How to tell stories and inspire your supporters

pexels-photo-185764Whatever your fundraising role or level, you will need to be able to influence; whether it is your manager or colleagues about your new ideas, funders to invest in your organisation or supporters to campaign, volunteer and raise awareness.

Storytelling is already within your DNA. As human beings we learn and remember more through story than facts, figures and statistics. It’s also your most powerful influencing tool because a story told well connects with the listener, evokes emotion and inspires them to take action.

How we make decisions

We respond emotionally to the world around us. Then we retrospectively put a rational case together to support our emotional decision.

If you have ever fallen in love with a product, for example a pair of shoes, an expensive suit or a new gadget and then rationalized why you ‘simply must have it’ after you have made your decision to purchase, you’ll understand this.

There is a phrase ‘Those that can tell – can sell.” This didn’t come from the charity sector.

Commercial organisations use story and emotion to sell their products. In 2009 Coca-Cola branded ‘happiness’. It ditched it last year apparently for being ‘too preachy’. Coke’s current brand campaign is called #TasteTheFeeling. No surprise it involves story.

The John Lewis Partnership in the UK uses emotion and story in all their advertising. Check out their advertisement for home insurance.

I’m not saying that facts, figures and statistics are not important. They are vitally important. You must have a robust case for support and a business plan. You need the detail of how and when you will spend donations and a reporting system so you can accurately inform donors of the difference their support has made.

Accurate facts, figures and statistics are crucial but they are not the leading message. Most people don’t get excited and inspired because you showed them a nice spreadsheet or pie chart – they get inspired to take action because of the difference they can make, and the best tool to do this is through story.

Four quick tips to get you started in story

  1. Start with story; I’ve heard so many boring pitches that begin something like ‘Nondescript charity was established in <insert year> etc etc …. Start with a story that illustrates the work the charity does. It might be the story of your founder; for example, Jane Smith was told by her doctor that she had breast cancer in 1993. The prognosis was bad. There was no one for her to talk to. She had to wait for hours in a cold waiting room for her referral appointment, afraid and alone. She decided that no one else should have to go through this so she set up Jane Smith Cancer centers. Places where people with cancer and their families could get help and support and not be alone.
  2. Find your own stories; don’t regurgitate stories that someone else has written for you. You have to connect to the story you tell, and the best way to do this is to find your own. Spend time with front line staff, service users, your colleagues and find stories, anecdotes that you can share and tell.
  3. Think about your audience – who are you telling your story to? What do you want them to think, feel and do? You will already intuitively do this. How you tell your story of last nights hot date will be different depending on whether you are telling your best mate, your granny or your boss. Before you craft any (!) story take time to think about your audience, consider what will spark their interest, and tell your story for their ears.
  4. And finally practice. As with anything, the more you practice the better you get. Practice telling stories, listen to and read more, notice when you feel something; what did the story-teller do to evoke that emotion in you? Learn from others and work those lessons into your own storytelling.

If you are interested in learning more about the power of storytelling sign up for my next how to tell stories to inspire your supporters workshop on 23 March 2017 in London.

4 Comments on “How to tell stories and inspire your supporters

  1. Lucy I think this is an excellent article. I’m working with food innovators in the UK that have also concluded that, as an innovator of constructible chocolate @ bonbonco.com one of my biggest assets is not just the product (top notch, fun and delicious) but my story of ‘How and Why’. Certainly I’ve found that in all the ‘noise’ of the internet with so many products at our finger tips, every time I reach out to a customer with some customisable choices to make their experience with Bonbonco even better, it results in huge appreciation.

  2. I couldn’t agree more Lucy. Thank you for the article which has certainly inspired and empowered me to not only write a story but also to collect stories of colleagues and friends who have been through a similar journey.

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