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How to market sensitive client stories

Many nonprofits shy away from using content that would otherwise be highly effective marketing material—particularly when it involves their own clients. If this is your organization’s practice, you’re missing opportunities to earn more donor dollars.

A communications professional at a health care-related nonprofit hit on this topic recently when she sought my advice:

“As a marketing copywriter in health care storytelling, what are some tips for sharing stories of a sensitive nature? In health care and social services, it can be difficult to craft a story with a marketing lens without making it feel like we are ‘using a client’s situation’ for our own purposes.”

At its heart, marketing is all about storytelling. To do this effectively, you need to share client stories appropriately and avoid making your nonprofit’s activities the center of attention.

Stop telling your audience about your nonprofit’s great achievements. Aside from your board members, few will care how much money your nonprofit raised during the last fundraising campaign. But donors will want to learn about how a suicidal teenager went from being addicted to opioids to kicking the habit and entering recovery, thanks to their generous donations.

In short, people enjoy reading about “people” more than “things.” Shine your spotlight on a compelling client experience that shows how your donors are helping your nonprofit improve lives.

Of course, you have to do this with sensitivity. It’s important that the writer be an experienced and skilled interviewer so the client doesn’t feel “used” for marketing purposes.

It’s paramount to build a comfortable, trusting relationship with the client from the start. Don’t push anyone to comply with an interview, no matter how good the story. Get the necessary HIPAA-compliant approvals in advance. If the topic is highly sensitive (substance abuse, for example), tell the client you’ll change his or her name for confidentiality.

Treat the interview as a conversation. Abandon company jargon and allow your clients to tell their tales in their own words. Ask questions like:

  • When did you first realize you had a health problem—what were the signs?
  • What feelings did you have when you realized you needed help?
  • What kind of experience did you have at our center?
  • Would you refer other people who have the same problem to our agency? Why?

Interviews can sometimes stray away from the questions you’ve prepared. That’s okay. As long as the client doesn’t wander too far off-topic, an unexpected turn can lead to a fruitful discussion that bears great material.

As for sharing a personal story that is less than flattering, remember: the picture you’re presenting is only a snapshot in time of that client’s situation. It’s the “before” picture that will have a positive “after” portrait, thanks to your donors.

It’s important to emphasize donor involvement in your content marketing because A: you’re making donors feel good about their gifts to your nonprofit and B: you’re not taking credit for client success or giving the impression you’re using clients for the agency’s benefit.

I sincerely hope putting these concepts into practice will help your nonprofit connect with more donors—and earn more philanthropic gifts.

Share your thoughts

  • Does your nonprofit avoid marketing sensitive client material? Why?
  • What techniques do you find effective for sharing client stories with your donors?
  • What kinds of client stories resonate most with your donors?

Please share your comments below.

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