The human mind is a wanderer by nature. The daydream is the mind’s default state.Jonathan Gottschall
What do you like to read?
I read a scary book recently. Dystopic, feminist, infuriating. And compelling. (Gather the Daughters, by Jennie Melamed)
But it did what I look to fiction to do. It took me away, to another place, where I could suspend real life and live in another world. So while the book made me feel angry and frightened, I was also, oddly, relaxed.
And I thought about how important storytelling is to us. Not just to fundraisers, but to us as humans.
We need stories.
Attention is rare now. I’m as guilty as anyone. I play puzzle games while listening to the television. I have a dozen tabs open on my browser at all times. It’s hard to focus – especially when it’s not necessary.
(And for your readers, your appeal is not necessary.) But I find a good story is one of the only things to get my undivided attention. Is it the same for you?
At the same time I cracked open the book, I witnessed a Twitter fundraising conversation. (Fundraising Twitter is wonderful.) Friends were talking about another book – a non-fiction book – that I have yet to read.
(I’m a voracious consumer of fiction – especially anything that takes me long ago or far away. But I’ll admit that I find it harder to dig into non-fiction. No transportation, you know?)
This particular book, (The Choice Factory, by Richard Shotton) wasn’t at hand. But a quick search brought me to an article about the book, including some quotes.
I immediately stopped at one about relaxation.
When we are in a good mood it signifies an absence of danger and, therefore, mitigates against the need to think critically. We’re therefor far more likely to absorb ad messages when we’re happy.
(Bear with me, dear reader. This is where I try to tie two ideas together.)
Could our thirst for stories connect to the relaxed mood that will make us more likely to respond to a fundraising request?
It seems wrong on one hand – because the goal of good fundraising copy is to drive action, not relaxation. And for many organizations, the stories are not going to be relaxing ones. An appeal shows the need, the problem unsolved, and triggers our need to fix it.
But what if our unresolved story, told well, allows the reader to pay attention? What if something compelling enough to hold our attention can be both relaxing and inspiring? What if it draws the reader in to an extent that it becomes their story, too?
What if by taking readers somewhere different, we also allow them to be more present in their now?
OK, but maybe you’re not a novelist, or a playwright or a songwriter. Maybe you’re a nonprofit fundraiser who needs to engage donors and prospective donors. Not to worry. I’ve pulled together some storytelling tips for you!
Some planning advice from Hubspot:
1) Establish your goal.
2) Understand your audience.
3) Know how you want your audience to feel.
4) Uncover what will elicit the feelings.
Your goal is probably a gift. (Not always, but let’s go with it for today.)
Understanding your audience is key. This is when list segmentation can be powerful. Not everyone you’re writing to will belong to the same, generic audience. Define each audience – and you can change the story to appeal to them more specifically.
Fundraising is always about feelings. What’s the goal today? Not the action yet; the feelings that could lead to action. This is where you can use emotional triggers. But take a moment to decide which to use before you begin.
Then you can find the right story to tell – and tell it much better.
Your story will need:
- One or more characters (keeping it simple will work best for you.)
- Enough detail to pull your reader into the story (but not too much – keep it focused!)
- A challenge or problem that must be solved
- A resolution of the problem
No. Wait on that last one.
If you’re writing for fundraising, don’t resolve the problem. Leave it hanging there. Like one more step and the character’s over the cliff hanging there. Somebody needs to do something about this NOW hanging there.
You want your readers feel frustrated and itch to solve the problem. Then you can show them how they can solve it.
Remember your organization isn’t the protagonist. You don’t want to be the hero of this story.
Find stories of the people you help, instead. Pull the audience in by making that character human. It’s the little touches that make it work. Since you’re using words, paint a picture – her shy smile, his rough hands.
Aim for empathy, not pity. (Because you want this to be personal – something the reader can’t push away.) This is probably my favorite part of writing for fundraising – the chance to connect donors to beneficiaries. To bring everyone to a level human place, where empathy and caring reign.