Fundraising: Finding the balance between storytelling and sensationalism 5 months ago

There’s no doubt that telling a compelling story is at the heart of any successful fundraising campaign.

Sharing the ‘why’ for your cause is the crucial element that attracts an audience and keeps them engaged.

Sharing the stories of communities your cause has helped also fulfills an obligation to your donors. Not only to make them feel like valuable members of the family, but also to demonstrate how their crucial donations are utilised. A good story teller won’t just tell a donor how they’ve helped, they’ll make them FEEL the value of their support.

In short, the future of your charity depends on your ability to tell a story well.

So as story-telling becomes second nature in networking, daily campaigns and strategy building, it can be easy to get ino the habit of being overly-dramatic for the sake of it.

After all, aren’t suspense and intrigue supposed to be at the crux of any good story?

Yes and no.

We’ve all read the uncomfortable headlines about bloodshed and violence, abuse and illness.

The ‘donate now, or people will suffer’ scenarios.

Storytelling is an essential skill in fundraising, but there’s a fine line between engaging an audience and going too far, and that’s a line fundraisers must never cross.

To avoid deterring your audience with stories that are nothing short of uncomfortable, before you publish or share your story, ask yourself the following questions:

Is it your story to tell?

Are you telling the story of why you started your charity?

Are you sharing your personal experience to encourage someone to become a supporter of your charity?

Or, are you recounting someone else’s version of events?

If it’s the former, the details of your story will have enough emotion attached to stir empathy without the need for you to embellish on the truth or needlessly over-dramatise.

If it’s the latter, be very wary of adding details because you think that would create intrigue or excitement. To retain your credibility, you must always stick to the exact version of events.

It goes without saying that you should always seek approval from the person whose story you’re telling and where possible, ask them to read over your presentation or appeal letter before it goes to the public which will help you keep the details in check.

How are you delivering the story?

Are you telling the story by reading a script to a room full of people? Are you sharing the details in an appeal letter? Or are you engaging the audience, asking questions, and delivering a heartfelt story with emotion?

If your delivery is appropriate, you won’t need to embellish on the details or add elements to sensationalise because your approach to public speaking will create the urgency and emotion for you.

Is it truthful?

There are many people who ‘don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story’! Don’t become one!  If you can’t put your hand on your heart and ‘pinkie promise’ that something happened precisely the way it did, take it out.

‘Close enough’ doesn’t work either. Remove anything that is not 100% factual.

People don’t subscribe to you for the drama; they follow you because they have a heart for your cause and that should be your primary focus.

Does it relate to your cause?

The reason you’re telling the story is to encourage support of your cause either financial or otherwise.

Does this story encompass that need or are you going off on a tangent merely because it sounds good? Every word of your story should build a picture that garners support but if you’re bringing in unnecessary details purely because they create more excitement…take them out!

What are the benefits of telling your story?

Are you encouraging people to donate to help someone else who may find themselves in a similar situation? Are you building your brand to help further your impact in the community? Or are you just enjoying having the attention of a captive audience?

If you can’t identify clear benefits to your charity of telling the story, there’s a chance you’re saying it just for the sake of it which will make it easier to exaggerate the details.

While it can appear like a fine line, there’s a very happy medium between story-telling and sensationalism, and once you master the skill, you can guarantee yourself a captive audience – in person or print – to help your charity grow.

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