Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tell it better: Storytelling to prompt donations and shift power

Many of my clients want to use storytelling to help raise funds from donors. When I'm working with a group to coach them in storytelling with talks in the style of TED conferences, I challenge them to craft talks without "selling from the stage," as is the custom at TED. That means no asking during the talk, but instead using the talk to tell a story that resonates with the prospective donor and prompts more conversation leading to a donation.

So I was intrigued by the research described in How to get the wealthy to donate, in which the researchers describe how their experiments failed to get wealthy people to donate when they stressed that the donation would achieve common goals for all. What? In fact, donors responded better when the story was about them:
When wealthier people — those with incomes higher than $90,000 — were greeted by the message that framed charitable giving as an opportunity for individual achievement, they were significantly more likely to click “Donate Today” than when they encountered the message that stressed common goals.
On the TED ideas blog, Citizen University CEO Eric Liu, writing on How to get power, talks about storytelling as a tool to change the power dynamic--and tells you how to move from the story about the donor to your need today. He shares storytelling lessons from community organizer Marshall Ganz as a formula:
Everywhere he goes, Ganz uses a method for organizing that centers on three nested narratives: the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now. He teaches organizers entering into any setting to start not with policy proposals or high concepts like justice but with biographies — their own, and those of the people they hope to mobilize. 
What are the stories you tell about yourself? Why do you tell them that way? How can we find connections across our stories of origin that build trust and common cause? That work then flows into the story of us: the collective narratives of challenge, choice and purpose that emerge from any community — that, in fact, help define it. This is how in a place like New Orleans after the flood or Detroit after the crash, residents can develop a shared identity of resilience and reinvention. It’s how anti–Common Core activists nationwide have been able to forge a cross-ideological crusade of parents and teachers tired of standardized-testing regimes that crush creativity and stifle liberty.

Once that shared narrative is activated, the organizer can connect it to the fierce urgency of now: a story about why this is the “movement moment,” when individual and collective motivations converge, and when action is needed and possible. Why this and no other time is the time for change. This is how “Yes We Can” became more than a slogan in 2008, as “Morning in America” did in 1980. Or “Make America Great Again” did in 2016.
Liu notes that the most crucial of the three is the "story of us," adding, "This is more than stepping into someone else’s shoes — it’s stepping into the story of how someone else came to be wearing those shoes." So you can have your story about "collective motivations," as long as you merge it with the motivations of the individual.

SUNY Oswego's Tim Nekritz reflects on this for university communicators, using his own experiences as an alumni donor: "As I prepare to send a check to one of my alma maters, thinking of the journey and how it helped along the way, I realize that the more challenges I faced and how much the school helped has really played into why I give." It's a good discussion of applying the hero's journey to this process. Just as in Who's the hero when storytelling your customer's journey?, in which it's not the product but the customer who needs to be the hero, your donor needs to be the hero when you're telling the story of a gift or donation, and the story needs to be their story.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Kathryn Harper)

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