ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Thursday, March 15, 2012 - 12:00pm
posted by 
Susie Brown,
personal finance consultant

and freelance writer

Remember in nursery school how fun story time was? Ah, story time, just sit back, relax and let your imagination bring you to new places in time and space. The truth is, story time never gets old for people of any age, and it can be an effective and successful tool for communicating with adults. A story has the ability to unlock doors, unlock hearts, and open minds, all of which helps in fundraising. Here are a few ways telling a story can be helpful in fundraising:

Breaking through the noise—There is no lack of worthy causes for philanthropists to choose from, so why should anyone take notice of your cause? A great way to make your organization stand out from the rest is by telling stories. What has your organization done successfully to change lives and make the world a better place?

Emotional involvement—When people hear a story, they are able to comprehend it with more than just the power of their intellect, they can understand your message on an emotional level. Once people become emotional supporters of your cause, less convincing is needed to gain their support.

Communicating your mission—Your organization's mission statement is only as valuable as the results you are able to bring about. If you have already produced results, and can tell about them, then your mission becomes more real and achievable to potential donors.

Commentating the statistics—Statistical data relating to your organization’s success won’t convince anyone to help support your cause, unless the data have meaning to them. In addition to presenting the data, make sure to tell the story behind them. Instead of just saying that there are 1,000 people signed up to receive support from your service, tell the story. Here are a few ideas of things you may want to include in the story of the 1,000 people you helped.

  • What happened that has caused them to need support? In other words, what needs are your fulfilling?
  • Tell about what you do to help people, how much work is involved, and the dedication of the volunteers and paid staff.
  • Tell the story of one or two of the people that you helped, how your organization changed their lives, and what might have happened if you had not gotten involved.

Great Story Telling Example:
I remember hearing Adam Werbach, the youngest  president of the Sierra Club, speak in 2000. He told about one particular time that Al Gore, vice president at the time, was scheduled to meet with the Sierra Club, but canceled at the last minute. The expectations of valuable publicity the Sierra club had hoped for were dashed. But instead of sulking, they came up with a plan to gain even more publicity than Al Gore would receive upon visiting sunny California, and succeeded.

The Sierra Club put together a campaign to publicize the message to conserve water. How did such an environmentally routine message become front-page news in California? They brought a bunch of toilet seats (clean ones I think) to a surfer’s beach, along with masses of reporters, to watch the surfers hang ten with toilet seats. Apparently, that was the last time that Al Gore canceled a meeting with the Sierra Club.

Through this cute success story, Werbach was able to communicate so much more than had he simply spoken about data and abstract ideas.

What about you, how have you seen the power of the story used in fundraising, or used it yourself?

Susie Brown has over ten years' experience consulting various small businesses and nonprofit organizations in the areas of organizational development, marketing, finance, project management, and general business management. Currently, Susie works as a personal finance consultant and freelance writer.

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Yes story is powerful Susie! I have found that one of the best ways to prepare a story is to first tell it to a child of 7-11 years old first. If it makes sense to them you can embellish and polish it some -not too much- for adults.
Its tempting to try to 'creatively weave in' all the statistics and data that we - the experts who are passionate about our causes to eradicate problem XYZ or create opportunity ABC- think are important. However, if it is not simple enough for a child to grasp and identify with the pain or triumph then, most likely, adults will not identify with it either.

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