Monday Mixtape 029: Storytelling Tips That Will 10x Your Fundraising Results
Here’s your Monday Mixtape, a weekly newsletter from CauseVox designed to jumpstart your week, challenge your thinking, and inspire you to keep at it.
Each week, we’ll hand-pick must-read articles, thinking, resources, and stories for nonprofit fundraisers and leaders and drop it in your inbox. Have suggestions or questions? Let us know at email@example.com. Enjoy this week’s Mixtape!
“Does storytelling really help you raise money? What does that look like?”
^ Yes! And, let me show you …
Storytelling is what drives fundraising. It engages the brain, activates empathy, and stimulates memory. It helps people understand what your organization does and why it matters in a real way.
It transforms dry numbers into powerful information. It turns donors into heroes and inspires giving.
So let’s talk storytelling.
Here’s this week’s mix:
“As long as we are engaged in storytelling that moves the culture forward, it doesn’t matter what format it is.” —LeVar Burton
Track #1: Best Practices in Nonprofit Storytelling∼How To Structure Your Stories by Julia Campbell at Marketing for the Modern Nonprofit
There are many ways to structure a story, but don’t overlook the basics. In this excerpt from her book Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide For Nonprofits, Julia Campbell explains the good-old storytelling structure you probably learned about in middle school English, and how it applies to fundraising.
Julia gives a quick rundown on traditional story structure, which includes a narrative arc with a beginning, middle, and an end, a protagonist, and an antagonist. She then creates an example of how this storytelling could work in a nonprofit setting.
In addition to the narrative structure, Julia provides plenty of good advice for nonprofit storytellers. I particularly liked her point that nonprofit stories are often messy and complicated, and that you don’t have to present a perfect image in your storytelling. In fact, endings that are too perfect may ring false to donors.
Track #2: Storytelling Tips From Author KM Weiland by Khaled Allen at CauseVox
KM Weiland is an author of novels and books on writing and storytelling. Khaled interviewed her to learn how creative writing best practices apply to telling nonprofit stories.
Obviously, we’re not writing fundraising novels. But we can use some of the same techniques that fiction writers do to grab readers’ attention, deepen their connection to the “characters,” and keep them engaged all the way to the end.
One interesting point of discussion is the differences and similarities between writing fiction and writing about things that are real. In fiction, you can re-order events, change characters, and do whatever best suits your story. Real life is a little trickier. Here, Weiland suggests that while the relationship to the truth is different, the tools of storytelling are the same. You can still play with the pace and structure of your story, without making anything up.
Each of Weiland’s points is supplemented with nonprofit-specific applications, which is very handy. It’s an interesting approach to nonprofit writing, and I think it’s worth a read.
Last year, The Painted Turtle exceeded their goal by 50%—raising $38k to fund children’s camp opportunities.
So, we recently chatted with Pamela Kuhr, The Painted Turtle’s Annual Giving Manager, to dig into their success and find out what they specifically did to exceed their goal.
I’ve put together a summary of the learnings and insights for you here.
Track #3: Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling by Paul J. Zak at Harvard Business Review
Storytelling is sometimes considered the fluffy, feel-good part of fundraising, but it’s really rather scientific. Telling stories works for fundraising because of how the brain interacts with narrative. In this piece, Paul J.Zak explains the chemical components of storytelling and empathy.
Oxytocin is a neurochemical that signals to our brain that it’s safe to approach others, and inspires cooperation with other people. Experiments showed that character-driven narratives consistently cause oxytocin synthesis—stories can “hack” the process and stimulate empathy.
The science relates directly to things like narrative structure. Zak writes,“ We discovered that, in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention – a scarce resource in the brain – by developing tension during the narrative.” That’s a learnable creative writing skill, plain and simple.
Track #4: Quick Tip: How To Use A Storytelling Grid To Develop Stories by Rob Wu at CauseVox
Do you wish you had a methodical way to develop and distribute your nonprofit stories? Look no further than this tool from CauseVox’s own CEO, Rob Wu.
A storytelling grid is a framework built on two dimensions: Beat and Channel. Beats are the kinds of content you might share, like impact stories, plot, and news and updates. Channels are where the content is distributed.
Rob demonstrates how to use a storytelling grid to chart out twenty different kinds of stories, and then shows some great nonprofit examples and how they’d align on the grid. By planning how you’ll distribute stories before you create them, you’ll be able to get the most out of each story and the channel you create it for. Neat!
Thanks for reading!
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P.S. Questions about this week’s mix? Suggestions for next week? Don’t leave me in the dark. Let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.