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The Power of Storytelling: Six Top Tips

  • Mike Zywina is an experienced fundraiser and the founder of Lime Green Consulting, providing affordable consultancy to smaller charities specialising in fundraising strategy, events management and individual giving. He is also a trustee for AbleChildAfrica and an ambassador for Good News Shared. 

    Sunday 20 March is World Storytelling Day, an annual celebration of the art of storytelling. Given that charities typically have a wealth of inspirational material at their fingertips, this is a timely reminder of what we could achieve if we used stories more to inspire our supporters and share our key messages.

    There’s no doubt about it, the humble story is still holding its own. In a world full of data, statistics and spreadsheets, there are loads of ways that charities can demonstrate their impressive impact and the hard-hitting reality of the problem they’re trying to solve. Yet studies have repeatedly proved that most people are more inspired by a great story, a compelling case study, and the impact their donation can have on a single beneficiary.

    Stories captivate us on an emotional level in a way that rational facts rarely can – and many of us trust our heart over our head when making decisions such as donating to a charity or buying a product. Stories can burn an image onto our brain and help us to make sense of the world and our experiences. They’re a bigger driver of our behaviour than many of us realise.

    Commercial Storytelling

    Many companies are brilliant at exploiting this. Frequently the story dominates to such an extent that the product is barely mentioned. The John Lewis Christmas advert feels like the official opening ceremony for the festive period these days – who can forget last year’s man on the moon? This love story about milk bottles is actually about something completely different, but you wouldn’t know it until the very end.

     

    Charities are learning fast

    Charities are increasingly harnessing the power of storytelling to stand out in a world where there are thousands of good causes competing for our donations and attention.

    As charities, we enjoy the natural advantage of having powerful and inspiring stories to tell. We support people who battle against personal challenges, often showing huge courage in the face of adversity. Our heroic supporters dedicate their time, energy and creativity to volunteering and quirky fundraising efforts.

    Telling a story is a great way of explaining your vision of a better world and what needs to change. Stories are memorable and easy for your supporters to share with others, and they motivate staff and volunteers. In a world where we are more interconnected than ever, this is really powerful.

    A great example is the remarkable story of Stephen Sutton, who turned his battle with cancer into a £4million fundraising effort for Teenage Cancer Trust. Stephen’s personal story inspired millions of people to take action in a way that no statistic or charity newsletter could have done.

    Stories are a great ‘leveller’ for smaller charities

    You may not have the budget for that expensive marketing campaign or fundraising app, but your stories cost nothing to find and little to share. However, in my experience, many charities don’t capitalise on this, perhaps because they don’t take the time to look within themselves for a great story, or don’t realise quite how inspirational that story could be.

    Here are my six top tips for telling your own powerful stories:

    1. Delve deep into your organisation – trustees and senior management don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. The best stories are unlikely to emerge from your boardroom. You need to engage project staff, volunteers, beneficiaries and fundraisers. This is a great way to find authentic content and engage everybody from top to bottom in the task of finding the story that best represents your cause.

    Good News Shared logo2. Keep it positive – evidence shows that people are tired of ‘traditional’ charity appeals about suffering and pain. Increasingly we must deal in hope, change and happy endings. If you’re looking for inspiration then I’m proud to be an ambassador for Good News Shared, a website which shares brilliant stories that showcase the positive and inspiring work done by charities and social enterprises.

    Check out www.goodnewsshared.com for some storytelling inspiration

    3. Faces not figures – a personal story is always more memorable than even a powerful statistic. Make your story about one inspiring individual and include photos and background information to make it feel more authentic.

    4. Mix your media – no matter how good the story, too much text will always put people off. We live in a world full of videos, audio books and infographics, and organisations are finding ever more creative ways to share their content. So keep the text to a minimum, use plenty of vivid images and try creating a video of your story – it doesn't have to be professionally produced to be engaging.

    5. Make it easy to share – why do all the hard work yourself? Every person has the potential to spread the word to others. You never know who may mention you to a company, trust or high value donor. Encourage supporters to share your stories by making them clear, memorable, short and bursting with pride.

    6. What next? Don’t leave your supporters wondering what they can do to help. Finish with a clear call to action – this could be a request to donate a certain amount, sign up to an event or share the story on social media.


    Why not mark this year’s World Storytelling Day by spending a few minutes thinking about how your charity can be better at storytelling? Here’s some further inspiration to help you:

    For further advice on supporter communication and fundraising, please visit www.limegreenconsulting.co.uk or download our free fundraising helpsheets.

     

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     How Charities can tap into the hyperlocal by Zoe Amar