Monday, March 18, 2013

Storytelling and the Special Appeal

Everyone wants to know the key to successful fundraising.  And while that sweet spot has a host of different elements, at its heart is always a well-told story—getting your audience to pay attention and go on a journey with you.
The essence of good storytelling is a lot like the essence of the work of many non-profits: the journey of an individual who starts in one place, works through internal and external conflict, and is then delivered to another, better place. For your special appeal your organization is the change agent for that journey.

A successful special appeal is a result of great storytelling.

We have been acting on this storytelling impulse for all of recorded history. Humans felt compelled to draw on the walls of caves. And while it happens through vastly different technology now, it’s pretty much exactly what we’re still doing. Facebook does call them “wall posts,” right?
And audiences engage at the hint of a good narrative.
As humans, we’re actually hardwired to absorb information via story better than via a litany of facts.
Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich says it this way:
“It's in fact quite simple. If we listen to a PowerPoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca's area and Wernicke's area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that's it, nothing else happens.
When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.”
That means that, in a way, storytelling actually creates the experience for the listener. They are taken on a journey simply by listening. Your statistics—while great for a lot of things—can’t transport a listener in the same way.
So, when you want your potential sponsor, guest, supporter or champion to connect with your organization and your amazing work, don’t throw numbers at them first. Tell them a real story. One with cause and effect. One where there’s a hero on a journey. One where your organization is the change agent creating a better trajectory for their journey.
Narrative will engage your audience and connect them to you and your work in a way no spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation ever will.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Getting the Special Appeal Right

A successful special appeal is never an accident.

At Going Places With Ride Connection, the special appeal speaker, Marja, knocked their special appeal out of the park. But this success was only possible with a lot of hard work from many people.

The first thing Ride Connection did impeccably? They found the perfect speaker. Marja was a perfect match for the event’s audience, telling the story of how Ride Connection changed her life. Marja is blind and lives in Salem but many of her medical appointments and errands are in Portland. This lead to her frustration and isolation as resources for these trips seemed non-existent. Enter Ride Connection, who taught her how to utilize mass transit in order to make the travel she depends on happen. The result? The assurance for Marja that she can do anything she wants and the confidence gained from having a life of freedom. She’s used what she’s learned and is now passing it along to everyone in her life.

Marja, the perfect example of a special appeal speaker, tells the story of how Ride Connection has changed her life.
Photo by Lavoie Images
We advocate that our clients use a video, if they can, for their special appeal. It captures people’s attention and allows the organization to very specifically control the timing of the speaker and to keep them on script. But, often, resources can’t be stretched enough to make this sort of line item happen.

So Ride Connection did the next best thing. They worked directly with Marja, helping her write and edit her story. Marja practiced and practiced. The best part? No surprises at the event. Ride Connection knew exactly what was going to be said and when it would be said. And Marja did the best thing possible, she told her amazing story. She didn’t stray from her message. And at the end she actually ASKED for money from the crowd.

Which leads us to another way Ride Connection knocked it out of the park: they made their appeal active. Instead of envelopes lying limp on the table, this year they used a benefit auctioneer and bid cards, collecting their appeal that way. Active, accountable bidding yields more participation.

The result? An amazing growth in the number of donations for their special appeal, helping them hit their highest amount of money ever raised. One person, telling her story of transformation, with the organization presented as the change agent that made it happen. This combined with a tightly scripted, active appeal is a recipe for success.

A big congratulations to Ride Connection!