Business Storytelling: 4 Methods for Effective Fundraising

Business storytelling and fundraising pair up naturally. You should know about four unique twists and turns when working with stories to raise funds. (And you thought this was going to be easy. Ha!) Dig into these storytelling methods:

Spark desired emotions in others

Emotion plays a large role in stories. The words motivation and emotion come from the same Latin root movere, which means "to move." Instead of ending a story on a somber note, you want to shift this emotion to one of hope. This shift is even more important when seeking funds, resources, or support. Think of how you feel when you see data about children going hungry — usually not so good. You never want to leave people with unresolved negative emotions.

For example, if you stoke righteous anger about an injustice, avoid leaving them without hope for solving the problem. In all cases, don't leave them feeling

  • Pity or despair.

  • Depressed or anxious.

  • Stressed or worried.

  • Guilty or embarrassed or shameful.

  • Scared or fearful.

  • Disgusted or angry.

  • Dismayed or hopeless or filled with loss.

If your project, product, service, need, or social cause makes people feel bad when they hear the problem, your job is to quickly transition those emotions into positive ones. Provoke these emotions instead. Leave them feeling

  • Respected or dignified.

  • Hopeful and excited.

  • Triumphant and satisfied.

  • Determined and persistent.

  • Encouraged and heartened.

  • Redeemed and loved.

  • Excited and joyous.

How can you make this shift happen? Try these suggestions:

  • Make sure your story has a transformational story arc. A traditional story arc moves from setting/present day to problem/challenge, to turning points, and finally to resolution, followed by a key message and action steps. Rarely is the main character's inner transformation a part of this equation. A transformational story arc follows the same structure — and reveals the main character's inner transformation.

    At the start of the story, this character is shown to be blind, naïve, or unaware. Tension builds. Then, there's a turning point — an a-ha moment — the challenge is overcome. This results in greater awareness or an awakening that provides the person with insights into their own self. Because of this heightened contrast, the ending to the story is more powerful and inspiring, which leads to more meaningful action steps.

  • Give people small, specific action steps they can take immediately to make a difference. Provide easy tasks to do that help overcome the obstacle you've presented in order to capitalize on the positive emotions sparked by the main character's personal transformation.

Open with an opportunity

The most common story structures present the problem, followed by the solution. When you want to win support for a project, raise money, or obtain resources, you may need to change tactics. Why? The problem-solutions structure can make some people feel so miserable and overwhelmed about another problem, need, or issue on top of all the others on their plate that they can't see the positive solution.

Here, it's better to open the story with the opportunity before presenting the obstacle.

Michael Margolis, CEO and founder of Get Storied, discusses this alternative. He suggests presenting a possibility — a dream, a promise — based on what's known to be true today. Follow this with the obstacle that's preventing this possibility from happening, how others have already helped to (partially) remove the obstacle (if indeed that's the case), and the action steps your audience can take to overcome it.

Think about what you need to communicate. How can you use this approach?

Highlight the challenge

When raising money or asking for resources, highlight the obstacles that stand in the way of the opportunity for a better life. But don't make them insurmountable. Demonstrate they can be overcome with the help of a sponsor, funder, or donor.

Lead with respect

It's deceptively easy to talk about or present stakeholders, constituents, or customers as helpless or hopeless victims — but for your intervention. Guard against this at all costs.

People who are experiencing difficulties or crises, who face inequities, who are at risk in some way, or who are part of a system that produces inequities or inefficiencies — we've been trained by the media to depict them as defenseless, lazy, or powerless. This may produce a solution for an immediate crisis. But it won't help you find support for or fund sustainable solutions over the long haul.

So, what does work? Craft stories that engender respect and dignity for those you serve.

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