We all know we’re supposed to be telling more stories in our fundraising – but why are so few of us doing it, or doing it well?
It can be challenging to break the cycle of same-old, same-old non-profit communications – especially if your boss or board didn’t get the memo about the power storytelling has to deeply connect with, and motivate, your donors.
There’s a foolproof recipe for great storytelling that I’ll be sharing with you in a moment.
But first, the amateur neurobiology nerd in me wants to know – why does this stuff work?
Why does storytelling work?
When we hear a great story, two neurochemicals get released into our brains: oxytocin and cortisol.
Sometimes referred to as the “love hormone” or the “cuddle hormone”, oxytocin is released when people snuggle up, or bond socially, and plays a key role in mother-child bonding.
It creates feelings of empathy, caring and generosity – when the brain synthesizes oxytocin, people are more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate.
Cortisol may be familiar to you as the “stress hormone” – poor cortisol has gotten a lot of bad press lately, with some outlets going as far as calling it public health enemy #1.
Despite the negative publicity, cortisol is not all bad – in fact, it actually plays an important and necessary role in helping us focus, and in keeping our attention.
There have been some interesting studies on the connection between giving, and oxytocin and cortisol.
In one of the best known studies, neuroeconomist (yes, there is such a thing!) Paul Zak showed participants a video telling an effectively structured story, and then gave them the opportunity to share money with a stranger in the lab.
The likelihood that they shared with a stranger, and the amount of money they gave rose the more oxytocin was present in their bloodstream.
Now that’s a story to tell to your boss - scientific proof telling great stories to your donors can increase generosity!
What makes a great story?
There’s a specific structure your stories must use to be truly effective.
I certainly can’t take credit for it – the dramatic arc (or narrative arc) has existed in some form or another since humans first started telling stories.
Let’s break this down, and look at the components your story needs to have to be truly effective in motivating your donors.
It’s one hero…
…pitted against a problem
It has rising action building to a climax
It has a resolution (but not necessarily a happy ending!)
It has a clear call to action (while not a traditional part of the dramatic arc, this is a MUST for stories used in fundraising)
Want to delve a little deeper into what effective story structure looks like (and what it doesn’t!)?
I’ve created an easy to use template to help you apply the principles of the dramatic arc next time you need to tell a compelling story to your donors.
I’ll also share a handy checklist to use to ensure the stories you are telling are as effective as possible.
You can download your free Sparking your Story template here.
Have you told a great story that’s moved your donors to new heights of generosity? I’d love to hear about it! You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if your story is on-line, share a link with readers in the comments below.