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Last updated: 29-08-2022

Storytelling in fundraising

We all know that statistics and hard-hitting facts don't motivate people into giving. Hearing that your charity has been working with over 10,000 families over the last year can make your supporters feel like their donation is insignificant and probably doesn't make much difference.

In comparison, when we tell a story about one person, this makes it easier for our donors to relate to that person and empathise with their situation. This makes them feel more motivated to help. If you're interested in the jargon, that's what we call an "identifiable victim".

crowd of people with one circle around one person
Pick one person and tell their story to increase empathy and encourage others to donate.

Why does storytelling work?

You've probably noticed that there are some people who have raised thousands and thousands of pounds through their own fundraising challenges and online fundraising pages. Maybe you even work for one of the lucky charities who has benefited from their success?

So, how do they do it and what can we learn?

The answer: storytelling.

When someone decides to raise money for a cause they care about, the chances are that they have a personal reason for doing so. It could be that someone they love has been diagnosed with a particular illness or they want to say thank you to a charity that helped them in the past.

One of the reasons why these people are so successful in their fundraising is that they're not afraid to talk about why the cause is important to them on a personal level. Often, they describe the full details of the emotional roller coaster they've been on that has led them to decide to raise money. As we read their story, we feel many of the same emotions as them and this motivates us to join them and show our support.

Where are all the good stories?

If you work for a charity, you should be speaking to your donors and beneficiaries as often as possible to hear their stories. How did they become involved with your cause? Why is important to them? With permission, you can use these stories to motivate other people to give, either in your next mass fundraising appeal or simply in a one-to-one conversation.

You can gather a whole bank of stories in a variety of ways:

  • Meet with beneficiaries and donors, or speak to them on the phone
  • Ask people to send their stories to you by post
  • Invite people to share their stories online in their own words.
  • Read the stories that your individual fundraisers are sharing on their own fundraising pages

What makes a good story?

When you're telling a story, think about who you are talking to and what you why you are telling them. What is your desired outcome? It could be that you want the person to donate, volunteer or sign up to an event, for example.

Make sure your include these five things in the story:

  • Characters - Give a bit of a history about the people involved in your story to bring them to life. What are their interests or hobbies? How do they feel?
  • Setting - Describe where the story takes place. Use descriptive words to help others to imagine the setting and feel like they're in the same place. Can you talk about smells, sights or sounds?
  • Plot - A good story has a beginning, middle and end. Make sure yours does too!
  • Conflict - Keep the reader/listener interested by explaining some of the struggles or problems that your main character has faced.
  • Resolution - Conclude your story by talking about how the problem was resolved. Maybe your charity stepped in? Perhaps a donor was the hero who saved the day?

It's also really powerful to use lots of strong visuals when you're telling a story for fundraising. Use photos and videos to help your supporters to connect emotionally with your story, and they will be more likely to donate.

Which story should we use in our fundraising appeal?

It's up to you. Tell whichever story you think will resonate most with your donors. Try telling some stories to your colleagues and friends and see which one they think is best. You could even segment your database and send different stories to different donor segments.

Alternatively, rather than telling a story to your donors, why not ask them to tell you their own stories for your next appeal? The aim of storytelling in fundraising is to generate emotions, which makes a gift more likely. No matter how strong your story is, nothing will make a donor feel more emotional than thinking about their own personal reasons for supporting your cause. In addition, if you display all the reasons online, the stories will be an inspiration to others.

At Visufund, we can help you display supporter stories in an interactive and engaging way, whilst collecting donations at the same time! Have a look at what others are doing for inspiration!