Tips for Good Storytelling By Jane Jeffries
5 Tips for Good Storytelling in Fundraising
Good storytelling is what engages, invites, and compels a response from others.
Remember when you were young, and everyone eagerly gathered around the campfire to listen to statistics? Yeah, I don’t either. Because statistics don’t get our attention like a good story, especially in fundraising. Stories are how we connect emotionally and give a face to the cause. I’m a playwright, but I’m convinced that knowing how to tell a story well is important in any writing genre.
Here’s a story. Let’s talk about why it works.
She wanted love.
She just wanted to be seen.
That’s how Casey ended up being trafficked when she was 14. As a runaway, she craved what her older boyfriend gave her: attention and nice things, someone who would take care of her. He promised they could be together for life—but first, she needed to help him make some money.
She thought this was love.
She was anything but seen.
Here are five tips for good storytelling in fundraising:
(1) Invest in your characters.
The people in your stories have names, but because you can’t always use their names, at least choose a name that sounds believable. More importantly, write with someone specific in mind — either someone you have known in the situation or someone you can imagine in the situation. This way, it’s easier to care about your characters, and if you do, so will the audience.
You can take a long time to tell how someone ended up in human trafficking: poverty, the family background, the steps of manipulation, or the conditions she lived under. Most times, however, it’s more powerful to leave it to the imagination. The reader doesn’t need a lot of details to know what’s happening in the story. It’s heart-breaking. But before your reader starts scanning, you’ve told them the problem; the whole story took just 70 words.
(3) Tell the truth—don’t get dramatic.
If readers feel manipulated, you’ve lost them. You don’t need to embellish to get the reader to connect. Especially for a topic like sex trafficking, the reader doesn’t want all the horrific details. Your job is to report the problem as it is. Then trust your audience to connect the dots on their own.
(4) Don’t give away too much in the beginning.
If you tell the problem and solution all in the first paragraph, there’s no reason for the reader to keep reading. Set up the problem in the beginning of the story. Readers will keep reading because they want to know what happened to Casey and what can be done to help her. Good storytelling brings the reader in slowly and keeps them interested to the end.
(5) There’s an audience out there.
Writing to a general audience can make it hard for the writer to connect. However, if you write with someone specific in mind, you’re more likely to connect. For instance, how would I tell this story to someone who’s a “mover and shaker” in my community? How do I make it clear to Mr. _____ that this is a problem that we all need to fight? Writing to a real person in mind will help you focus your story.
For the important work of fundraising, improving your stories can only improve your connection with donors. It’s time to learn how to write great stories for your organization.
Jane Jeffries, with a background as a freelance writer and playwright, has a unique talent for storytelling, which is a highly effective tool for fundraising. In recent years, Jane has broadened her scope of writing. Her background in creative writing has made her an effective grant writer. She has written grants and fundraising letters for several non-profits and churches in her community and is a vital member of the Dickerson Bakker team.
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