Reflections from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference

Stefani Drake at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference

Walking into a group of seasoned speakers can be intimidating to say the least. But the organizers of the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference have cultivated something special - a conference where collaboration comes first.

This past October was my first time attending and presenting at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. From the very first moment - it was different, and that energy carried through the entire conference. During our speaker orientation it was made clear that we were family, and our goal was to be a resource for everyone who traveled to be there.

Next, we were encouraged to sign up for coaching blocks, where we could work one-on-one with conference participants and walk them through specific questions and challenges they may be facing at their organization.

If that wasn’t enough, I have NEVER seen a conference app so widely used. Nearly every type of nonprofit was in attendance and there were dozens of threads occurring during the conference so that people could get together, break bread, and share stories. It was incredible.

So why is this my reflection blog and not a list of best practices? Because if you’re a nonprofit professional I want to encourage you to attend next year’s conference. The premise of the conference is to empower nonprofits to tell their story in a more impactful way so that you can better reach your donors and new audiences.

Whether you came my session where you learned about the connection between data and storytelling, or others where you learned about grant writing, major gifts, #GivingTuesday, and more, the focus is about impact, empowerment, and results.

Gratitude: Today and Always

Drake Strategies Gratitude

We’ve been quiet on the blog over the past few months. With a flurry of speaking engagements, hurricane evacuations and new opportunities, we got behind. But despite the busyness of this season - we were able to do some exciting things. (For example, we launched our Thursday Thoughtstarters!)

This holiday weekend, we have been spending time with friends and family reflecting on the goodness of this year. Being entrepreneurs isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a constant hustle. So we have made some adjustments in order to focus on the projects we are passionate about and not be constantly on the road.

The ebb and flow of life is important to lean into. We are grateful for our amazing clients who refer us to others, allow us to walk alongside them on their incredible projects and give us the opportunity to share their story.

Know that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the collaborating, learning and growing we have done with you. As we take a pause for the holiday season, we are grateful for your business and your support.

6 Questions To Ask When Considering a Rebrand

Rebrand Drake Strategies

Imagine you're scrolling Instagram. What brands can you recognize in an instant? Chances are posts by RED, Nike or the UN may catch your eye without even looking at the caption. Why? These brands have worked hard at branding every aspect of their organizations. 

If you're considering a rebrand, don't be intimated. You don't need million dollar budgets to capture your audience's attention. You just need consistency and a clear brand vision.

Today, our goal is to equip with you six questions you should be asking if your organization is considering a rebrand.

Question 1: What does your data say?

Does your data show a sudden new wave of interest? Are you campaigns not meeting goals or previous years expectations? Are you plateauing? Once you start to spot trends in your data, you can determine whether or not a rebrand will empower you to grow and create a larger impact.

Question 2: Is your engagement plateauing?

If your supporters aren't continually supporting you or if they have lost enthusiasm, it's a good time to ask yourself why. Perhaps you're not communicating enough. Maybe your message is falling flat. Either way, a good communications strategy empowers you to gradually grow over time, so if you aren't growing and remaining stagnant, you need to figure out why.

Question 3: How are you internal communications?

This will become very important if you embark on a rebrand, as your team is your key to successfully launching a new brand, message or story. You need to get the pulse of where your team is. A strong internal team reflects externally. If you are transparent and listen to the concerns of your team - then address them before moving forward - your rebrand will be much more successful.

Question 4: What tools are at your disposal?

This is an important one. A rebrand can range from big to small and what you need may or may not extend beyond your internal capabilities. Perhaps you need an entire firm, or perhaps you have the talent on your team. Most likely, you will need a mix of outside help that comes alongside your team to get the job done. Whatever the case, set your budget so that you stay on track and focus on the elements that matter most for your organization.

Question 5: When is the last time you updated your design?

Perhaps your website isn’t mobile friendly. Maybe you only post on Instagram during your fall gala and let it lay dormant the rest of the year. An updated, consistent design can go a long way to refreshing your brand.

Question 6: What is the goal of your rebrand?

This is true in all communications. It is not enough to say more engagement or more funding for programs. When you know what impact you want to make with a rebrand, you can better drive results.

In general, if you are considering a rebrand, start having conversations with your staff and key stakeholders. Look for trends and overlap in their responses and then build out a plan that empowers your team and gets you toward your ultimate goal. There are plenty of tools out there that can fit any budget. Someone may have $100,000 for a rebrand and someone else may only have $100. You have to work with what you have, but by telling an inspiring story, with a clear call to action and clean, consistent design, you’ll be well on your way to elevating your impact and getting the results you aspire to.

StefaniZimmermanDrake Blog Entry Headshot.jpg

Stefani is a strategy consultant + speaker with over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa + recognized by HoneyBook and Rising Tide Society as 20 On The Rise for her advocacy work, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits, businesses + humanitarians to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications, branding + advocacy. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dogs. 

Mastering Nonprofit Communications:  Three Short Lessons 

Winkler Group for Drake Strategies

Messaging in the nonprofit world is just as important as in corporate America. But instead of getting someone to buy a product, our goal is donor investment in our communities, our universities, our churches.  

Embrace Vanity

In today’s donor-speak, a three-letter word is all the rage.  The word is not “now,” although conveying a sense of urgency is always important.  It’s not “yes” or “why.”

The word of the day is “you.” It’s called donor-centric fundraising—a strategy that is less about an organization’s accomplishments and more about the emotions that come with making a gift. For example, “Because of you, 100 more students will walk across the stage at graduation” or “Your contribution is the reason this family stayed together in their home.”

Perhaps it’s a result of our narcissistic society.  Maybe the blame falls on our attention-craving leaders or the rise of the selfie.  Whatever the reason, it’s all about ourselves—even as we help others.    

But maybe harnessing the power of the good feeling isn’t all bad.

A 2015 conversation with Draymond Green, the Golden State Warrior’s power forward, shows the power of emotion. He pledged $3.1 million to his alma mater, Michigan State.  The motivations behind his gift are self-centered yet inspiring. 

Green had spoken with Tom Izzo, his former coach, about giving.  Izzo talked about the $1 million donation he had made to Michigan State four years earlier.  Green explained, “He said it was one of the happiest moments of his life.  I wanted that feeling.”

Stop Throwing Stats at Us

A few years ago, a commercial caught my attention, and not because it was amusing or compelling, but because it was so boring.  It was a campaign to stop government funding cuts to hospitals. The ad was a litany of stats: every year, 5.6 million hospital workers conduct 23 million surgeries, deliver 3.7 million babies, and treat 133 million ER patients. 

The flood of numbers numbed my brain. When numbers get that big and abstract, they lose their impact.  They could’ve said 100 million surgeries instead of 23 million surgeries and the result would’ve been the same.  The numbers were just too big to grasp, and there were too many of them.    

Real-life stories would’ve told a different story. Show the baby who would’ve died if not for the doctors and hospital equipment that saved her. Talk about the dad who lived to walk his daughter down the aisle--thanks only to the ER that saved his life.  Bring in emotions and the ad works.

A campaign here in South Carolina used stats, but in a way that was effective.  It was a campaign to reduce traffic deaths.  A reporter asked people on the street, “How many people died on our highways last year?” One said 55,000.  Another guessed 500,000. 

When the reporter asked next, “what is a reasonable goal for reducing traffic fatalities in South Carolina,” most responded that the number should be cut in half. Sensible enough, until the next question.

“What is a reasonable goal for traffic fatalities in your family?” asks the interviewer. The people being interviewed had a shocked look on their face because the question was no longer in the abstract.  It became personal, and the message hit home. 

The Donor as Hero

Donors want to solve a problem.  If nothing is wrong, why does anyone need their donations?

Too many nonprofits are afraid to be negative.  They want only optimistic messaging and pictures of happy children.  If you run a food bank or an animal shelter, it’s okay to show pictures of hungry people or homeless dogs because they evoke strong emotions.  They show the problem only a donor can solve.   

A few years ago, the YMCA rebranded itself as The Y.  The messaging that went with the rebranding was powerful because it set up the Y as the problem solver.  

If you haven’t seen the ads, here’s a brief description of the one called Idle Hands.  

It starts with children looking bored.  They’re wasting time and play fighting. You get the sense that trouble is lurking just around the corner. An ominous voice begins, “Idle hands. They say they’re the devil’s workshop. Easy targets.”

Then, new video appears.  It’s brighter, more cheerful.  Students are working on crafts and other projects.  They’re choosing constructive activities like doing their homework or playing basketball …at the Y, of course. 

Kevin Brady, the ad’s executive creative director, explained the reasoning behind the story.  “You don't tend to give money when everything is perfect, you give it when there is a true, urgent need, and the Y is addressing those needs every day of the week." 

Well said.

Jessica Browning Winkler Group

Jessica Browning is the Senior Vice President of Communications for the Winkler Group, a full-service fundraising firm specializing in capital campaigns and planning studies.  Ms. Browning has 25 years of nonprofit marketing and development experience.  She received a B.A. from Duke University and an M.A. and M.B.A. from William & Mary.  Follow Jessica @jwjbrowning or @winklergroup.

Mapping the North Carolina Botanical Garden


This blog originally appeared on Diagram Office's Medium Account on July 27, 2017. You can find the original post here

The North Carolina Botanical Garden is part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was built to promote plant conservation and advance sustainable relations between people and nature. The Garden is comprised of 10 acres of display gardens, classrooms and a visitor center, and several miles nature trails.

The Garden needed a new master map that was user friendly, reflected their new brand identity, and accurately depicted the lush, hilly landscape of the region.


Log cabin in the Mountain Habitat of the Garden


The original Garden Map

The original map was poorly oriented as visitors only enter the Garden facing south, which meant the map was inverted from visitor’s first encounter with the space. It also didn’t show the nature trails to the south of the Garden and gave too much prominence to the parking area.

After doing an initial drawing, flipping the orientation, and adjusting the scale of the parking area, the next step involved a series of colors studies to determine the basic tone of the map.


There are two approaches to map base colors: light backgrounds with dark labels, or dark background with light labels. We choose to proceed with a darker green style to mimic the lush greens of the physical garden. After choosing a general direction, I further studied the green tones to find the perfect balance.


Left: light green with black labels. Right: dark green with white labels.

An important feature to show was the significant elevation changes on the nature trails. I explored several options for showing the elevation using contour lines and shading.


Left: top down lighting. Right: shaded relief

The Garden wanted to show the canopy covering the Display Gardens and nature trails. We went through several iterations of tree cover to find a style that would work both on the overview map, and a cropped map of the Display Gardens.


Final Maps

From the beginning, the goal was to create a map that could show the overall trail system, and also be cropped to show the Display Garden in more detail. Below are the two final maps.


Each trail color was selected to match existing trail markers, and new colors were chosen for the trails that were not yet marked.

The label colors were selected from the Garden’s brand palette and will be used to inform the colors of the wayfinding system within the garden. The orange of the Education Center was also selected from the brand palette and mimics the browns of the physical building.

The new maps will serve as both a template for future maps around the UNC campus and a start on further wayfinding upgrades at the Garden.


Sam is a Raleigh native and NCSU College of Design alumnus. He fell in love with infographics, data, and maps while working at Two Twelve in New York City. He specializes in making information visually concise, beautiful and accessible. Sam's clients include Bloomberg, WIRED, The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Outside the studio, Sam studies and performs improv comedy and reads lots of books.

Libris: 3 Tips for Impactful Data-Driven Visual Storytelling

Drake Strategies Visual Storytelling

This blog originally appeared on Libris by Photoshelter on August 9, 2018. You can find the original blog post here

Data and visual storytelling make up a one-two punch for brands struggling to cut through the clutter and engage their audiences. 

Every day, through their work at Drake Strategies, strategy consultant Stefani Drake and photographer Joshua Drake help nonprofits and NGOs, businesses and humanitarians create visually engaging, data-driven content. At the 2018 AMA Nonprofit Conference, they shared best practices for combining data and visual storytelling to improve your marketing results.

Now, these experts are sharing their secrets with us. Here are three tips for impactful data-driven visual storytelling – straight from Stefani Drake.

Strategy Consultant Stefani Drake’s 3 Tips for Data-Driven Storytelling

1. Use data to tell a story.

When someone hears data, they often think of data engineers or Cambridge Analytica. Rest assured, the point of this post isn’t to make you feel inadequate, it is to empower you with tools to spot trends in your available data.

When looking at data, you need to have the full picture. Pull in every resource available to you, including: website analytics, social media analytics, email analytics, field + program data, monitoring + evaluation, donor databases and more. There are several platforms available to you, like CyfeHubspot + CrowdSkout that can take in your available data, compare it side by side and give you a better understanding of where your challenges are, what message is working and where you need to shift your focus.

The point of data isn’t to overwhelm, it is to inform you on who your audience is, what they are responding to and why they are most likely to engage with your message. So ask yourself questions. Ask yourself why a social media post may have been more effective than the previous. Figure out why certain donors dropped off last year. And experiment so that you have more information to compare. 

Once you understand who you are engaging with, what compels them to take action and what message is most effective, you are well on your way to telling a powerful, action driven story.

2. Capture attention with creative, consistent design.

Next, you need to package your information in creative, compelling ways. Good design will capture people’s attention. Paragraphs of text won’t. 

But let’s think creatively for a moment. If your organization served 2,500 people last year, so what? How is that relatable to someone on Instagram? A more powerful message is showing that nearly 7 people a day walked through your doors last year. 

Get creative. 

Be consistent.

What do we mean by that? When you’re scrolling Instagram, think of those accounts where you immediately recognize a post, without even looking at who posted it. Consistency creates brand awareness and allows your supporters to spot you in a crowded room. 

And for those people who don’t have a graphic designer in-house, have no fear. There are user friendly graphic design tools like Canva and Adobe Spark that make it easy for you to set your brand’s style and tone. And Lightroom has filters you can use to keep a consistent look on all your photos.

3. Connecting the head and the heart.

By now you know the importance of a story, but it’s the imagery that you use which truly will captivate your audience. The average lifespan of a photo is 7 seconds. So how do you arrest your audience and engage them?

Video is a great tool to captivate your audience and double the time they will view your content. We always reference a recent study by Libris on visual marketing trends. More and more brands are investing in video.

Our team photographer, Joshua Drake, recommends learning to tell a story in four photos or less: sense of place, interaction, details and portraiture. 

Here’s Joshua’s take:

“It seems impossible at first, but when you think through how you can tell your audience the story you see unfolding, you have to give them a sense of place, an action shot and a picture of the person for whom you are telling the story. If you have the space, a detail shot always adds a layer of context. Ultimately, your goal is to arrest people with an image – so that they stop the scroll – and begin to relate to the story you are telling. If you can achieve that, you are well on your way to creating connectedness with your audience and inspiring them to take action.”

Want to learn more? View all of our best practices here. The difference between good storytelling and great storytelling is in the details. Elevate your brand and expand your impact.

Kristin Twiford Libris

Kristin is the Content Marketing Manager for Libris. She covers visual storytelling trends and best practices here on the Libris blog and uses her background in television production, daily news and communications to shoot, produce, edit and publish video content for social media, marketing and sales.

InterAction: Reflections From Forum 2018

Stefani Zimmerman Drake InterAction Forum 2018

This blog originally appeared on InterAction's blog on July 5, 2018. You can find the original post here

With an increasing partisan divide throughout our nation and the world, it's important to tell your story. I acknowledge that it is easier said than done, but after attending Forum 2018 I cannot stress how vital it is to share your passions with the world. 

As I sat in breakout sessions, watched humanitarians receive awards and networked with amazing people who give their all, it became clear to me that your stories need to be told. The story of InterAction bringing together hundreds of change-makers is important and needs to be told. The innovative solutions to solving complex problems needs to be told. The unifying passion of thinking beyond oneself to reach others needs to be told. 

My team was awarded the opportunity to lead a breakout session at the Forum. Our goal? To empower humanitarians with visual branding tips that will further their impact. We want to make this information accessible for all because we see your passion and believe in your mission.

Below are three best practices to propel you and your team forward to reach the right audience:

1. Not all data is created equal, but all of it is important.

Gone are the days of silos and huge corporate structures and in are the days of collaboration and information sharing. You need to view all available analytics to spot trends, failures and implement strategy, but you should never forget that everyone on the team holds valuable information that needs to be shared to strengthen your story.

Case and point? M+E data. While we work hard to identify indicators and measure goals, outcomes, and outputs for our log-frames, none of that matters if no one knows about it. Of course, you will share this information with your partners, but how can you share your successes, failures and discoveries with your communications team so that they can bring that story to life?

When an organization has strong internal communications, it will have strong external communications. Make it easy for your teams to share stories, pitch new ideas and submit honest feedback. Only then will you be able to implement a strong communication strategy that reaches more people.

2. Consistency is key for branding.

While we all understand the value of data, the importance of a consistent brand can often be overlooked. Remember, for someone outside of your organization to remember your message you must reach them 7 times in 3 different formats. So, make it easy for them and stand out in a crowd.

While design and branding may sound intimidating for type-A data nerds like myself, it is vitally important for others to remember your organization. So be consistent and use clean design. If your logo colors are grey and red, don't use purple and pink on social media. Your brand should look and feel the same across all platforms.

3. Imagery connects the head to the heart.

Let's face it. Text heavy reports, collateral materials, and online news articles don't make nearly the same impact as a simple photograph. Bring your content to life with imagery and video. A good photo can make someone stop and pay attention. In a world of over-saturation, you can't afford anything else.

And telling your story through photographs can be simple enough. If you have to tell a story in three photos or less, make sure you show the landscape/setting, capture an empowering portrait, and show your work in action. 

Whether you are part of a large NGO, a small grassroots organization, or are a boots-on-the-ground humanitarian, your work is important and deserves an audience willing to receive it. Through a smart digital strategy and simple design, you can reach more people and inspire them to take action.

StefaniZimmermanDrake Blog Entry Headshot.jpg

Stefani is a strategy consultant + speaker with over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa + certified in Google Analytics, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits + humanitarians to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications, branding + advocacy. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dogs.