Editor’s note: this guest post was contributed by Jennifer Miller. Read Jennifer’s previous posts here.
It was midnight. I had just landed from a long flight. When I got to the escalator heading to baggage claim, I saw about 10 young kids in a cluster. One was holding a sign that said, “Welcome home, Grandpa!” They were excited, hopping up and down in anticipation.
More than a few of us weary travelers, as we were being herded down the escalator, smiled at the sight of those kids.
I wondered what the story was.
That image of a team of young kids (who should have been in bed at that hour) defined the story for me, even though I didn’t know what the story actually was.
That image is the gold nugget in the story. The shiny object. The thing that connects with your heart and makes you want to know more. And that gold nugget is yours to present to your donors. You just have to find it.
If you look at the way many nonprofit stories are told, the arc follows a typical pattern:
Set up of situation –> Where help was found –> How situation was resolved.
Using that kind of story arc is usually fine. But where’s the gold?
The gold is there. You have to look for the moments that emotionally define the story. It could be a quote. Something specific that happened. Something inspirational. Something that transformed a life. Don’t overcomplicate it. You’ll know it when your heart lurches forward and the emotional sensors in your brain go ba-zing!
Let’s use the gaggle of kids as an example of the gold and make a few assumptions about the storyline. Let’s say that the grandfather, named Frank, was retired and lived in another state. But then he had to travel cross-country to seek cancer treatment in his hometown, and so that his family could be by his side. And let’s say that the organization involved was the hospital providing the cancer care he needed to live.
Here’s how a typical donor impact story might play out:
Frank recently received a cancer diagnosis and his best shot at beating it was at Hospital ABC — which was across the country. Frank knew he had to travel there if he had any chance of living and being there for his grandkids. Thanks to your support, Mrs. Donor, Hospital ABC can conduct the research needed that provides first-class cancer treatment for people like Frank.
Okay, solid enough storyline there. But where’s the gold? Now let’s see what happens if we find the gold (the kids holding up the sign in the airport) and start the story there:
It was midnight, but that didn’t matter to Frank’s young grandkids. What mattered was making sure that the first thing he saw was their handwritten sign that read, “Welcome Home, Grandpa!” What mattered was greeting him at the airport with smiles and kisses and hugs after his tiring cross-country trip. After all that Frank had been through, he deserved a warm greeting from his 10 grandkids. That’s because Frank is battling cancer, and though his treatment at Hospital ABC starts in a few days, he’s happy enough for now just to be surrounded by the love and support of his family.
See the difference? One story is simply a resuscitation of the facts. The other finds the gold and starts there, pulling you in with emotion.
Powerful storytelling isn’t complicated. Make it simple. Start by looking through the facts and details of your story, and then ask yourself this simple question: Where’s the gold?
Jennifer Miller has 21 years of experience in direct response. She’s worked for 10 years as a Creative Director at TrueSense Marketing (www.TrueSense.com, www.linkedin.com/company/truesense-marketing; @TrueSenseMktg), helping nonprofits raise more funds through donor-centered strategies.