What do baby shoes have to do with fundraising?
Well, Joe Friday would make a terrible fundraiser.
Joe wanted “just the facts, ma’am.” (For those of you who didn’t grow up watching Dragnet, here’s a taste.)
That’s not to say fundraising communications should not be true. It’s just that there’s so much more to it than facts.
You can make a logical list of the reasons someone should support your organization.
Heck, you can make an argument any lawyer would envy.
Solid, air-tight. Completely rational.
And you’d still fail, without emotion. Without baby shoes.
We’ve been using stories to share information and persuade people to our point of view since we sat around fires outside our caves. It’s baked in.
So what makes a story more interesting?
In 5 tips to make your story more interesting, Miss Literati suggests:
- Make life hard for your characters
- Create conflict and tension
- Incorporate plot twists
- Use genuine characters
- Have high stakes during the climax
Here’s how it might work for fundraising:
Make life hard for your characters
Our organizations exist to help people (or animals, or the environment). But show the struggles, don’t list them.
Help the reader understand how it feels to be in their place.
Create conflict and tension
Conflict, tension, and plot twists are what keep us hanging on in a story.
I breathlessly await new Game of Thrones episodes – even though I’ve read the books twice now. But on screen, the writers keep throwing a few new twists in. And the conflict is so intense, I’m hooked.
How can you keep your readers interested?
Don’t just explain the situation you want help with. Take your reader along. Show the ups and downs. Maybe things look better until you introduce another obstacle.
And remember not to solve the problem! That’s what you want your reader to do – by giving.
Use genuine characters
Our work is about genuine people – we don’t need to create characters. (Well, maybe a little, when it’s necessary to disguise a real person’s identity. That’s a case of something being true, though not strictly factual.)
Don’t dress them up. Or make them generic. Don’t talk about a group of people (unless it’s a family).
Focus on one person and tell their story. Worn clothes, a hesitant smile, beautiful eyes… include the detail that makes them real.
Have high stakes during the climax
If your organization’s work is important – and I sure hope you think it is – then the stakes are high.
Communicate that urgency to help your reader agree. Why is her help so important? Why right now? Make sure your reader knows a lot depends on her.
She can be the hero who saves the day!
Why do stories matter?
Stories animate human life; that is their work. Stories work with people, for people, and always stories work on people, affecting what people are able to see as real, as possible, and as worth doing or best avoided.
—Arthur Frank, Letting Stories Breathe (2010) via Jack Zipes, The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre
The news is full of need every day. People living on the street. Starving refugees. Children fighting terrible diseases.
If people only needed the facts, they wouldn’t need us.
They need us.
Your logical arguments, your list of accomplishments, your statements of fact… they won’t move people.
Before I give, I need to know why it matters to me. Sharing someone’s story makes their need human, not abstract.
So bring me to the scene. Help me feel what the person who needs my help is feeling. Trigger my empathy if you want me to act.
Baby shoes: a brilliant example.
My daughter is reading Hemingway in school now. That reminded me of this powerful short story Hemingway wrote on a dare:
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Six words, all the feelings.
You don’t have to keep yourself to six words. But you do have to grab your reader. Using a story – one full of emotion – will do that.
But you do need a little more than feelings.
Telling your story well isn’t enough. You also need to tell the reader what to do with the story.
What do you want me to do – exactly?
You can help by sending just $35 before the end of the month.
How do I do it?
Just enclose your check in the envelope I’ve enclosed and mail it to me right away.
What happens if I do? How will that make me feel?
Your gift will provide the medicine she desperately needs. You’ll feel wonderful knowing you were able to help when she needed you most.
Sorry, Joe. “Just the facts” is not enough. Add some baby shoes.
Give your reader a story – with lots of emotion.
Photo: JD Hancock on Flickr
Liz Estes says
Gosh — the baby shoes (tied sneakers) on the drowned Syrian toddler certainly changed the ENTIRE world. This inspiring post reminds me when we get stuck telling the same old same old — that’s when we need to dive back into the every day drama. And that maybe when I’m stuck it’s precisely BECAUSE I have become too comfortable and I can’t quite bear to keep myself vulnerable.
Mary Cahalane says
Yes! The every day is something everyone can understand. But without the emotion – which an image can do SO well – you lose that. Or allow yourself to lose it.
Afflicting the comfortable is certainly part of it all!
Erin OBryan says
Thank you as always for another interesting and informative article. I’m learning so much from you. Thank you!!
Mary Cahalane says
Well thank you, Erin! What a nice thing to say. That makes me very happy.