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Once Upon a Time.

Since we were little most of us have been fortunate enough to have had stories told to us or read to us. Whether it was stories about pretty princesses or adventurous tales about action heroes, they all helped us to develop our imagination of what could be, learn about a particular subject or experience the world through someone unlike ourselves.

As adults, we are no different. We need stories for these same reasons. We want to be reminded of endless possibilities, educated about something new or have the chance to walk in someone else’s shoes.

In fundraising it is these reasons that we need to be good at storytelling. We need to be able to tell a story that demonstrates the capabilities of change (like malaria being eliminated in third world countries through a vaccination program), provides insight into a particular issue (like how the number of cassowaries is in serious decline in Australia) and encourages people to think about those less fortunate than themselves (like the mother who lost her baby through cot death).

But how can we tell a good story? What are the most important things to remember?

Lucy Gower of Lucy Innovation suggests the following storytelling structure and says we should think about all four aspects in our stories whether that’s in an appeal letter and television commercials.

  1. Set up context
  2. Challenge or drama
  3. Action or resolution
  4. Result or call to action

Have a look at the television commercial from Charity : Water featuring actress Jennifer Connolly and see if you can identify how it uses (or doesn’t use) this structure.

What do you think? Did it follow this structure? I think it did.

1. Context> A mother and her son are in a city and are going to collect water. And lots of other people are doing the same.
2. Challenge> When back at home, the mother pours glasses of water for her children but the water is dirty.  Ad identifies that 1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean water.
3. Resolution> We can help by building wells where they are needed. $20 will help one person.
4. Call to action> Donate online or visit website.

Lucy also referred to a book by Chip and Dan Heath called Made to Stick. It’s about the concept of a ‘sticky idea’; one that is understood, remembered easily and therefore has the power to change something. The Heath brothers developed the SUCCES(S) principles.

Chip and Dan Heath's book

Simple – What is the core of your message?
Unexpected – Do something different?
oncrete – Paint a picture so people can see and feel your message?
Credible – Use stats, facts or authoritarian comments.
EmotionalMake it appeal to the heart strings.
tories – Make people believe.

So, I believe if you can remember these two simple things – the structure and SUCCES(s) principles – you will be on your way to writing really great stories and engaging your donors better (and hopefully new ones too!).

See you in the pond,

The Fish Chick.


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