Storytelling in Fundraising: When Your Donor Responds with These Five Simple Words, You’ve Succeeded

Books and articles on storytelling and narrative in fundraising are proliferating nearly as quickly as bad storytelling and narrative in fundraising (could there be a connection?). In an effort to bring some rule-of-thumb type clarity to an increasingly foggy subject, permit me to share the five word response you need to be seeking from your hearers each time you speak:

I see myself in you.

In other words, you know you’ve succeeded in your storytelling efforts if at the conclusion of your story your listener feels two things:

  1. “This person has articulated something I believe passionately that I’ve never been able to put into words.”
  2. “This person is like a more mature version of myself. Our stories have a lot in common, only this person is three chapters beyond where I’m at.”

 This is in contrast with the five word response that most fundraisers inadvertently (or–gulp–intentionally!) elicit in response to the stories they tell:

I could never do that.

Sadly, fundraisers feel they’re on the way to fundraising success when, after a presentation, audience members shake their hands and say, “Man, you are great! I could never do what you do.” For the records, that roughly translates into: And I don’t plan to do what you do, or to support you in your doing it, either.

Brian McDonald is the author of The Golden Theme–the best book on storytelling for fundraisers. (Read the whole thing online here or order a paperback copy cheaply from amazon here).

Writes McDonald:

This simple sentence, we are all the same, is the Golden theme that all stories express.

And it is my first belief that the closer a story comes to illuminating this truth, the more powerful and universal it becomes, and the more people are touched by it.

Master organizational storyteller Thaler Pekar puts it, well, masterfully, in her recent post on Stanford Social Innovation Review, The Benefits of Building a Narrative Organization:

In every organization, there is the big story—the organizational narrative—and the smaller stories that support, reiterate, and personalize the larger narrative. Your organization’s narrative is at the core of its values, mission, and actions. Your brand is strengthened when the smaller stories are consistently refreshed and shared. LIVESTRONG, formerly the Lance Armstrong Foundation, offers a terrific example of a strong organizational narrative, consistently supported with stories from cancer survivors and caregivers.

Sum it up and say:

Your story: The big story

Your donors’ stories: The smaller stories

To the degree that donors and potential donors see their smaller stories as aligned and connected to your big story, with your big story just a more mature and developed version than their own, you’re on the way to fundraising success.

To the degree that they don’t, the handshake and hearty words of praise you receive when you step down from the platform are all you’re going to get.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Seoul USA, a multinational, multicultural ministry supporting the work of the indigenous underground church in North Korea and the spreading of historic underground Christian discipleship practices worldwide. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Mrs. Foley oversee a far-flung staff in the US and across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. Pastor Foley is Dean of Underground University, a missionary training college for North Koreans. He is committed to equipping North Korean church leaders for comprehensive underground Christian service. He is presently a candidate for the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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