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Tips & guides 3,234 views May 03, 2017
The Subconscious Effects of Storytelling in Charity Marketing

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to an NGO for rescuing chained or caged dogs. Their Facebook page had sweet intros to all the animals awaiting adoption and featured photos of their daily activities at the rescue center. Over time, I got quite familiar with the dogs there just through their social media feed. Even though the organization is in a different state and I’ve never actually met the dogs, I felt a personal bond and continue to donate towards their well being, ever so often.


That bond is developed through the compelling power of storytelling.

Well, sure, as a dog lover, I’ve always had a soft spot for those fuzzy goofballs. However, Storytelling can help get you build an emotional connection between the audience and any character by affecting their subconscious.

Let’s have a look at how these subconscious effects come into play and the approach to making it work in marketing your charity.

1) Help the audience reach the conclusion

One of the primary rules of storytelling is “Show; don’t tell”. Instead of stating facts about the good guy and the bad guy, the characters are introduced through their actions and decisions. We start to root for the protagonist because the story aligns our values and morals with whatever the protagonist is fighting for. Since the story guides our emotions through these subconscious decisions, the choice of which side we relate to doesn’t seem forced upon us.

In a similar way, your charity has to let the audience come to the conclusion that you are working for something positive. Giving them facts and figures is fine but real-world examples allow them to decide whether they support your cause.

2. Offer a fresh take on a common story structure

If you look closely at the overall story of classic books and movies, they are almost the same - a hero taking on something beyond their depth, a larger-than-life villain threatening to ruin the world forever and even parallel ups and downs of the characters as the hero journeys to save the world. But every time the storyteller gives their personal spin on the characters and what’s at stake in the world. This makes the audience stay hooked throughout.

When it comes to your charity, come up with a fresh perspective to the problem so that people can imagine their contribution doing its part to lead to a better world.

3. Build trust through familiarity

In stories, the protagonist is never someone very different from us. Even if the story is set in a different world or features characters that aren’t human, the storyteller gives them a touch of personality people can relate to. That is because when our brain encounters something familiar, it makes us comfortable. We are more likely to trust in someone that comes across as familiar.

This subconscious effect is very important when it comes to building trust for your charity. Create a logo and an identity that people can recognise. Have an active social media presence and talk about the progress made through your activities.

4. Have stories of redemption to share

A redemption arc is another classic storytelling element that makes the hero a star in our eyes - halfway through the story, the hero faces the main villain, loses the battle and, is often, left in a poor state. But being the hero, he doesn’t quit. The rise of the fallen hero makes us root for his cause even more.

Share stories where your charity or someone you’ve worked with goes on against the insurmountable odds working against them. You gain more admiration for trying than for success.

5. Show how the world you are trying to fix is broken

Storytellers make a point to drive home the bleak reality in store in case the protagonist fails. It is not a world people want to be a part of. In fact, it is made clear how the world will change and end up worse than how it was at the outset of the tale if the bad guy is not stopped. Projecting this dark future is important to ensure no one wants the villain to win.

Of course, in the real world, the cause you’re working for might not be so dire. People will only be willing to do their bit if you make sure they can envision how bad things would be if you did nothing. Project the alternative and help the audience see how it will worsen the situation in the future. A lot more people will be willing to step up and do their part for your initiative.

These subconscious effects are part of human thought and reaction. They have been used in storytelling for centuries to guide the audience’s emotional journey. Use these in your charity marketing to increase support for your cause.

Augustus Franklin is the founder and CEO of CallHub, a California-based Voice and SMS service company bridging the communication gap for political campaigns and advocacy groups. When he is not working, he is either making toys with his kids or training for a marathon.

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