Story Styles That Open Readers' Wallets, Part 3: Success Stories
To recap: Telling stories to donors and prospects is a powerful technique in fundraising. Even a mediocre story is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. A well-told story does much more. It grabs attention and persuades the reader to feel something. And if you can make her feel something powerful, you can persuade her to do something important.
A story is much more than just a recitation of facts. It has characters and drama and action. Even very short stories, like the ones we tell in fundraising appeals, follow the structure illustrated on Kurt Vonnegut's "Man in a Hole" Story Graph.
In the last two posts we looked at case studies — which tell the story of the trouble someone was in, how that person found you, how you helped and what happened next — and testimonials, which tell the story from a point of view other than your organization's.
The other most common storytelling style is the success story. It's the most siren-like of the three because it entices us with the bewitching sound of our own voices.
Success stories focus on the positive outcome. They give you the opportunity to tell the reader how fabulous you are. It's a seductive proposition and a great way to steer your ship into the rocks.
Because, amid the heady pleasure of talking about yourself, it's easy to forget that the donor or prospect doesn't want to hear about you. She wants to hear about herself.
So when you tell a story that's theme is that you did something marvelous and it turned out great, you have to include the reader as a key player in the outcome:
When Tonya fled from her abusive boyfriend and showed up at our door, we took her in. And thanks to the generosity of caring friends like you, we were able to give her shelter for the night. The next day we moved her to a safe house, 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.
These programs save lives. But they wouldn't be here today — and might not be here tomorrow — without your support.
Success stories deliver the good news. And because good news isn't as compelling to the reader as bad news, they are usually shorter than case studies or testimonials.
The benefit is that you can spend more time talking about your processes, how you do what you do, the size and impact of your work, and so on. Just remember that, no matter how great you really are, the reader only wants to hear so much about you before being reminded that what you care most about is her.
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.