4 Ways Storytelling Persuades Donors
Throughout the last few years, the entire world has been buzzing about the power of story. On the surface, all this conversation makes it seem like we've collectively forgotten the millennia of storytelling sprawled out before us in museums, history books, novels and campfires. But when we dig deeper, we see all the excitement over story isn't because we think we've discovered something new. Rather, it's because if there's anything we can safely say about the human race, it's this: We have been wired for story. It moves us, motivates us, unites us and changes us.
Truth be told, the power of story cannot be extinguished, and this is good news for anyone in the business of promoting social good.
Throughout the last two decades, I've partnered with dozens of nonprofit organizations. And while each of those organizations has a distinct mission and a unique donor base, I've found that, most of the time, their end goals are identical: Create a message that will engage, support and attract donors. If you want to see organizations that do this well, just look to Love146, charity: water and Share Our Strength—all nonprofits that have mastered the power of story, using social media, narratives and videos to tell the stories being written in our own communities or on the other side of globe.
Is it working? Ask charity: water CEO Scott Harrison to explain how his organization has reached 6.1 million people throughout the last 10 years, and he'll tell you that much of it boils down to this concept of story.
"I think a lot of organizations, companies and nonprofits make themselves the hero: 'We are feeding the world. Look how great we are.' And I think charity: water has always said, 'Look how great you are. You care; you're giving money. You're giving time and you're making this possible," — Harrison
For Harrison—and many others focused on sustainable mission—the best stories are defined by their ability to lure us away from the concept of "me" and instead point us back to "you." They widen our eyes and open our hands, reminding us that we have the power to influence change and activating us to action.
As a nonprofit, if you've not tapped into this idea of story as activator, here's what you need to know.
Stories Help Us Emerge As Agents of Change
For me, it recently happened when I traveled to Thailand with my wife, Jenel. Visiting with Destiny Rescue, a nonprofit focused on ending child trafficking, we began to hear and see the stories of the 2,000 children rescued as a direct result of Destiny Rescue's efforts. Their stories wrecked our hearts, and our knowledge compelled us to action. For years, we had heard statistics on child trafficking. We knew it was happening across the globe and even in our own community—but ultimately, it was the power behind the stories that stripped us of all inaction and converted us into avid and faithful supporters of the mission.
Stories Humanize Our Mission
Nonprofits know that the numbers matter. Donors want to see how their money is spent. They want proof of financial integrity and accountability. But the risk in sharing all data and no story is that nonprofits lose their humanity in the process. Case in point: If you've ever read the fine print to a pharmaceutical prescription, you know that data doesn't turn you into a boisterous supporter; rather, experience does. When nonprofits share their stories, they are no longer just charts and pie graphs. They become the embodiment of hope and goodness, reminding us that our support changes the lives of real people.
Stories Make Us Versatile
As storytellers, nonprofits have endless tools at their disposal: Social media, video, email, web, print. Today, if you write a long-form story, you can transfer that to an engaging visual for Instagram, a compelling 140-character Tweet or a short 60-second video—putting your information in front of diverse audiences and nurturing them as donors. No longer confined to the front of a church sanctuary or a business boardroom, nonprofits can use these versatile platforms to leverage the financial security of a baby-boomer donor and benefit from the cause-driven millennial, reaching potential donors with a message specifically crafted just for them.
Stories Help Us Build and Reclaim Identity
Whether community-focused or globally-driven, nonprofits focus on uniting us around a collective identity. We throw money into the red kettle during Christmas because we know our neighbors down the street just lost their jobs. We fund a chicken project in India because we've read firsthand accounts of the widespread impacts of such projects. We speak out against human trafficking and donate every month because we grow nauseous at the thought of our child or our mother or our friend ever being in a similar situation. Our identities become connected to the missions we support—through stories that allow us to ignore boundaries, borders and cultural gaps and buy into that noble idea that maybe, just maybe, the human race really can work together for the common good.
In her research on stories, Jennifer Aaker, marketing professor at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, writes that stories are remembered 22 times more than facts alone.
"Our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories… A story is a journey that moves the listener, and when the listener goes on that journey, they feel different, and the result is persuasion and sometimes action." — Aaker
Storytelling is a powerful tool that nonprofit marketers can be sure will never grow old or cliché. It persuades us take action, motivates us to understand new perspectives and delivers truths that do not disappear quickly from our minds.
How is your nonprofit changing hearts and minds through story?
Brett Meyer is the founder of Donation Spring, an online crowdfunding platform easily installed on a nonprofit organization's existing website, and the owner of 3River Development. Working with nonprofits throughout the last two decades, Brett uses his software engineering experience in the Fortune 500 world to help nonprofits survive and thrive in a digitally-driven world.