Storytelling is rightfully getting lots of attention these days.
After all, human beings communicate through stories – and always have. You probably know someone who is a terrific storyteller. I’ve got a friend with a real gift for it. It doesn’t matter whether she’s telling me about a life or death situation or a trip to the grocery store. Either story is bound to be compelling. Ideally, your next appeal could promise the same, right?
So what makes a story work? Steven James offers some detailed help in this piece for Writer’s Digest, 3 Secrets to Great Storytelling:
Cause and effect is king
To keep the reader emotionally connected, don’t make them guess about what happened or why. The minute you throw something in that doesn’t fit, you break the reader’s emotional bond. He urges writers to keep the reader in the present with the characters.
This makes perfect sense for appeals, too. I love his focus on the emotional connection because that’s what you want. Intellectual arguments take your reader away from you. Numbers only activate the part of their brain that can hurt your appeal.
Keep it believable
Again, it’s about keeping the reader glued to your story. If the reader stops believing your story, she stops caring. That’s the last thing you want, right? One way I can see this applying to an appeal, rather than a piece of fiction, is to avoid bigger than real claims. The donor’s $100 isn’t going to solve hunger, and no reader will believe that. But tell your reader that $100 is enough to allow Anna to feed her family for a week, and that’s both personal and credible.
It’s all about escalation
“At the heart of a story is tension, and at the heart of tension is unmet desire. At its core, a story is about a character who wants something but cannot get it. As soon as he gets it, the story is over. So, when you resolve a problem, it must always be within the context of an even greater plot escalation.”
Any Game of Thrones fan can vouch for this. We’ve been waiting years to find out what happens next. Each book gave us more action, but nothing is really resolved. We need to know!
But, wait. How to apply this to an appeal?
You want to present your donor with a problem. Then you want to present a solution and ask them to make it happen. Maybe even what might happen without their help. So where’s the escalation?
It’s in the bigger picture. As Jeff Brook says in The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications, it’s about a “fundraising ending. That is, not quite finished… A fundraising story that ends with a fully resolved problem makes it clear that the donor isn’t needed.”
It’s why you can help Anna’s family for $100, even if you can’t solve world hunger. You can help one person today. (Because remember, you’ll be asking for help again.)
One final note
Always remember who the hero of your story is. Here’s a hint: it’s not your organization. It’s not even the person who needs help.
It’s always your donor.
Photo credit: hieu le