Technology Changes. Great Storytelling Doesn't
Updated: Apr 8, 2022
When I first started out in TV news, I worked with a photographer who had landed on Iwo Jima as a navy medic in World War II. He never got over the day the station stopped shooting stories on film and started using video tape. By the time I left the news business, we were transitioning from videotape to all digital. Now you can shoot quality videos with a smartphone and edit with free laptop software (and I watch the news on a tablet).
Each change was a huge leap forward that we thought would solve all our problems. In fact, new technology is just a reaction to the flaws in the last technology and will be replaced by the next techno-shift. That’s why I love this quote from artist/musician Laurie Anderson, “If you think technology will solve your problems, you don't understand technology—and you don't understand your problems.”
Nonprofits often fall victim to this trap. Here are a few examples:
Social Media – An article just eight years ago was headlined, How Social Media Can Change The Face of Fundraising. Many nonprofits have bet on Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok to fundraise. Nonprofits invested staff, time and money into learning the ins and outs of Facebook. Remember “Like Us On Facebook” or the how we all wanted to be that next viral "Ice Bucket Challenge?" But as Facebook tries to wring every dollar out of its e-commerce platform, nonprofits that aren’t willing to pay for ads find themselves only reaching 4% of their own supporters.
Email – Email is still the best way to reach supporters, but measuring its effectiveness is getting more difficult. Opens and Clicks have been the key metrics and email services were getting better and better at tracking them. Then it all changed again.
The privacy features in Apple’s new iOS 15 update make it look like every iPhone user has opened your email even if they haven't. Now you have no idea if all those Apple users opened the email that you spent hours preparing.
Many email security systems are testing every link before delivery, so you don’t know whether those supporters actually clicked on any links or if the email just went into a spam filter.
Websites - Google just announced it's retiring Google Analytics next summer to be replaced by a very different upgrade. That means the main tool we now use to track email clicks and website traffic will disappear to be replaced by a completely new one. People are still trying to figure the new analytics system out and whether it is really a move by Google to charge you to see your own data.
Donor Portals – Online giving skyrocketed in the pandemic, up more than 40% over three years, according to a Blackbaud report. So, nonprofits need to make their giving portals donor friendly. But there is one major problem with that. Donor Advised Funds (DAFs), which tend to be used by the wealthiest donors, increased by 27% in one year, DAFs don’t make online donations. That means the effort to make your donor portal easier to use is wasted on some of your most valuable donors.
What’s the answer? First, remember that if you think technology is the solution to your problem, you need to rethink the problem. We are not just trying to reach people; we are trying to touch their hearts. If we only focus on how we reach them, we ignore what resonates with them. There is another great quote, this one from sportswriter Craig Davis: “We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.”
Our Approach – Here at StoryBoard HTX, we preach content, particularly storytelling content. Some clients have been surprised that StoryBoard HTX offers such a wide variety of communications tools, from email marketing and website development to video production and grant writing. The connection is content. We start with your story and then tailor it to the right communications channel.
The best way to explain how content applies to technology is to think about music. If you are over the age of 40, here’s how you have listened to music over the years:
The thing that hasn’t changed is the songs themselves. Beethoven is still Beethoven. Aretha is still Aretha. Exceptional stories are still exceptional stories whether they are told, written or shown.
Stories, human emotions, our collective desire to live in a better world…These are timeless. We adapt to the latest technology, but we hold true to the storytelling that is part of our DNA.