How to Write Power Stories, Part 2
I like to sleep with the window open
but you keep the window closed,
so good-bye, good-bye, goodbye.
– Paul Simon
They say more marriages break up because someone didn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste than because someone cheated.
True or not, it illustrates a good point for writers: In storytelling, details that may seem insignificant can often reveal more about characters and situations than momentous events or big challenges.
When they are carefully selected and judiciously employed, they humanize the subjects in your stories and induce greater empathy in your readers — empathy that translates into emotion-driven donations.
Those little moments and images are especially valuable for copywriters who need to make a strong impression on readers in a limited amount of space. And even more important in fundraising because the stories we tell are not mere entertainment, but a step toward the larger goal of convincing donors to support our nonprofit’s mission.
Our stories have to engage readers on such a powerful emotional level that when we transition from them to the ask, readers feel compelled to take an action or make a gift.
Like a still-life painting or a well-written haiku, archetypal images set a scene for readers in just a few words.
For example, you could say simply that a family is desperately poor. Or you can make readers experience the pathos of poverty by describing a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling and snow blowing through an open window.
You can tell readers that hundreds of wolves are dying every week. Or you can make them feel the tragedy of a single wolf, his ribs showing through his emaciated body as he lay still in the snow, all but dead from starvation.
A once-playful kitten can hang limp in your arms. An abused dog can flinch at the sight of a stranger. You can give a girl a shy smile, a young woman eyes that are fearful yet determined, or describe a senior’s worn and wrinkled face that reflects decades of hardship and injustice.
Fundraising stories are parables. They tell the story of one person or group, but the reader understands that those individuals are representative of many others in the same boat. Putting your reader into a scene, instead of merely describing it from a distance, can make all the difference in how she feels, and responds, when you ask her to help.
Willis Turner believes great writing has the power to change minds, save lives, and make people want to dance and sing. Willis is the creative director at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He worked as a lead writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 15 years before making the switch to fundraising 20 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, and collateral communications materials that get attention, tell powerful stories and persuade people to take action or make a donation.