Can Téa Obreht Make You a Better Fundraiser?
Read any good books lately?
Let me rephrase that. Read any good novels lately?
If not, you might want to. Taking a break from television to dip in to a little high-quality fiction will make you a better writer. It might even make you a better person.
Great writers have been telling you that for as long as there've been great writers. Now, science is telling you too. A new study is demonstrating conclusively that reading high-quality "literary" fiction increases readers' feelings of empathy.
Here's how researchers found it out:
Researchers at the New School for Social Research in New York recruited 1,000 volunteers and gave them short pieces to read. One group read excerpts of popular fiction from writers including Danielle Steele and Gillian Flynn. A second group read nonfiction pieces from Smithsonian Magazine.
After the readings, researchers had the participants look at pictures of people's eyes and faces, and guess their emotions.
You can guess what happened: The people who had read the literary fiction excerpts consistently showed a much higher ability to correctly identify the emotions of the faces in the photos.
The reason, according to one of the study's authors, is that literary fiction "forces you as a reader to contribute your own interpretations, to reconstruct the mind of the character."
As a copywriter this matters to you because empathy is the golden apple of fundraising. To tell a genuinely compelling story you have to be able to put yourself inside the skin of the person you're writing about. To motivate a reader to make a gift, you have to see the world through her eyes.
And it seems that great fiction can help you gain insight into other people's actions and emotions better than the most thoroughgoing recitation of facts and statistics.
Or, as John Steinbeck said, "Just because something didn't happen doesn't mean it isn't true."
Of course facts matter. And statistics can give you credibility and give your readers some necessary perspective.
But when it comes to their feelings, which are really the only things that drive them to support you, made-up stories crafted by great writers can prove not only timeless, but priceless.
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.