President and Creative Director, Barefoot Creative
I am a storyteller.
I personally write hundreds of appeals and newsletters every year. I love crafting a fundraising offer – it is personal, attention-gripping and, yes, it can be transformational. But let me share a tiny insight – a challenge I run into almost every day.
Fundraising organizations exchange organizational information for the power of a story. I have no idea why. We know that a story engages far more centres in the brain. We know that a story invites the readers to read more. We know that stories motivate compassion and response.
It seems to me fundraising organizations should be champions of storytelling.
Perhaps it comes from the misnomer that education happens in a lecture. I’m not sure who started that myth. I know that educators world-wide perpetuate it. But it is simply not true. Current studies in brain response to story affirm the power of storytelling
As a young student I attended two graduation exercises. The same speaker spoke at both of them. Idealist that I am, and the fact that there was significant overlap in the audience, I expected him to deliver 2 different speeches.
But he didn’t.
Fascinatingly, I didn’t catch on until his first story. Then, as I listened more attentively, I realized that he hadn’t bothered to change anything. I only remembered the story. It seemed to me that he would have been brilliant if he had simply replaced the story – no one would have known. The most poignant memory of his speech was the story.
The story challenges the listener or reader to link analogies, discover the journey, build the bridges between characters. Most of all, the story introduces us to people who are like us and not like us – but just enough like us to make us interested in their lives. Listeners and readers immediately begin to solve the story’s core problems, cheering for the hero and booing the villain. The brain imagines the scene, the character, the problem and the solution.
The great storyteller begins with an innate sense of curiosity. The storyteller is on a quest to understand why and who and how and what and where. They want to understand the poignant details. (Join me at the national AFP conference…. I’ll share concrete examples there)
My husband just doesn’t get it. Seriously (but then, he’s not a story teller). When he gets off the phone with his mother – I have about 57 questions. Did he think to ask one of them? Curiosity didn’t kill the cat – it got the story. (More at the conference… )
Your depiction of the people in the story must be human – even if they live in another country, there are thousands of ways they can relate to your audience. You need to find them in your neighbourhood, down your street, in the mall… you can make them human by the way you describe them. As the longevity and universal appeal of Shakespeare has illustrated many. Many times – the human story has not changed all that much.
As a writer/fundraiser/ storyteller you tell some extremely difficult stories. That is a distinct gift. Hone it!
Gayle is the founder and president of Barefoot Creative. For more than 20 years she has been walking alongside nonprofits, helping to develop and implement fund raising strategies that inspire donors to engage and contribute. Her academic background and graduate degree in Canadian Literature and Post-Modern Critical Theory inspire a unique approach to applying foundational fund development and marketing strategies to help non-profits grow. She will be presenting at Congress 2014 in Toronto.