Why don’t we tell more stories in our fundraising messaging? | npENGAGE

Why don’t we tell more stories in our fundraising messaging?

By on Jun 17, 2013


I recently attended the Cause Marketing Forum Conference and was reminded by a fabulous speaker why I love storytelling.  I also reminded that we don’t tell enough stories when communicating and marketing to our supporters.

I became a huge supporter of storytelling after I read the book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.  There’s a chapter in the book called Emotional – in this chapter the authors share a study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University to understand how people give to nonprofits.  Turns out we give from ours hearts vs. our heads.  Something we all know, but often forget when crafting our messaging.

Andy Goodman, our fabulous featured speaker, entertained us with a number of great studies including the now famous Carnegie Mellon/Save the Children example.  He also asked us if we knew why Peter Pan couldn’t grow up… of course we had no clue.  Andy shared that Peter told Wendy he couldn’t grow up because he didn’t know any more stories.  Wow… even Peter Pan knew the importance of stories.  So my question still stands – why don’t we tell more stories?

I’m a huge history fan.  Probably because I love a good story and history is just that – HIS Story or HER Story – one great long story of independence, sacrifice and success.  Stories are also used teach us how to behave and how to grow up (something Peter Pan lacked).  Andy reminded us that we remember stories (think about: today we have stories in our history books because they were verbally passed down until someone was able to write them down), but we tend to use numbers in our messages vs. stories.  Here’s the kicker… people don’t really remember numbers, we – nonprofit staff – are the only people that remember our stats.  Yet, most nonprofit messaging is filled with numbers – 1 in 5 are affected by this; 15 million people have that.  What does 1 in 5 really mean?  What does 15 million look like?  I have no idea.

Andy challenged us to stop talking and messaging with our nonprofit jargon (aka numbers) and asked us to start telling stories.  Let’s tell stories about what it feels like to be a survivor or to have lost a loved one or to have once been homeless and now have a home.  These stories will be remembered and shared by our supporters.  And isn’t that what we want?  We want people to remember why the cause is important.  We want people to share the cause with their network.  To accomplish this we must tell stories.

Andy shared a simple message to remind us why stories are important.  I loved his message, so I feel the need to pay it forward.  Always remember that: Numbers Numb and Stories are Stored.

I’d like to give a shout out and thanks to Melinda, who I met last week at the YWCA Conference. Thanks for being a loyal reader and letting me know how you’ve enjoyed the stories I share through my blog posts!

Throughout Andy’s talk he challenged us to change the conversation we’re having with supporters. That it’s time to inspire activity and the best way to do that is with stories. He closed with a story of a library and how a library took a bold approach to change the conversation.  It’s great and I thought I’d share it with you.




Amy Braiterman, principal strategy consultant at Blackbaud, supports customers with their peer-to-peer fundraising events with a process she refers to as “data-driven strategy.” Amy’s data driven strategy analyzes how effective event participants are using online fundraising tools and takes those results to develop an event fundraising plan. Prior to joining Blackbaud, Amy earned her fundraising stripes managing events for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Alzheimer’s Association and Share Our Strength. She shares her fundraising know how here on npENGAGE, by hosting educational webinars and speaking at customer conferences

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