I’m a giver. Like lots of you in the nonprofit world, I find it easier to give than get.
I was your typical board member who said I’ll do anything but ask for money.
How could I ask for money when it’s so natural for me to want to help people, not ask them for something? Fundraising wasn’t for me.
But storytelling changed all that…
Several years ago I discovered the amazing results of sharing my story. By following the example of the best fundraisers I knew, I began to tell my story – sharing my passion for my cause. As a result I raised millions.
At that point I didn’t understand why story was so powerful. So I started to ask questions, I did the research and I learned a lot about the power of story.
It was an exciting journey for me because I could see the potential for you. Let’s dig in and learn why storytelling is so powerful so you can start using it today.
Stories have always been a way to pass on information – think of cave drawings or the Bible. But stories also entertain and inspire.
Most news stories start with a profile of one person, someone we can picture and care about; that’s what compels us to keep reading or listening. Stories are an emotional trigger.
Here’s an example from today’s New York Times:
As Population Ages, Where Are the Geriatricians?
Ruth Miles, 83, sat in a wheelchair in a small exam room, clutching a water bottle, looking frightened and uncomfortable.
She was submitting to the tender scrutiny of Dr. Elizabeth Eckstrom, who scooted her stool so close that she was knee to knee with her patient.
Ms. Miles had broken her pelvis after tripping on an electric cord in her apartment. The weeks since then had been hellish…
What’s going on here? If this article had started with facts and figures about the shortage of doctors specializing in treating the elderly we wouldn’t have read it. But there’s a picture of an old lady who looks a bit like your grandma, so you read her story.
Chances are you will read more of the article. Suddenly an issue you weren’t even aware of becomes something you care about. Because of the story of Ruth Miles and her broken hip.
The science behind this is explained in the book, The Storytelling Animal. When electrodes were implanted in monkeys’ brains, researchers could see the brain light up when a monkey grabbed a nut – and the monkey’s brain reacted the same way when he saw another monkey grab a nut!
So, this is what happens to us. When you watch a TV show, you get emotionally involved. Your brain lights up, you’re hooked on somebody else’s story.
That’s empathy and it’s what you want and get when someone hears your story.
Telling your story can be hard, it is easier to tell someone else’s story (and you will want to do that too). But your own story has a special power.
Your story reflects your passion for your organization and its vision. When you think of a great nonprofit founder, politician or religious leader, you see how a personal story has the power to move people.
Like a great leader, you want to tell your story over and over again. You’ll get better at telling it and more people will be moved enough to retell your story, to care about your organization and to make a contribution.
Now we know that your story has the power to make people care. Caring is the first step, because the truth is, if you don’t care you don’t really listen.
Once your audience cares they are ready to hear what you have to say. That’s just where you want ‘em!
How emotion raises money
Now that you see how emotion leads to caring, let’s explore how caring leads to donating.
Traditionally, fundraisers thought it took a lot of information to get someone to write us a check. After all, making decisions about who you donate to seems like a totally logic choice.
But, that’s not what the research says. It turns out that we don’t really have that much control over our choices.
According to brain scientists, most of the time we make unconscious decisions, based on emotions – then we rationalize our choices! When we say things like “I just feel it in my gut” or “Something tells me…” we are expressing the emotional choice we already made.
When I discovered this it made me think of all the bad purchases I have made based on emotion. But, fortunately, it also causes me to make some very good choices – like donating!
Here’s another way to look at it:
- You know there are 30,000 people in Asia effected by an earthquake. You hear an appeal on TV asking you to make a donation. Maybe you send a small amount, probably not.
- On the same day there is a house fire in your town. A family of 4 and their 2 dogs are homeless. A neighbor starts a fund to help this family and asks for your donation. You probably make a generous donation.
Where is the greater need? It doesn’t matter. One appeal is very personal and close to home, the other is distant and harder to relate to.
You are more emotionally moved by something you can relate to so you want to help.
All this “gut reaction” is happening in the limbic system of our brains, that’s the center of emotions, motivation and decisions.
So, how cool is that for your fundraising!
Putting the discovery into action
Let’s say you have a roomful of people who came to learn about your organization. You start by telling them your story. They’re all ears. You move the emotions up a notch by sharing a video or by having a client give a testimonial. Then you ask them for something.
They are so ready!
You’ve barely mentioned measurements or outcomes. (Of course, you still need those to support your case and empower your delivery.)
Emotions come first and emotions drive decisions!
The folks who make TV commercials understand how brains work. A romantic story is able to sell drugs despite the fact the commercial ends with a long list of possible negative reactions – including death!
If drug companies can romanticize a pill, you can make your story emotional. It doesn’t take babies or puppies. I get weepy about a history museum I love, somebody else might be moved by art or science.
As a nonprofit leader you can and should create opportunities to share your story. Like any good story it will be retold by many who hear it.
When your story is retold, you gain more exposure, more people who care and more of what you need. (Read How to Tell Your Story to learn more).
Cha-ching! You’re raising more money!
Merle Benny wants to hear your story! Her blog, Nonprofit Champion, is a resource for fast track nonprofit leaders. She’s smart, creative and driven to help organizations reach their vision. As a partner at Thinc. she has provided marketing and branding services to nonprofit organizations and managed events that raised millions of dollars to support their work.