Storytelling as a Fundraising Tool
A barbecue to welcome new students created a perfect stewardship opportunity at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Honors College. We invited the college’s lead donor, Dr. Linda Talbott. I motioned a student over to meet her. Turns out he has an amazing story. His family immigrated to Kansas City from Iran a few years ago. His family’s lifetime of struggle is paying off in this young man’s success. I have been thinking about him all week. I bet Dr. Talbott has, too.
People give to your organization because they care about those you serve. Research proves donors give based on emotion, not logic. And stories evoke emotion.
Here are a few examples of great storytelling we facilitated.
- University of Montana donor Tom Cotter on why he gives.
- Students wish Tom Cotter a happy birthday.
- Alumna Cynthia Johnson tells her story of triumph and why she volunteers for University of Central Missouri.
And here is my favorite campaign video, produced by the University of Sidney.
What makes a great story? Adrian Sargent, Ph.D., professor at the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, says, “Beautiful stories make the case for support!”
His formula for a beautiful story includes:
- Tell simple stories using simple words.
- Talk about positive outcomes.
- Make people feel something and remind them why they feel that way.
Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking: Fast and Slow, makes the case for storytelling this way: “When you are in a state of cognitive ease, you are probably in a good mood, like what you see, believe what you hear, trust your intuitions, and feel that the current situation is comfortably familiar.”
Create ease by keeping simple so people don’t have to work hard to understand he story. In addition, use common words to give people the illusion of familiarity.
Kahneman has other tips for creating cognitive ease include:
- Maximize legibility by carefully choosing fonts, bolding key phrases, etc.
- “Use high quality paper to maximize contrast between characters and their background.”
- Bright blue or red are more believable than lighter colors.
- “If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simple language will do. “
He also suggests making your message memorable in creative ways. You might create a rhyming verse to highlight your message. Think of the Proverb, “Little strokes will tumble great oaks.” Jingles in commercials, campaign theme songs and slogans are examples of making messages memorable.
This tip is a bit controversial because it may seem discriminatory. Kahneman says if you quote a source, use one that has a name that is easy to remember. “Recipients of a message want to stay away from anything that reminds them of effort,” he says.
Bottom line: Remember the KISS principle. Keep it Simple Sweetheart.