. We have like a brand pyramid, and we know that our stories are going to be hopeful in nature. That was a decision in the very beginning to not talk about what man wasn’t doing, but instead to talk about what God was doing. I know I could get a reaction by saying … you know, there’s this thing going on and essentially something like if you don’t step up nobody will. And I need you right now. But that’s not true, God can meet his needs … and he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants with whoever he wants, we get the privilege of getting in the middle of it. But he doesn’t actually need any of us, and maybe if I tell you a terrible story or show you a picture of a child with a bloated belly and a fly on their face I might get some kind of guilt reaction from you, but I don’t want that. I want relationship, and relationship comes from hearing like God is on the move here, and this is what he’s doing, and I really want you to be a part of it.
So we definitely have some filters that stories get put through. So we make sure they’re hopeful in nature, that they’re denotational in nature, that they’re honoring to the person that we’re telling them about. There was days long healthy conversations, and frankly, ones … I think when I think about my own learning curve, there was definitely a large season where we began the organization where I saw donors as transactional. They were like … I need your money to do what I want to do, and so I’ll say and do and dance in front of you in whatever way I need to until you spit out of your ATM machine what I need to go take care of the kids that God really cares about.
And it was a big conviction in my heart probably 10 years ago when I realized that God actually loves the donor and every single thing same way that he loves the vulnerable children I was serving. In fact, he sees them no different from each other. So I could literally double our ministry impact if I began to minister to donors, and with the same compassion, and heart, and intentionality strategy that I was ministering to vulnerable children.
And when I realized that donors are loved in the eyes of God in the same that vulnerable children are, then all the sudden we started to tell stories to friends, we started to think about relationship different, we started … it was a big shift certainly in my heart and mind, and then really eventually in the organization as a whole.
GC: Yeah. Man, flattening that out, it’s so hard to do, but it’s … it’s so important, there’s so much unhealthy stuff. I think like what you were talking about, with stripping away dignity, so it’s selling pessimistic stories of the kid with a fly in their eye strips away human dignity so you stop seeing those people as peers or someone like you, you start seeing yourself as a savior. In the same way nonprofits do that to donors, where they think about them as a checkbook, and it strips away the dignity of the donors and it’s not a true story at all.
And so that inner culture, the nonprofit culture in particular, we have thought about donors as checkbooks and thought out kids with flies in their eyes for so long, it’s sometimes hard to roll those ideas back. So I love that you’re trying to do it.
BG: Yeah, and it’s kingdom, it feels then like kingdom building.
BG: Like with a capital K, and not … yeah, there’s something that really just clicks. And I don’t know, it actually stops feeling like work at that point.
GC: Yeah, absolutely. So I know you guys at different points, as you’ve tried to tell your story and raise money, and make an impact, you’ve used broadcast media, you’ve used publishing, you’ve used books, a bunch of stuff to raise awareness for Back2Back. I know some of that’s worked really well, some of it probably not, so well, can you talk a little bit about the lessons you’ve learned through some of those experiences?
BG: Yes, probably the biggest fail, since that’s really the most interesting of it all, is I had a radio show on XM Radio for a couple years. We had a really great slot on a really great station. I had a really compelling guest. Like kind of all the raw ingredients were there.
BG: But what I was hoping was to use that radio show as a way to expose more people to the ministry, and then eventually drive them back to our website, or to child sponsorship or to mission trip guest, or to some entry point on that. And we just didn’t end up seeing a return on that investment. But simultaneously, I was loving the radio show. So there was this hard part inside of me where I had to decide like, do I want a hobby? If I’d like a hobby keep it up with that radio show, but if I don’t want a hobby, then this medium is not giving us back what it is costing us in terms of time, and energy, and mind share, and the relational capital of all of that.
And so I think for me the lesson is just in constant evaluation, and having my hand loosely on even ideas that felt kind of cool, frankly. And probably the most successful, ultimately, took that we’ve had is publishing. The books that I’ve written have allowed me to interact with people without standing on a stage in front of them, or without being on a telephone with them, and I really … when I wrote that first book, Reckless Faith, the concept behind that book is like hey, reckless faith took me across the border and into an orphanage, but your reckless faith could take you across the street, or it could take you into a classroom, or it could take you … like all roads don’t have to lead back to me in order for it to be successful, and the more broader we painted that message, like get engaged, say yes to God, raise your hand, lean in, sacrifice, and if you have nowhere else to do it, come find us, but if you have somewhere else God’s calling you, go there.
We’ve actually seen more kind of bang for the buck without that direct marketing hardcore, “We’re the best, this is what makes us unique, this is what makes us better, this is … ” you know, some of that traditional marketing that just is constantly [inaudible 00:25:42] the lens of how to set ourselves apart, while simultaneously probably putting down other models. That’s not really been successful for us. Kind of the [inaudible 00:25:51], and we’re a large family of people that are reaching out to all of the children, and even to the point where if we have a contact with someone, and we currently don’t work anywhere in Asia, and we find out like the impetus for their interest in orphans is because they have an adopted Chinese niece, we’ll even tell them about organizations we know that are working in China, for example, that are doing really good work.
And it’s just a kingdom thing that we’ve seen, it actually bears more fruit that way, than, “We’re the best, we’re the strongest, we’re the fastest, we’re the smartest, come here and nowhere else.” So-
BG: It’s just been an interesting learning curve for us.
GC: Yeah. Well, it’s such a hard thing to learn. Chris, of course, he does fundraising at Hope International, he’s been on the podcast before, but he always talks about admitting failure, so as a fundraiser he’s shockingly quick to refer you to another nonprofit, or admit when they [inaudible 00:26:54]. Which is amazing to me, especially when you think about old school fundraising, those were just no-nos. The pie is fixed, like we see everybody else as competition, and we never admit when we screwed up, even though we screw up all the time.
GC: And so, but in today’s world, when you build and authenticity, you collaborate and partner with people and you actually have a bigger impact in the world. So it seems so counterintuitive, but I think especially in a day when people don’t trust institutions as much as it used to, and people sort of get relational signals from relationships more than they do sort of big ideas and statistics. I just think those are incredibly powerful concepts.
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more, I think that you … we’re skeptical of people who just really only report on successes. Plus, if donors want to get involved, like we need to know what’s not working, or what’s not going well so they can pray, they can utilize their expertise, they can network with us, they can problem solve alongside of us, like that just further engages them, versus shiny Power Point presentations, and all is well, and I fixed this so it looks like it’s better than it really is. [inaudible 00:28:18] When we’re telling one story, this is really hard work and it’s constantly a battle, and it’s always opposed, it just sounds like dissonance to say, “But meanwhile everything we do is just perfect.”
GC: Absolutely. I know one thing, just even in thinking about … is communicating different with donors in particular, more relationally, less of that kind of old school direct response, the world is ending and all of you can help. Part of that is in how you think about new donors, and I know a lot of times you’ve said the on ramps for new donors are too big. What do you mean by that and how do you think about not just acquiring but sort of introducing a new donor to your organization?
BG: Yeah, you know, I think for us in the orphan care space, there’s just a lot of examples of people who’ve done some extreme things, like sold everything they owned and moved to Africa, or adopted a bunch of special needs children, and it tends to have like this awe factor, like in order to really make a difference in that space, I’ve got to do something that’s like really impressive. And I just think it’s a disservice, I think there’s a lot of steps people can take beyond kind of the … on a scale of one to 10, the 10 level decision, and I am always thinking when I’m telling stories, or fundraising, how to give people places where they’re comfortable putting their big toe in, or making a minor investment, or really the money is inconsequential, what we’ve really invited you into is relationship, and we’re just happening to use this campaign, or this … whatever this ask is as a way to get you into this family. Now that you’re in the family, now you can understand what this looks like, but my goal is not really your $35.00 a month, or my goal is not really you’re a one time guest, my goal is relationship. And we’ll use this as a tool towards that.
BG: So … with that … we have divided in our organization audiences in four categories, which these are not external documents, this isn’t something anybody would normally see, but we talk about an audience is either curious, interested, ready to be educated, or at the advocacy level. So curious is like they know somebody that knows somebody that’s done something with us, or they read one of my books or something, they’re like just kind of curious. They don’t even now how to spell our name, they don’t know where in the world we are. And the goal with someone like that is just to take them from curious into interested. Like we’re in orphan care, we do holistic care, and this is where we’re at.
And then when we interact with someone who has some of those basic facts down, our goal is just to take them from that place into a role where they would want to be educated on why it’s important to do orphan care that way and how do you learn those hard lessons, and like what’s the current thinking, and where are we getting our understanding from.
And then once we kind of give people that piece of education, then it’s time for those advocacy level asks, like sponsor a kid, and go on a trip, and give to this campaign, or whatever. And we are finding that sometimes our very first interaction with people is basically an ask, some kind of advocacy ask, and they’re like, “Well, I don’t even know who you are, why would I … ” and you were talking about in real relationship, we have all of these intermediate steps where it’s like, it goes back and forth, and you learn about them, and they learn about you, and they get to ask questions, and then you get to a place where you kind of earned the right to say, “Would you like to be involved with something like this?”
And so why would we be putting out social media posts, or email campaigns, or stand on the stage, or put out magazine articles that just right off the bat assume an audience is ready to put some skin in the game? It doesn’t make sense. So we now have targeted communication for each of those four categories, and a whole communication strategy that makes sure that we don’t just err on advocacy because that’s where we want to land, and we’re kind of short of that process.
GC: Yeah, I mean, it’s funny, everything you just said is like it singing from our song book and our playbook. There’s a couple of great implications in there, I could talk about what you just said all day, but one of the implications is you actually know your donor, right, or you know … and I’m using the word donor, I should use the word giver, meaning … or anybody who’s interacting with you, and that you know who they are.
And I think … people spend so little time and effort, and they don’t really have a mechanism to really, truly know who their people are, because you can’t invite people in or the next step if you have no idea who they are, or what they like, or how much they know about you, or what their interests are, or their passions, or their giving capacity, you don’t know any of that stuff about them. And so my example I always give is you walk up to somebody at a cocktail party, and what you don’t start with is just blasting them with cool stuff you know. What you do is you ask them questions, like, “Hey, where are you from, what are you into?” And then they said, “Bowling,” and so then the next few minutes you’re asking them questions about bowling, and you start a conversation around shared interests and passions, and you see where it goes, that’s how our relationships work.
But the implication there as a nonprofit, you have to actually work hard to like actually know your folks. You have to have tools in place, and a culture in place that values actually getting to know folks. The other implication in what you said, and I’ll shut up after this, but is that … somebody can go all the way to the advocacy side of what you side, and not yet have given you money, or maybe even never give you money. Maybe how they’re best wired to serve you isn’t actually a check.
GC: Maybe it’s being an advocate on social media, maybe it’s arranging a trip, maybe it’s … I don’t know, there’s 800 ways, maybe it’s doing adoption foster care themselves. And so having the freedom and openness to think about generosity much more holistically than a $35.00 a month gift ask is so important in that process.
GC: Those categories that you set up, I think, are just hugely valuable.
BG: Well, thank you.
GC: So we’re kind of running out of … there’s a couple other questions I wanted to as you, but we’re running out of time a little bit. One just to hit before we get to our lightning round is how are you guys using technology at Back2Back to recruit new donors, to get new volunteers, to arrange mission trips, how do you guys think about technology overall at the ministry?
BG: We have a great technologist that’s on staff with us who has been constantly teaching us like old dogs new tricks, everything from Google tools that we didn’t understand all of its capabilities to … I mean, all kinds of ways. But I would say in terms of new donors, social media has been a big tool for us, we have someone dedicated to our social media strategy and who does a good job cultivating a community that we wouldn’t normally have access to. We do use Constant Contact and we do have some targeted email campaigns, depending on different tags and places either people have visited in the past, or … so we have email sign ups and an email database, and we use certainly that, and it helps to create compelling enough stories and information that people forward those on to their own networks. We try to make them as shareable as possible when we create them, with that goal in mind.
BG: And then again, thinking about that education piece of those four categories, we really want to give people the kind of information that is helpful for them in their every day life, not just tell them … educate them about what we’re doing, but educate them about things that we’re learning that might be helpful for them. So that’s pretty easy for us to do in our space since we’re learning constantly about child development, and about trauma and the brain, and healing, and listening, and all kinds of skills that are pretty applicable to people in their lives that have nothing to do with Back2Back, so we’re trying to share some of that learning and insight in those tools, so again, that people will keep them, print them, save them, share them. Those kinds of things.
GC: Yeah. That’s great, and that’s usually in just using technology to express your culture, which is like how can we be generous to our donors or people that are following us, people that are interested in us, how can we give back to them first before asking for something? I think great content, great storytelling, social media is just a really good way to do that, is to give value away before asking for anything. It’s perfect.
BG: Yeah. Thanks.
GC: Okay, so we’re going to end real quick with our lightning round, it’s how we finish all of these things, and so are you okay if I just hit a couple quick questions and for kind of quick-
BG: Yes, for sure.
GC: One line … that’s great. So first one is what’s your favorite technology, you already talked about Back2Back a little bit, but what’s your favorite technology just for your personal use?
BG: Oh, probably Zoom. You know, video conferencing with people in other parts of the world, we use mobile devices, and video conferencing to make … to unite a multi generational and multi cultural staff.
GC: Yeah, I love Zoom, I’m a Zoom addict, I love seeing peoples’ faces, I think you get so much more out of like talking to somebody and seeing their face and the fact that tools like Zoom enable that, it’s just amazing. Okay, recent book or podcast that inspired you, something in the last year, or more than a year is fine too, but what book or podcast has really gotten you excited lately?
BG: Oh, one of our cultural values as an organization is learn, so it’s probably better to say in the last month, because we are all listening to podcasts-
GC: That’s awesome.
BG: And all reading books all the time, but recently I have gotten into Peter Scazzero, he’s the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality author [inaudible 00:38:54] in New York. He has a bunch of leadership podcasts on emotionally healthy spirituality, which is really important that we continue to all grow up in our faith while we meet and manage. So I like what Peter Scazzero has going on. And I’m currently working my way through The Divine Conspiracy which is not for the faint of heart, but [inaudible 00:39:14] by Dallas Willard-
BG: And it’s teaching me how to ask good questions.
GC: Yeah. Yeah, Dallas Willard is a monster, and that is an amazing book, but you’re right, it’s like this book is long, and then you open it and you’re like, “Oh my gosh, the print is tiny too, and these words are so big.” [crosstalk 00:39:31]
BG: I’ll be in it for a while, I’m sure.
GC: Yeah. So okay, how do you find balance, especially for you, my gosh, 100 speaking engagements a year, eight books, 10 kids and executive director of an organization, how do you stay sane? Do you sleep? I mean what do you do to keep your health grounded?
BG: I usually the word balance, and I replace it with rhythm, I have rhythms, and some of those rhythms are fast, and some are slow, and if anybody sees me with my best foot forward at some moment it’s because I’ve dropped something else. So if I’m knocking it out of the park professionally, don’t look at my house, or if I look like I’m like mother of the year right now, my inbox is crazy. So it’s just about, for me, managing rhythm and understanding what that looks like. There’s a verse in Matthew that talks about how God gives us unforced rhythm of grace, and I just try to think about that, just try to maintain a calm presence, regardless of all the things that are kind of going through my mind or going on around me.
BG: But I would say probably the biggest gift I have in all of that is my marriage. Todd and I call our time together at night our deepest breath of the day, and we really intentionally spend two hours a night every evening wearing no other hat but spouse. So we don’t parent in those two hours, we don’t work in those two hours, we don’t manage our household in those two hours. And there’s a cost to making that kind of intentional time, but the benefit way outweighs the cost, and then the marriage that I experience is probably what makes that even manageable.
GC: Yeah. Yeah, I love that. I always say I’m not much of a balance guy, and I would be horribly unbalanced but my wife and kids don’t think I’m that big of a deal, like they don’t care that I hosted a podcast today, my four year old daughter certainly doesn’t. And you know-
GC: And my wife in particular is great about saying, “I love you but you’re acting crazy. Like let’s talk about that.” And so there’s just something amazing about that, for sure.
BG: Yeah, for sure. Yes, for sure. Family keeps you grounded.
GC: Yeah. Well Beth, thank you so much, this has been a pleasure just getting to hear your story. Your ideas around fundraising, building relationships, how you think about donors, how you think about giving dignity to the people you’re serving are all amazing, but honestly I think people are going to enjoy just hearing your story too. And so thank you so much for joining us today, it’s been a pleasure.
BG: You’re welcome, thanks for having me.
GC: Yeah, absolutely.
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