Story Styles That Open Readers' Wallets, Part 2: Testimonials
When last we met, we looked at case studies as one style of storytelling that gets readers' attention and tells a story compelling enough to make them want to send generous gifts of support.
Today, we'll look at one of the most tempting, and perilous, story styles, the testimonial. Testimonials allow your reader to see your organization through the eyes of someone you've helped. It's a first-person, ground-level view of how you change lives. For example:
… it wasn't the first time Ray had hit me. Far from it. But this time was different. There was rage in his eyes. I knew if I didn't get out of there, he'd really hurt me.
So I grabbed the children and ran out the door, into the freezing night. I had no idea where I was going, but somehow I found myself outside the mission, pounding on the door and crying. The woman who let me in called a doctor right away and got some hot food for me and the kids.
It was the first time I'd felt safe in years ...
If the story is well-written, this can be very powerful. And, because you're taking your readers into a world they're not familiar with, you have a little leeway in how you present the details.
But testimonials come with some pretty big pitfalls as well.
The first, and most often overlooked, is that they lack authority. Emotional as they are, testimonials can only give the reader one person's story. Your client can't convincingly speak to your mission or the big-picture view of your organization. So while the reader might be deeply moved, she may not be persuaded that your work is effective for everyone or that you will be a good steward of her money.
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.