When raising money is the goal of telling a story, conflict is an important element of that story. On Monday I wrote a post that explored the importance of conflict in stories and how to develop conflict.
But this post brings to light a new question – what if there is no conflict?
I’ve been asked this question during countless webinars and speaking engagements. It seems like there is an instance or two in nearly every cause where there might be stories without a conflict. Yet, conflict is essential to fundraising stories. How do we reconcile these facts that seem to be at odds with one another? In today’s post (and part 2 of this exploration) we will look at some specific examples of conflict free stories and what implications it might have for fundraising.
Are there really conflict free stories?
There are a variety of different stories we can tell in the non-profit sector. Some stories include: stories about people, mission-based stories, impact stories, stories about our vision, motivational stories from leadership, and so on.
In the context of fundraising the most common stories that we tell are impact stories and stories about people. Typically, the final form is stories about people who have been impacted by the work. This type of story works well for fundraising because it demonstrates a need that donors can help meet. Having a need is absolutely essential to fundraising success, and moreover donors should be able to understand that need. Hence the use of stories.
All that being said, what I want to point out here is that this is just one type of story. There are many other types of stories that we might use in stewardship, donor communications, general communications, etc. that will not have the heightened conflict that a fundraising story will have. For example, a profile about a staff member is not likely to highlight personal conflict. It is more likely to emphasize their passion for the cause and how they have turned that passion into a meaningful career.
I have no doubt that you can probably think of some other story examples that are also not likely to highlight conflict. These stories have many uses, but using them for fundraising will not be effective.
What if the fundraising story appears to be conflict free?
Social service and international development organizations have it easy – there is usually a very recognizable conflict prior to achieving an outcome. But what about arts organizations or museums? What about schools or environmental causes?
It’s true – conflict is less recognizable in certain causes. That’s just the nature of the beast. But here is the important thing to know – conflict the result of perspective and framing. Meaning that if you shift your perspective, chances are there is a conflict.
For examples, let’s say you’re a theatre company that works with children. You are in an affluent neighborhood, so typically the children are not at risk youth. Their parents send them to your program as a fun, weekly activity. What’s the conflict in this scenario?
The question that I like to ask to unearth a conflict is – what would it be like if this program/service/organization didn’t exist? This question is powerful for a couple of reasons, but mostly why I like to ask it is that it will help me identify what problems could exist in the community was it not for this program.
Returning back to our theatre company example, perhaps there has been a child that developed self-confidence as a result of their experience. In this case, you could talk about the necessity of child development and why the theatre is making an important contribution to the community’s children. Or maybe there was a child who would have never otherwise encountered the arts. In this case, you could discuss the importance of keeping the arts alive for the next generation. Both of these are examples of problems (i.e. conflicts) that have been solved or are being solved.
A big part of storytelling is finding your angle for telling the story. For every story, there are countless ways that you could tell it. Chances are there will be some that have more pronounced conflict than others. The next time you are working on a story, take a minute to brainstorm the different angles that you can tell that story.
Have a question about conflict? Need help brainstorming conflict for your organization’s stories? Leave a comment below.