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Incorporating Stories Into Your Fundraising Program

Resource Center - Foundation

Webinar: On Oct. 8, Leah Eustace, ACFRE, chief idea goddess at Good Works, will present a webinar on “Incorporating Stories into Your Fundraising.” Click here to learn more and register!

leah eustaceGreat fundraisers know the power of great narrative. In this session directed towards intermediate-level fundraisers (though all are welcome), Leah will talk about the psychology around giving, and will provide real life examples of great stories in action. Below, Leah talks a little about her upcoming webinar.

Stories are what connect us as human beings. We use them to teach our children right from wrong. We use them to entertain each other. And, yes, we use them to raise money for our wonderful causes.

We humans have been telling stories ever since we developed our capacity for language. We love to tell stories, and we love to hear stories. Cognitive scientist Roger C. Schank puts it very well: "We humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; we ARE ideally set up to understand stories."

In this day and age, where we’re bombarded by an average of 5,000 marketing messages a day, fundraisers are constantly struggling with how to differentiate our cause from the many other great causes out there. How do we get our message heard?

Our Unique Difference

The thing about stories is that they are uniquely ours. No other organization (indeed no other human being) shares your story. So what better way to set yourself apart than by telling your stories?

Need further proof that stories are powerful? A number of years ago, Professor Paul Slovic and his colleagues started conducting research around decision-making. Specifically, they wanted to find out how and why donors decide to give to the causes they do. In one experiment, ordinary citizens were asked to contribute $5 to alleviate hunger abroad.

Those ordinary citizens were divided into three groups and each group was given a different version of the ask. In one version, the money would go to a particular girl, Rokia, a 7-year-old in Mali. In another, it would go to support 21 million hungry Africans. In the third version, the money would go to Rokia, but she was presented as a victim of a larger tapestry of global hunger.

And guess what? Those ordinary citizens gave the most to the first version of the ask, where Rokia’s story was told simply and individually. They were less likely to give to anonymous millions, but they were also less likely to give when Rokia’s story was put in the context of global hunger.

Donors will even give more when it doesn’t logically make any sense. In another experiment, ordinary citizens were divided into two groups. One version of the ask was in support of a $300,000 piece of medical equipment that would save eight lives. The other version of the ask was in support of that same $300,000 piece of medical equipment, but in this version it would save only one life. Guess what? More money was raised when only one life was saved.


Learning More From This Insight

So how do we take advantage of this knowledge? How do we reduce our cause down to the story of one individual? How do we, in our fundraising, engage emotions in an effective, ethical and respectful way? How do we craft a story that finds the fine balance between hope and despair, while also being authentic and truthful?

In my webinar on October 8th, I’ll be giving more insights into the science of decision-making. We’ll talk about story structure, how to write a good story and where to find your stories. I’ll also share many examples of storytelling at its best, told using different communications vehicles.

I look forward to the conversation!

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