How to Write Power Stories, Part 3
It’s a wonderful feeling when something you always thought was bad for you turns out to be good for you.
Take the use of pseudonyms in fundraising stories. There’s a widespread presumption that using made-up names for real people is a necessary evil. Many see hiding the protagonist of your story behind a fake name as a step away from the truth.
Actually, there can be benefits to giving someone an alias, and then adding a parenthetical phrase like “(I’m changing their names to protect their privacy).” These benefits could lead to higher response rates. For example:
- Pseudonyms can actually make your story seem more true. When you tell readers you’re giving your character an alias, they lean in and become more attentive. There’s a sense that, if you have to disguise people’s identities, there must be something more tantalizing than usual in the story.
- Readers believe people in your story can feel free to speak more candidly because their real identities are protected.
- It also convinces them that you’re telling a more uncensored and unvarnished story. Both these beliefs give your story added verisimilitude.
- For the same reason, pseudonyms, reinforce the impression that you’re not exploiting the people in your story, which, in turn, makes your organization seem more compassionate.
- Having grown up in a media-saturated culture, readers attach different archetypal characteristics to different names. Thus, you can use carefully chosen names to add nuance to your characters. (Have you ever been introduced to someone and later said, “Funny, he doesn’t look like a George"?) CAUTION: Obviously, you never, ever want to use names that evoke bias or negative stereotypes, but when you use good writerly judgement you can leave readers with a clearer mental picture of your subject.
Admittedly, this is mostly uncharted territory, but it not only makes reasonable sense, it also makes a kind of counterintuitive direct mail sense. So don’t take my word for it. Test it.
This will seem weird to some folks, no doubt, but as a copywriter, you get it. Try the test in low-cost e-appeals and if it seems promising, try it in the mail. You might find it works better for your organization in acquisition than in appeals. Or vice-versa. Or both.
Read part 1 and 2 of the Power Stories series here:
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 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, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.