You Don't Have to Have a Story to Tell a Story
Then one day one of her clients said, "I'm sorry, we don't have a story for you today."
The writer knew this was not good news. She had seen again and again that well-told, emotional stories made a huge difference in how people responded to appeals.
She thought about the organization. She knew it benefitted from having a very charismatic leader. A caring, committed man who was well-known and widely respected. She looked at a sentence in the appeal-which-had-no-story. It read, "Today, there are so many in our area who need food and shelter." It was a good transition sentence. But it was not enough.
Normally, this was the part of the letter where she would help readers see those suffering people as real human beings by telling the story of someone who had been helped by her client.
She put her elbows on her desk, rested her chin on her hands and thought. She drummed her fingers on the polished wood of her desktop. Then suddenly she realized that, actually, the story she needed was right in front of her. She just had to find it.
Then, in a flash, there it was. She started writing:
"I've been working at my desk all morning (the voice was the leader of the organization). A few minutes ago, someone came in to ask me a question, and I realized I'd been sitting behind my old-fashioned rolltop desk for almost four hours. I decided to get a cup of coffee.
"Walking across the street to Starbucks, I passed a man sitting on the sidewalk dressed in rags. I knew he was homeless. And I thought he might ask me for some change. But he didn't. He just turned his face away. It was a shocking, powerful moment. I realized that, even though he had nothing, he still had a sense of dignity."
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.