Being a copywriter and fundraiser, I think about the pros and cons of telling stories quite a bit. After all, we’re here in 2022. It’s a competitive digital landscape for engaging people and converting engagement into donations. Everything that we put resources into in our fundraising programs has an opportunity cost. Naturally, I wonder, perhaps like you, is the time that we spend sourcing and crafting and writing fundraising appeals really steeped in stories worth it?
Is storytelling a trend? Should we tell fewer stories? Should we focus on different types of content entirely? I have some thoughts on this that I want to share with you in this post.
Spoiler: Non-Profit Storytelling is Still Worth It
I won’t beat around the bush with my opinion on this. Storytelling is absolutely worth it for non-profits. It’s a must-have tool in your fundraising and communications toolbox. Here’s why. So much of our work in the nonprofit sector is about trying to build an understanding of what our organization is doing. We’re trying to convince people that our approach to change is what needs to be funded.
There are lots of ways we can try to convince people of this. With institutional funders and foundations, we might convince them with numbers and complex explanations of our theory of change.
This is not how your average small dollar individual donor makes their giving decisions. Individual donors want to know what the problem is, why solving it matters and what they can do about it today. But even in crafting this explanation, we can find ourselves getting into the weeds of our work and losing our audience’s attention.
Years ago when I read The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever, it changed my understanding of the value of stories as a communication and fundraising tool. Stories are one of the many tools we have to bridge the gap of understanding and help donors understand something they might not fully grasp right now. Storytelling is a tool for building that understanding for building the bridge from what people know to the action we want them to take. And the reason why stories are effective in that way is because they tap into our emotions, they tap into a concrete example.
The Impact of Non-Profit Storytelling
In nearly a decade of teaching and consulting, I’ve seen the tremendous impact non-profit storytelling can have on a non-profit. But I think one of my clients says it best.
While the financial results are impressive, the everlasting result has been that our supporters have never had such a clear understanding of our mission. — Cally Wesson, CEO of Variety BC
By consistently showing up, telling great stories from diverse perspectives, and building out a broad ecosystem of stories that show the organization’s work in action, you can get to a level of donor education that is incredibly valuable to your non-profit.
As individuals, so much of what we’re motivated by in life is to be seen and understood. On some very basic level, it’s also what non-profit organizations are seeking. We want people to understand us and we hope that seeing us and understanding us blends itself to caring and I think in many cases that can be true.
And in the process of seeking to be understood, we reap the financial benefits of storytelling.
For example, when Variety BC began consistently telling stories in their email program, they raised over $1.2 million in 15 months.
And when Dreams Indeed Foundation took a story-based approach to their Giving Tuesday campaign, they received an unsolicited major gift and raised over $80,000.
If you’re curious about some broader research on the impact of storytelling, I co-authored a whitepaper with Network for Good in 2015 that surveyed over 400 non-profit organizations.
Storytelling remains a powerful tool in our copywriting toolbox. While the types of stories we tell will evolve and our messaging shifts, the spirit of the tool remains — to connect with peoples’ hearts and minds to get them to care about something.