The Importance of Storytelling in Fundraising
By Amy Wachtel, Vice President, Ministry & Creative Services
- Grab the donor’s attention.
- Engage them emotionally.
- Connect with your target audience.
- Promote your cause more effectively.
There’s an important element to your nonprofit fundraising that checks every box … and more. It’s storytelling.
Let’s explore why storytelling is so essential to your success — and how to craft meaningful stories that draw people in and drive action.
Storytelling has long been an integral part of human culture, used to pass down knowledge and share our individual journeys. Today, stories are critical in the nonprofit world to engage and deepen the relationship between your organization and current donors — and to inspire new donors to jump on board!
This is why you must use storytelling in your communications.
By sharing stories, donors and potential donors are drawn in, able to relate, and can connect with your organization’s mission quickly.
Anecdotes, examples, case studies, personal testimonies … these are just a few ways to use a story. The power of storytelling lies in its ability to evoke emotion by putting a human face on your cause. Through storytelling, you’ll communicate far more effectively than you ever could using only facts and figures.
In addition to being emotionally engaging, telling stories also helps illustrate the need for donations or volunteers — something that frequently gets overlooked when just talking about statistics alone.
When done correctly, stories encourage donors to feel like their contributions are making a real difference toward helping a real person.
Here are some “brass tack” tips for telling a story effectively in fundraising campaigns:
- Share your mission. You know why you do what you do. And you’re astounded by the ways your nonprofit is making a difference. But you see it every day. You are immersed. Your goal: inspire donors to see your nonprofit the way you do!
Share stories that speak to the fulfillment of the mission of your nonprofit. Inspire donors with stories that show empathy, compassion, excitement, and admiration. Highlight successes, triumphs, and challenges or setbacks to overcome.
- Demonstrate impact. How can you communicate to donors and potential donors the value of their giving? The importance of every single gift … and how even small donations are added to others to make tremendous impact? Tell a story from a donor’s perspective. Share their heart, and what they’ve experienced as a result of their generosity.
- Tell the Story of the One (SOTO). Numbers, facts, and figures are much more impactful when part of building the “Story of the One” — a life changed by the mission of your nonprofit. A great SOTO …
- Provides a vivid picture of what someone once was, how they were touched by the ministry, and what happened to them as a result.
- Keeps you engaged in the dramatic unfolding of events.
- Has you cheering at the end — and wanting more.
- Understand your audience. Who are you reaching? Do they have a vested interest in your cause already, or prior knowledge of your nonprofit? Knowing this information can help you craft a story that resonates perfectly with the audience at hand.
For example, a story in a prospecting piece will sound different than the same story written for your general or large donor crowd. You’ll want to give more details and add more “friends like you made this possible” over “you made this possible” language.
- Keep it simple. Develop the “theater of imagination” without overdoing it. Don’t bog down your story with unnecessary details. Keep it concise and relevant. If you focus on what matters most, you’ll be able to clearly communicate your mission and focus on the key points that make your nonprofit stand out from others.
- Use the story to build urgency. If you want people to act soon after hearing your message, emphasize why now is the time for action as you develop the story.
- Make the most out of social media. Stories on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? Absolutely! Understand the platform and how to best tell a story there, and you’ll raise awareness quickly, reaching a large audience with one post. Here’s our blog post on engaging in different social media platforms — and how and when to use each.
- Be authentic. People are drawn to stories that are true to life and reflect real people and experiences. In these stories, they recognize their own lives and motivations, and …
- A sense of trust is developed.
- They remain engaged until the end.
- They want to be part of what you are doing in the world!
Other ways to be authentic:
- Avoid overly formal writing or flowery language.
- Focus on phrasing that reflects how people talk in everyday life.
- Write your stories at an eighth grade reading level or below to appeal to the broadest audience.
- Include real-world detail. Use local place names, cultural references, or current events as context for your story.
- Share your own story (or the founder’s story).
- Be accurate and consistent.
Want to know more? Interested in learning how storytelling can work for your nonprofit? We’re here to help you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-665-5227.