Fundraisers always ponder questions about offers. How much should I ask for? What would a donor pay for this? Or for that? There are well-paid consultants who make a living by helping charities put a valuation on sponsorship opportunities and naming rights. But, have you ever thought about how the right story could a real revenue-booster for you?

I’ll bet not. Well, maybe it’s time you did.

Ditch The Charts – Tell A Story

My fellow Good Workers and I know that donors are motivated in part by factual information. If you’re a hospital foundation, you can make a certain impression on your donors by telling them how many surgical procedures, emergency visits, or births you had last year. You can present graphs and charts that rationally demonstrate your value to the community. That’s all well and good – but there’s a more powerful tool to use.

Tell a powerful story about a premature baby’s struggle to survive, and I could start thinking about my own granddaughter. If you tell a story about an Alzheimer patient, I could start imagining my own dad in that situation. A 60-year old man with a prostate cancer diagnosis? I might imagine myself in that situation.

Here’s the thing:

When you show me charts and graphs and numbers, you’re showing me your situation.

When you tell me stories, I imagine myself – or people I love – as the protagonist in those stories. All of a sudden, your story has become my story. That’s the magic of it. I’ve become emotionally invested.

The Value Of Storytelling

Can you actually put a monetary value on storytelling? You bet you can. Here’s a cool story I found in the Harvard Business Review that I think proves my point.

Back in 2006, a New York Times reporter named Rob Walker was pondering why one product was valued so much more than another quite similar product. Why could one company charge $400 for a toaster when another company sold similar toasters for $25? After all, they both made toast!

Walker started thinking that maybe it wasn’t the products themselves that created the value, but the story or the meaning the product represents to the customer. And – he came up with a homemade experiment to test his theory.

He went to yard sales and thrift shops and bought 200 random, almost worthless items. A plastic banana, a lost hotel room key, an old wooden mallet. He bought each item for between $1 and $4.

Then, Walker went out to his network and recruited people to write the story of each item. Where did it come from? How did someone come to own it? Why did that item matter to its owner? What did the object represent and how did it make its owner feel?

Then, Walker listed these same cheap items on eBay – along with the story that had been written for each. The results were amazing.

A ninety cent mini jar of mayonnaise sold for $51. A cracked ceramic horse’s head (purchased for $1.29) sold for $46! Once Walker added stories to his little items, he generated a 2700% profit on them!

The conclusion is simple. People didn’t pay these inflated prices for the objects themselves. They were buying the stories that went with the objects. The stories had great value – way more value in fact than the objects themselves.

What Is Your Story To Tell?

What worked in Walker’s experiment can work for you too. Need to buy a piece of hospital equipment? Find the patient story that will engage your audience. Need to provide school breakfasts? Tell me about a hungry kid. Need to house abandoned pets? Show me a homeless kitten – and tell me her name!

My fellow Good Workers and I often work with our clients to create story banks. We create a list of the types of stories that will be most persuasive with donors and prospects. Then we recruit storytellers, interview them, and create their stories. Once you have your story bank in place, you can start using them to create content in direct mail letters, emails, web content, social media posts, annual reports, and one-on-one conversations.

So start thinking more seriously and proactively about your organization’s storytelling culture. There might just be millions of dollars in it for you. Good luck!