Storytelling has been the buzzword for a while now in the non-profit sector. We constantly hear that “we need to be telling our organization’s stories.” It has rapidly become something we all feel we need to do as a part of our fundraising, marketing, and communications strategies.
But what’s the point of telling a story? Really, why are we doing it?
This question came up for me last week while I was preparing to speak at the AFP Fraser Valley breakfast. I was putting together my speaking notes to give a presentation on the basics of storytelling for fundraisers. While I was jotting down tactical tips that people could use, and preparing to dissect a few examples of storytelling, I started to wonder if I was missing an essential piece of information in this presentation. I realized that the missing piece of information is the answer to this very question – what’s the point of telling a story?
I believe that being connected to our intentions—and understanding the bigger picture of what we’re doing—is imperative to success. But before I tell you about the intention that I believe drives storytelling, I want to tell you a story.
Cancer And Multiple Sclerosis. What’s The Connection?
One of my clients is Cancer Care Connection based in Delaware. They provide a social work model to support people who are affected by cancer—patients, families, and friends—through coaching, counseling and resource referrals.
I haven’t personally been affected by cancer, so when I first started consulting for them,, I didn’t feel like I had an immediate connection to their work. But that changed last month when I was visiting. I had a chance to sit down with one of their Cancer Resource Coaches, Kathie. We were talking about why people call their toll free number and what kinds of common requests she hears. She said that one of the calls she’s been receiving often in the last few months is from adult children who have a parent who has been diagnosed with cancer. Their parent has either elected different treatment or is considering a hospice, but the child is having a hard time accepting their choice.
When I heard Kathie’s story, I got goose bumps all over. I know that feeling, the conflict that child of a cancer patient is going through. My mother has Multiple Sclerosis. She was diagnosed when I was twelve years old, and it’s been something that has greatly impacted our family (see the picture of my mom and me, above). I remember when she decided to stop her treatments about eight years ago; I had a really difficult time accepting her choice. I wanted her to do what the doctors recommended. I wanted her to have a great quality of life and to still have her vision and mobility. But I felt so helpless: because there is no cure for M.S; because of how this disease affects my mom. I felt helpless in the same way those children do when they call Cancer Care Connection. All of the love and care they have for their parents can’t heal them. It is one of the most gut-wrenching feelings I’ve ever experienced.
So as Kathie and I sat there talking about these kinds of calls, I got goose bumps because, while it might not be exactly same situation, it’s the same emotion. That feeling continues to ring through me, and reminds me of the people I’m helping Cancer Care Connection to support. It has connected all of us.
It’s All About How You Make Someone Feel
My initial experience with Cancer Care Connection might be what it’s like for people who are not donors to your cause. It also might be the experience that some of your donors have right now. They don’t feel they have a really strong connection to your cause. They choose to give because they want to do good, but they are lacking that stronger conviction.
They may not have a direct connection to your mission, but chances are that they will probably be able to relate through some other life experience they have had.
This is the point of telling stories. It’s about connecting people through feelings and emotions they can relate to personally. All too often, we forget about this basic intention of telling a story.
This week, I encourage you to think about the emotions and feelings to which you’re trying to connect your donors and your community. What emotions are your clients having when they come to your organization for support? How can you better convey their unique experiences through the stories you tell?
Please leave a comment below and tell me about the emotions that you’re trying to connect people to.
We’re trying to connect people to the ARTS! It’s hard to channel charitable giving to an organization that isn’t trying to assist with medical/health conditions or feeding the needy, etc. We want folks excited about the arts–every kind–and supporting them financially through donations, not just attendance.
Vanessa Chase says
Hi Georgia! Yes, the arts is another type of cause where it’s important to have people empathize and relate. I actually went to a performance last night (“One Man Star Wars Trilogy,” and yes, it was epic!) and at the end of the performance the actor sat on a chair on stage and talked candidly about his 14 years of performing this show. He talk about how the Vancouver Fringe Festival was were it really started for him and how that one opportunity had brought him so many more opportunities. I could really tell that he was genuinely passionate and so grateful. Although he didn’t make an ask for people to donate, it would have been a perfect opportunity to connect attendees with the larger impact the Festival has on people’s lives – giving them a chance to live their dream. Now that’s something that everyone can relate to!
We are trying to connect donors to our monthly needs. We offer many different causes through our monthly donation site that we should be able to connect with at least one of them! We are offering monthly donations for the steady monetary stream to cover such things as: our critically endangered Wyoming Toad project, 1 yr supply of mask cleaner for our scuba divers, annual vet exam for 1 otter or beaver, 1 week supply of fruits and vegetables to feed our tortoises and much more! Starting the storytelling of/to our donors sounds like such a connecting way to encourage more donations!
Thank you for sharing your insights on the feelings/emotions an adult child experiences when faced with the reality that a parent is seriously, and perhaps chronically, ill. It’s frustrating and frightening, as you know.
My non-profit, The Home for Aged People in Fall River, cares for elders in the community who can no longer care for themselves. Since 1891 (over 130 years!), The Home has also provided endowment care for many.
One of our residents was the last known first class survivor of the Titanic. This, and many other wonderful stories, are all part of our long history.
I embrace the ‘storytelling’ concept in fundraising for our organization, wholeheartedly, but am a bit at a loss as to how to do it without compromising our Residents’ dignity and privacy.
Wishing you and your Mom well!
We are in the final stages of building a center for our community which is only a few hundred strong. We find it hard to make an emotional appeal as it is not for a medical/health condition or for helping children or a shelter etc. How do we get them excited about making substantial size donations?
HI, reading this made me think of a way to better connect to the recipients of our foundations funds to our donors. Our foundation supports residents living in our continuing care retirement communities. To respect their dignity and anonimity we do not know who are recipients, so meeting these residents face to face is impossible. My thought, and approach I would like to explore is sending a letter requesting a written interview, one asking questions that will allow the recipient to tell his/her story and the impact the gift has on their lives without identifying themselves. How do we begin this process so our elderly residents are not put off? What types of questions should I be asking?
Beth Wood says
Here’s my intro story, based on what you just taught me. Can you give me any feedback?
I believe that being connected to our intentions—and understanding the bigger picture of what we’re doing—is imperative to success. But before I tell you about my intention I want to tell you a story.
One day last spring as branch president, I frantically searched for information about Equal Pay Day on AAUW-org so we could have a tabling event. I happened to glance at a photo and story of a young tech worker, Lara, who had the courage to tell her story about the lack of equal pay and opportunity publically. She worked in Silcon Valley, where I worked in tech from 1980 to 2008.
When she described the tech industry as “a little snake pit of the patriarchy”, it caught my attention and I read further.
She said” “I felt other people’s discomfort around me, specifically male leaders at specific companies,” Lara says. “I didn’t fit the typical mold of the type of people they normally talk to, and I found that occasionally I’d be characterized as intimidating.”
As I read more of Lara’s story, I got goose bumps all over. I remember that feeling—It’s gut renching. Wanting to belong, working hard at it, but never feeling ok. Never feeling like I belonged there. Working hard and yet not realizing the financial benefits our family needed.
That story re-fueled me and propelled me to go to Bellevue Campus and try and raise awareness among students about the lack of pay equity – STILL.
Now Lara is a senior engineering manager for the online marketplace Etsy, where she she is happy to be with a company that works to be a force for good. But she knows that as a whole, the technology industry is a tough place for women.
That feeling continues to ring through me, and reminds me of the people I’m helping AAUW to support. The feeling of wanting respect and due reward connects all of us. I want young women to have a great life.
My experience might be what it is like for people who are not donors or members of AAUW. Maybe they don’t have a really strong connection to AAUW. But chances are they will probably relate through some other life experience they have had. Our job is to provide the communications which will connect them with their feelings and desire to correct these injustices.