The Story Arc For Online Disaster Communication And Fundraising


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In disasters and times of crisis, Mercy Corps uses a “story arc” to keep people connected and engaged.

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The Story Arc For Online Disaster Communication And Fundraising

  1. 1. The Story Arc for Online Disaster Communications and Fundraising By Roger Burks, Mercy Corps NTEN Brownbag May 28, 2008
  2. 2. Mercy Corps Founded in 1979 Currently 3,500 staff that reach nearly 16.4 million people in more than 35 countries each year Mercy Corps works amid disasters, conflicts, chronic poverty and instability to unleash the potential of people who can win against nearly impossible odds.
  3. 3. On, we look at our public communication as storytelling - and those stories form the broader narrative of who were are, what we do and who we help. Most of our stories focus on individuals. Why? People relate to other people - not programs. By making our constituents think, feel and care, we turn otherwise anonymous people sitting behind computer screens into supporters. They make a commitment and connect.
  4. 4. During emergencies, this is especially urgent. How do you quickly and effectively connect your constituents - and those who don’t yet know your organization - to the information and tools they need to make the difference they want to make? In disasters and times of crisis, we use a “story arc” to keep people connected and engaged.
  5. 5. Mercy Corps began its response to Hurricane Katrina immediately after the storm, putting emergency teams on the ground in Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi. The initial response was entirely funded by private donations, led by, which began an appeal campaign on August 29, 2005. This campaign led to more than $10 million in contributions across the organization.
  6. 6. 1.  Breaking News story Day one, as quickly as possible. •  Demonstrate speed and flexibility - post the story and donation links to your Home page as fast as you can Story material taken from news •  sources such as CNN and other international news outlets; stock photos used, with permission, from clearinghouses like Reuters AlertNet Quick check-in with relevant field •  and headquarters staff to gather initial details on planned or potential response
  7. 7. 2. “What We’re Doing” story Day two, at least: demonstrate •  your work on the ground to constituents, or what you will be doing Requires closer collaboration and •  more vetting from field and HQ staff Usually still relies on stock •  photos at this point Donation links remain •  prominent; always make it easy for your constituents to take action
  8. 8. 3. “From the Field” story Day two or three: interview field •  staff about what they’re doing and seeing Tells your constituents what’s •  happening on the ground and shows them why they should give First “on-the-scene” agency •  photos start to trickle in - don’t be afraid to use lower-resolution photos, just show you’re there! Keep on using those prominent •  donation links.
  9. 9. 4. Updates, updates, updates Ongoing, at least daily: •  immediately post any news or observations that you receive from field staff or news sources Join daily conference calls held •  between headquarters and the field to stay updated Reflect changes in both story •  content and Home page leads Advantage: constituents will •  think of your website as a source for news during disasters, encouraging repeat visits
  10. 10. 5. Real-time field journals and blogs Ongoing: place a •  communications staff member on site or identify a field staffer with the capacity and time to write for you A way to “personalize” your •  content so that it’s not all news updates and stories; a unique voice and personality Think about syndicating this kind •  of content in related blogs and news sites
  11. 11. 6. Beneficiary stories Ongoing: interview and profile •  someone who’s been affected by the disaster or crisis, ideally a person your agency is helping Nothing demonstrates the power •  of your work more than a person with whom your constituents can identify Get as complete a story as •  possible while maintaining sensitivity; a good photo that clearly shows the person is vital. Providing some other visual context is even better.
  12. 12. 7. Community fundraising stories Ongoing: profile a local •  individual or group that is helping you raise money or resources for the disaster or crisis “Gives back” to those who are •  helping you out Shows others how ways that •  they can help you out Sometimes these are media- •  worthy stories in the communities where they take place
  13. 13. 8. Partnership stories As they develop: gives back to •  companies, organizations or prominent individuals who are helping you, on the ground or otherwise, in your disaster or crisis response Creates a sense of consensus, of •  a greater movement and broader set of actions Helps develop relationships for •  future collaboration
  14. 14. 9. Milestone stories Reports back on the work your •  agency has done, is still doing and what remains to be done A great way of demonstrating •  accountability to your donors and constituents Gives you the chance to follow •  up on beneficiaries or staff members you might have profiled Often an effective way to solicit •  another donation
  15. 15. Sometimes the arc is reversed…
  16. 16. Existing content can lead to successful fundraising for subsequent disasters. In the case of our current fundraising campaign to help survivors of the recent earthquake in China, donors have commented that stories about our ongoing work in Sichuan Province helped convince them to give. We demonstrated expertise in the area through pictures and stories.
  17. 17. Many of these donors - most of whom have never donated to Mercy Corps - are from some part of the Chinese diaspora, including thousands of Chinese-Americans and several smaller U.S.-based organizations that support projects in China. By already having deep content about China on our website, we brought on a whole new demographic, which has led to…
  18. 18. Wrap-up: Tips for online communications during a disaster or crisis •  Quick, powerful initial message - get out there first! •  Use targeted emails to bring list members to your site •  Update frequently to keep content fresh and visitors coming back - more visits have the potential for more donations •  Feature different kinds of stories and try to use different authors for varied voices •  Consistently give visitors the chance to take an action •  Use milestones to communicate with donors and solicit additional donations