When writing a story to raise money, an essential part of the story is a conflict. A problem or conflict in a story naturally builds a case for giving. Conflict demonstrates a clear problem that donors can solve by making a donation. For a lot of non-profit causes, the conflict is clear, high-stakes, and very motivating.
However, many students and clients I work with compare their cause with others and doubt that they have a compelling enough conflict for a story.
In this article, we’re going to re-visit the importance of conflict in non-profit stories and discuss how to frame your conflict so that it’s motivating to your audience.
Causes and Stories with No Conflict
There are a variety of different stories you can tell about your non-profit. In the context of fundraising the most common stories that we tell are impact stories and stories about people.
Impact stories work well for fundraising because they demonstrate a need that donors can meet through donating. Having a need is absolutely essential to fundraising success.
But impact stories are just one type of story we can tell. While they are the kind of story that tends to rely most on conflict, 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 an impact story will have.
For example, a profile about a staff member is not likely to highlight conflict. It is more likely to emphasize their passion for the cause and how they have turned that passion into a meaningful career. This kind of story will still articulate values that donors connect with and could be motivating in a different way.
Fundraising Stories with “Low” Stakes
Organizations that provide human service work or international development typically have very clear, recognizable conflict that seems high stakes.
But what about arts organizations or museums? What about schools or conservation causes?
It’s true – conflict is less recognizable and lower stakes for certain causes. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Here is the important thing to know – conflict and the stakes of the conflict are a result of perspective and framing. This is where your storytelling work boils down to effective messaging.
For example, let’s say you’re a local children’s theater company. You are in an affluent neighborhood, so typically the children are not at risk. 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 frame 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 were it not for this program.
Returning back to our theater 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 theater 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.
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