You probably don’t need to be convinced of just how important storytelling is to successful fundraising. It goes without saying.
Still, I was reminded of this recently while reading a blog by Seth Godin. Seth isn’t a fundraiser, but his remarks about the power of storytelling are spot-on. As he says, “It’s a story that causes us… to take action and tell others.”
Similarly, in researching how the human brain responds to stories, Chip Heath and Dan Heath conclude in their book, “Made to Stick,” “A credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea makes people care. The right stories make people act.”
As fundraisers, we see it time and time again. Our stories lead people to act… to give.
The other day I was asked to comment on storytelling for major donors. The question caught me a bit off-guard. Are donors who give $1,000, $10,000 or $100,000 wired differently than donors who give $10, $25 or $50?
I don’t think so. The assets at their disposal may be different, but the internal wiring is the same.
Yet I do think we tend to take more care in developing stories when we know our high-value donors will be listening… or reading what we have to say. After all, we know these folks! We know we can’t risk losing their trust. We’re not going to make something up or mix fiction with fact. No, we’re going to find our very best stories and tell them truthfully.
The thing is, this commitment to “telling it like is” should apply for all donors. And sadly, it’s not always the case.
Occasionally, a client asks us to develop special direct mail appeals for their major donors, and we do. Yet every time when we review content, we ask ourselves — in so many words — “Now what was it we said here that we didn’t want to say to the rest of the donors?”
And the answer is… pretty much nothing. Storytelling that’s effective for the top of the file can be carried through for donors of all giving levels.
This is not to say you should execute the same strategies for all donors. It’s critically important to manage your investment in various file segments to leverage net revenue for the mission. This can mean changes in the frequency or cadence of direct mail appeals, the number of stewardship touches, your offers or gift impact statements, production techniques, postage strategies, etc.
But I think it’s unlikely you’ll benefit from attempting to somehow change the stories you share.
So when you want to motivate major donors to give, invest the time and energy required to find your best stories and tell them well. Then be sure to share them with your other donors, too!