There are 5 elements of a great fundraising story – connection with the audience, character, conflict, resolution, and call to action. In The Storytelling Non-Profit Master Class, we go through each of the parts of a story in depth in order to understand how to effectively construct each one. When these elements work together in seamless harmony, they create some of the most compelling and emotional fundraising appeals.
I have often wondered if one these elements is more essential than another. It’s also a question I get asked at conferences and workshops, and the reason I think we are all curious about this is because want to know which part of the story can most impact the results. Over the past few months of work and research, I believe that conflict might be the most important story element and the most often overlooked.
In today’s blog post, I want to share with you why conflict is so important and how to properly develop conflict for a fundraising story.
The Importance of Conflict in a Fundraising Story
In a nutshell, conflict is the problem that your story’s character is struggling with and is proactively trying to solve. When you explain the conflict a character is dealing with two important things occur:
#1 The audience feels a deeper empathetic connection to your character
Your donors may not have experienced the same kind of conflict that your clients do in their own lives. But the power of that conflict is that it allows donors to relate to through their own life experiences; to see themselves in that conflict. It might be a totally unrelated life experience, but the emotional quality might be very similar to something that they have experienced. When this happens, their empathy deepens for the character. A donors’ empathetic connection is hugely important because in this connection they will truly get what your work is all about.
#2 You actively build your fundraising case for support
There really wouldn’t be much of a story without conflict. In fact without it, we are left with a before/after or a shallow testimonial. The goal of a story is to go much deeper than that. As we tell a character’s conflict, we are also telling the story about a need that exceeds just this one person. It is the story of why our program/service/mission is so essential. In this sense, showing the conflict actively helps build a fundraising case for support.
As you can see, these are two important benefits of conflict in a story. But what I often see happen in non-profit stories is that the conflict is quickly rushed through and sometimes not even discussed. We are introduced to a character. In one sentence we are told what that character’s problem was. Then we are plunged into the resolution of that story and are told how great the non-profit and its services are to have solved this person’s problem. Then we are asked for money.
This is a problematic approach to storytelling because when donors are not given an opportunity to learn more about the conflict they may not understand just how great the need for that program/service/mission really is.
How to Develop a Story’s Conflict
The best thing we can do for our stories is to develop the conflict more. By that I mean we have to roll up our sleeves and dig deeper. Ideally, 50% of the story should be spent discussing the conflict. To get to that point, there are a couple of things that you can do extrapollate your conflict.
#1 Understand conflict as a roller coaster
Fundamentally, we need to shift our perspective on what conflict looks like in practice. It is not an upside down “U” that climaxes and then is resolved. There are ups and downs along the way. It is never a smooth, easy path to the resolution. As a storyteller, it is important to recognize that this is the case. Seek to understand what the ups and downs of the conflict are.
#2 Focus on the different phases of conflict resolution
Chances are, the conflict was not resolved with one swift action. There were probably phases or iterations before it was fully resolved. When you tell a story, include some of these phases. What were the new setbacks the person faced? What was going on internally or emotionally for them? Were there any new external conflicts that cropped up?
#3 Ask better questions during the interview
An interview lays the foundation for quality of the story that you will tell. It is essential to ask great questions during the interview about the conflict or problem someone was facing before they got to their happy outcome. Recently our guest expert, Jennifer Miller, shared some wonderful tips for conducting great interviews.
Conflict is such an important element in a fundraising story. I hope that this post gives you a new perspective on this storytelling element.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. What do you do to develop a story’s conflict? What storytelling challenges have you faced?