Nothing connects us to one another like stories. We teach our children with stories. We entertain each other with stories. And yes, we raise a lot of money by being great storytellers.
We humans have been telling stories ever since we developed our capacity for language. We love to tell stories – and we love to hear stories. Cognitive scientist Roger C. Schank puts it very well: “We humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; we ARE ideally set up to understand stories.”
There’s no question that storytelling and philanthropy go hand in hand. The best fundraisers I know use stories for all sorts of reasons. Here are a handful of ways stories can connect your donors more deeply to your cause and your organization:
- You can tell a story to demonstrate the need your charity is trying to meet. The story of a homeless man leads to the needs at the local homeless shelter.
- A story can also demonstrate the solution you provide to that need. A doctor telling the story of a successful surgery and a recovered patient demonstrates that the funds raised for the new operating suite are getting results.
- A donor telling her own story about why she gives is almost always more persuasive than anything your charity can say about itself. An ounce of testimonial is worth a pound of bragging!
- A story about how a donation was used – and the results it generated – is a powerful stewardship tool. This story could well be told by a recipient of a service or program.
- Telling the story of how and why your organization was founded is a great way to bring your charity to life. It’s particularly effective when the story is about the people who founded it more than about the organization itself.
Novelist Ursula le Guin says “The story – from Rumplestiltskin to War and Peace – is one of the basic tools of the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
She’s absolutely right.
This month’s tip: As odd as this might sound to you at first, I want you to start building your storybook. That’s right! A book full of stories about your case, your organization and the incredibly wonderful people who make the work you do so special.
So you’re thinking ‘Is she nuts? She wants me to write a book?
Okay, you don’t have to write a book – at least not right away. How about four pages (that might someday become a book)?
I’d like you to write four stories – one page each – over the next four weeks. Don’t worry about your narrative genius or your lack of training as a writer. Just follow this one rule: make the stories about people.
1. Write the story of the people who founded your organization.
2. Interview your favourite donor about why she gives so often and has given for so long.
3. Interview the Chair of your Board and write a story about why she volunteers so much time and energy to the cause.
4. Write a profile a volunteer and talk about his enthusiasm for being a part of the good works done by your organization.
Bonus Tip: As you’re writing your four short stories, make sure you answer the simple question WHY. Why did those people start your organization in the first place? Why does your donor give so generously? Why is your Board Chair so devoted to your organization’s work? Why is your volunteer so committed to his involvement with you? In my experience, answering the why question is the secret to a really compelling story.
So pick up the phone! Call your favourite donor. Ask her if she’s got a half hour to talk with you sometime soon. Get her to tell you about herself. And write her story. You’re going to love it. And, if you’re like me, story writing is going to become a part of your work that you’re absolutely passionate about. Have fun!
This post was written by Leah Eustace, ACFRE, former Principal and Chief Idea Goddess at Good Works.