Yesterday, I got a great piece of feedback from someone working at a food program in New York. He had watched this week’s Tune Up Tuesday video. The video advocates for using relativity and specificity so that your supporters can connect with your cause. This is based on research about making issues ‘human scale’, and is articulately explained in Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers. (They’re so dang smart!)

As this viewer explained, he can tell a variation of the following story…

Jennifer hadn’t eaten in three days. She struggles with multiple chronic diseases that prevent her from leaving her house. This lack of food was not uncommon for Jennifer and the level of weight loss was significantly damaging her health. Our program brought food right to her doorstep and now she’s eating healthy and getting healthy!

…and it might be an effective way to connect with some individual donors. However, this viewer’s point was that for many funders, especially foundations, he has to then draw the connection to the bigger issue and show broad, measurable impact. In the case of Jennifer, for instance, he would go on to say that 75% of their clients show progress toward achieving a healthy weight after being in the program, i.e. Jennifer represents an overall trend they see in their work, which is that it works.

It comes down to audience and sequencing. (Yes, yes, I know you all know that I don’t like the term ‘audience’, but sometimes you just gotta use it.)

Human beings are hard-wired to understand and relate to stories. That’s why starting with a story works. In order for some donors to make a connection–or make the case–for supporting your organization, they will also need the facts and figures to back it up. It all comes back to one of the cornerstones of effective nonprofit marketing: Know Thy Audience.

Thanks to this viewer for bringing up a REALLY important point!

What have you found with your supporters? Is storytelling an effective way to inspire action for your organization or do you need the facts and figures?

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  1. Thank you for reinforcing my belief in the power of stories!

    At DESC, we are first and foremost concerned with client confidentiality. I’d like to see you address the best way to identify the person in the story. Some examples I’ve seen: John W, or “John” (in quotes to imply it’s not his real name).

    I hate to add an asterisk and “not his real name” because I think it dilutes the power of the story, implying that because the name isn’t real, the story might not be, either.


  2. Great question, Carolyn! How you decide to handle this comes back to brand and authenticity, i.e. is your organization’s personality approachable and friendly, or more serious and practical. If it’s the former, using ‘John’ or ‘Kate’ and leaving it at that, without the asterisks, is a common approach. If it’s the latter, your readers will not be thrown by the asterisks. They will actually expect it.

    So no hard and fast rule, sorry! But if you answer the question: “if our organization were a movie star, who would it be?”, will get you a long way to answering your question…plus many others!

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