We all like a good story. But why are they so important to fundraisers, and why will they be even more important in the future?
Marketing is changing (see July 9th post) – no longer can you broadcast your message and expect people to listen or remember what you have to say. It’s now about engagement. And to engage people you need to have something interesting to say in a way that people will remember.
This is why stories are so important. If something is presented as a story it is TWENTY times more memorable. If you want to know the science behind why this is the case, check out Brain Power by John Medina. But for now just take it from me, if you can wrap something in emotion you will remember it. And when you share it so do other people. And what’s more they pass the story on. They don’t remember lots of statistics or case studies, which we seem to churn out.
What makes a powerful story
So what is a story and what are its key elements? I came across this definition when listening to a BBC Radio 4 programme some years ago called Jackanory Politics. The programme was about how politicians use storytelling. It was riveting, and I ended up downloading the podcast and listening again and again.
In this context they defined a story as “fact wrapped in emotion that compels an action that produces a change”. Hey, I like that. Works for us fundraisers – compelling action – producing a change.
So what makes one story compelling and another story less compelling? All the great storytellers – I’m thinking Spielberg here – include five key elements.
- The hero, who provides a point of view
- The a problem the hero is confronting
- An antagonist – sometimes that’s personified as a villain, but it’s really just an obstacle
- A moment of awareness that allows the hero to overcome that obstacle – the “ahhhh” moment.
- And finally the change that occurs.
Quite often people leave out the moment of awareness, but great storytellers always put it in. And for fundraising I would say it’s critical.
There’s one element missing from the list above and thats YOU i.e. the story teller, and the passion with which you tell it. This is where I often see fundraisers remove themselves from the story.
To inspire one another we had a storytelling session at ActionAid amongst us fundraisers. I asked everyone to think about the five elements above (six if you include the storyteller). We simply stood up and told our stories. It was a great session. Afterwards I asked people to give me a copy of their story in writing. And that was the interesting bit. What I found is that when they wrote the story people left out their own anecdotes and the feelings that they had shared when speaking it. The stories had turned into dry case studies. Those ‘moments of awareness’ had gone.
I think it has to do with when we sit down to write something. We seem to take out the ‘i’. The story we write is rarely the story we would tell around a camp fire or in the pub. To counter this I ended up asking a select few to record their story on digital audio recorder or video. Surprise surprise, the anecdotes and moments of awareness returned. What does this tell us? When we write, be concious not to drop out those moments. And it also says why audio and video will be, if they aren’t already, increasingly important – because it’s a format that allows people to tell great stories naturally. So when you have a great story, tell someone about it, maybe even record it, and then when you come to write it you have a better chance of keeping in all the aspects that make it a compelling and memorable story.
In a world where you now need to engage with people, not ‘shout’ at them, being able to tell memorable stories is going to be key.