Facts and figures are great way to let people know about your organization’s amazing work and to quantify the results you achieve. But when you are trying to motivate people to support your organization, there is actually a lot of solid evidence that telling a single story will have a far greater impact than any statistic. So next time you’re trying to raise money or secure funding, try and appeal to people’s heart rather than their head.
Evolution has wired our brains to be more receptive to storytelling. It has been one of our most fundamental methods of communication since the first cave paintings were discovered over 27,000 years ago. The science behind storytelling is pretty simple. Stories are, in their simplest form, a connection of cause and effect, and this is how humans think. When people make a decision about donating money or funding a project, most people do not rationally calculate the benefit they can expect from their contribution, they make intuitive decisions based on reactions. There are various studies that have explored what makes people act most generously, and the research has all confirmed that feelings, not analytical thinking, drive people’s generosity.
The Identifiable Victim Effect
Mother Teresa, one of the most generous figures throughout history said “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” We often think that facts and figures are what motivates people, but the truth is they aren’t nearly as effective as storytelling. People pay greater attention and have stronger emotional reactions to stories about one individual victim they can identify with than talking about large numbers of victims. This is the reason baby Jessica who fell in a well many years ago got so much attention, while reports of millions of children going hungry or without education often go overlooked.
How to Tell Stories
Evocative, character-driven stories will result in the best connection between potential supporters or donors and your cause. In order to maximize a story’s connection to the viewer, it’s best to have one main character who is the ‘heart’ of the story. The best way to express your messaging is to explain how things are or were for the character, and how your organization has or can change things for the character, allowing your audience to make a clear cause and effect connection between the role that your organization plays in improving things for the character. Try to appeal to people’s emotions, not their rationality. It can be tempting to combine a story with a few statistics, but that’s not how people think. We are all one person and we connect best to one other person, and are therefore impacted more by a story with one lead person and their journey.
When telling a story, ensure that you captivate your audience from the start, keep the story short so people don’t lose interest, and end with a call to action. This call to action should explain your mission and clarify why as a potential donor or supporter someone should engage with your organization. Try and frame the character as the hero of the story; not a helpless victim, but rather someone who just needs a little empowerment from your supporters to achieve their goals.
More on Using Stories:
- How to Write a Fundraising Letter Using Stories to Draw Donors In
- Creating Stories Worth Sharing
- The Basics of Fundraising Letter Writing
About the Author: Sumac is part of the Silent Partner Software family, a company dedicated to providing exception software and services to nonprofits. With over 25 years of service, Silent Partner has helped organizations manage over 3 million donors and contacts across the US, Canada, UK, and Europe. Learn more.