Storytelling that gets donations. Part 1: Are you telling tragedies?

Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Best Practices August 26, 2013 By Kevin Wolfe

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This is Part One of an ongoing series for nonprofits on how to tell stories that generate giving.

“Storytelling” has quickly become a worn-out buzzword. Even your board members are parroting it. And while everybody's telling you, “we must do more storytelling” nobody seems to have a clue how to do it. This series was written to clear all that up. But even more importantly, it will guide you in teaching your participants and donors in how to tell their story about your mission, which can have the biggest impact of all.

 

No more unhappy endings.

A big reason nonprofits fail at storytelling is the genre of story they're telling. For years we've been schooled that spouting bleak statistics about the number of people afflicted, showing heartbreaking photos of the problem and telling people how sad it all is will make people feel miserable enough to give. While these sad tales may have once worked, they don't anymore. Causes have a history of telling stories that make donors feel bad as opposed to telling narratives that make donors feel good about the organization and feel good about giving. These old sad story lines were more focused on the problem rather than on the solution.

If you're still telling that tragedy about your cause, you've already been left behind. If you don't believe it, look to nonprofits like Charity Water , The Gates Foundation  and Children's Miracle Network. Their stories are about their successes at fixing the problem rather than harping on the problem itself.

 

Are you focused on the villain?

The nonprofits that are succeeding with storytelling do it in large part because of how they're telling the story. While they still introduce the villain, that character has a minor role. Most of the really successful nonprofits today are telling stories of hope that celebrate the triumph of their solution. In short, their stories have happy endings. These stories help make their organizations successful and make their donors feel a part of that success. And its not just the donors that desire that. More and more corporate partners want to be tied to that kind of success too.

 

So what's your story?

The first step in good storytelling is to listen to the story you've been telling. Is it a tragedy? Or is it one of hope that tells about the battle that you're winning? Do an honest assessment. If you're not telling your story well, you really can't expect your supporters to either. When your story is a good one, it can resonate from your mission statement all the way down to this morning's tweet. When you whittle your story down to something short and sweet, you can tell it a time or two and your supporters not only know it, but they'll start telling it too.

Next in our series: How your organization can create an environment where storytelling thrives.

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