Story Styles That Open Readers' Wallets, Part 1
In the fundraising world, there's been plenty of emphasis lately on using emotional stories in our messaging. By now, everyone understands that well-told stories engage readers, help them make emotional connections to our organizations and improve fundraising outcomes.
The question is no longer whether to tell stories in fundraising appeals, but which stories to tell and how to tell them.
Not all fundraising stories are created equal. There are as many ways to tell a story as there are storytellers. It's important to consider which story you want to use in a particular appeal or acquisition piece, and just as important to decide how you want to tell it.
Today, and for the next two weeks, we'll look at three story types that get readers' attention, keep them reading and inspire them to make generous gifts. Each has its merits and its challenges, and each has a place in your copywriting arsenal. Let's start with ...
Case studies. Case studies are stories that describe how your organization solved a problem. They're designed to be detailed and process-oriented. If you tell them right, readers will infer that, because you solved this problem so effectively, you'll have the same success solving similar ones in the future. Here's how such a story might start:
It was 2:00 in the morning when Tonya stood out in the cold pounding on our door. She and her daughter had fled their apartment where her boyfriend was in a murderous rage. We took her in, and gave her shelter for the night. The next day we moved her to one of our safe houses where she and her daughter could be out of danger.
Then we made sure she'd never have to go back to her old life of helplessness, dependency and fear. Tonya enrolled in our job training program, and worked with one of our counselors to learn self-esteem and independence ... etc.
Case studies can use powerful stories to grab readers' hearts, then focus their minds on your problem-solving abilities. They show you have the personnel, expertise, talent, infrastructure and commitment to accomplish your mission.
There three challenges built into the case-study format. The first is to be interesting. Case studies lend themselves to dryness, so be careful to keep the client front and center. Use active language, and remember that the purpose of the story is to persuade someone to give you money. Be sincere and personal.
The second challenge is to talk about all the wonderful things you do, without allowing the letter to become too organization-centric. Even as you talk about yourself, keep your focus on the reader. For example, each time you talk about some great thing your organization does, preface it a some qualifier like, "Thanks to the caring support of friends like you ..."
Third, take care to describe your processes without getting bogged down in detail and losing the human element of your story. Don't let the client in your story become a cardboard, stereotyped "needy person." Give her some personality, e.g., "Tonya's transformation took us all by surprise. As her fear subsided, her young face brightened, and her easy smile and dry humor began to show through."
It takes a little extra effort, and often some extra homework, to make case studies compelling enough to persuade a reader to reach for her wallet. But that's what you're there for, right? If it were easy, anybody could do it.
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.