As Kevin noted in The Best Story Wins smart fundraisers pay serious attention to storytelling for the simple reason that better stories raise more money.
Fine writing and Great Story Telling has always been in short supply in fundraising, particularly in these days of too many e-mails, too much Twitter and such. EVEN WORSE … Fine Writing and Great Story Telling, coupled with Fine Thinking is as rare as a short PowerPoint deck at a fundraising conference.
So, I thought I’d follow Kevin’s post with a short roundup of first-rate advice and resources on great storytelling for fundraisers. Of course, there’s tons of good advice out there, but here are some of my favorites.
In my personal pantheon of great copywriters and curmudgeons is the late, great British copywriter George Smith.
George Smith -The Need for Passion
In his Tiny Essential of Writing for Fundraising, George offered this observation on the importance of being succinct, relevant, and engaging when it comes to storytelling …
“This”, says George, “is the age of Bullshit. We live in a verbally jaded world. We’ve lost our individual voice. Too often it’s as if we’re all reading from a teleprompter. Everyone sounds the same and feels the need to say more than is necessary. Then when the teleprompter stops, we simply spray words around at random to fill up spaces.”
An essential ingredient in George’s recipe for great stories is PASSION. George, “On the need for passion: “I did a four-minute rant in Birmingham on the need for passion. …[My] rants are based on my fear that we are becoming technicians and not advocates, that we are measuring opportunities and not creating them, that we are beginning to settle for suits and dresses ambling around conference halls.”[Emphasis added.]
Ken Burnett – Secrets of Successful Storytelling
Another Brit and a great storyteller is Ken Burnett, author of the classic Relationship Fundraising . Among his many monumental books is Story telling can change the world Whether you’re a copywriter, consultant, development officer, or CEO the most important skill for any would-be influencer is the ability to tell a good story. To win the sale, spark the buzz, plant the seed, secure the gift, spur the extra effort, or turn an argument around you need to engage, interest, involve, inspire and, ultimately move people to action.
Does the world really need another book about storytelling? According to Tom Ahern, veteran fundraiser and a masterful storyteller in his own right, the answer is that we sure need this one. Says Tom: “A big thanks is in order. What you have here is a compendium of everything known about storytelling in the fundraising context. It’s an amazingly helpful desk reference. I found new details about familiar subjects (emotions, for instance); unfamiliar insights; good swift kicks in the pants … every page has something worth hearing for the first or the hundredth time.”
There’s a section in Ken’s book headed “Thirty-two more secrets of successful storytelling.” I’ve selected from among Ken’s 32 secrets the 10 secrets or tips I find most helpful:
- “Never stand between your reader and the footlights. Make him or her the hero whenever you can.”
- “Tell a story that involves a big idea, as often as you can. Don’t compromise on it.”
- “Read your draft out loud, as if reading it to your mum. Try it in front of a mirror. Be your own sternest critic and don’t relent until you can tell any tale with power and passion that will move people to action. Yes, you have to be an actor.”
- “Use logic only to reinforce your emotional anecdotes. Stories are emotions put into words and delivered with evident passion and conviction. Drop the long rational justifications, or package them separately from your stories. Better still, make your rational case so sound and unarguable that your readers will simply accept it as fact, with no need to discuss it.”
- “Cultivate the virtue and talent of being brief. Even if this means you must kill your babies. Try to cut everything you write in half. A useful question for any storyteller is, so what? What will that word, phrase or paragraph add to what I’m trying to convey?”
- “If it’s dull, boring, or ugly cut it out. Most unsolicited promotional communications are tedious. So be rigorous, uncompromising. If it’s boring, bin it. Don’t send unless it’s brilliant.”
- “Study the news. Ape the newsreader’s urgently concise reportage. Take your readers there. Give them a role. Make the issue come alive for them.”
- “Action, not background. Cut out the organisational detail so you can get quickly to the heart of the story. Provide a solution. Wrap it in need and achievement.”
- “Simplicity is sacred. Resist embellishing. As Vonnegut put it, remember that Shakespeare’s most famous line ‘to be or not to be’ has no word longer than three letters. And the opening sentence in the Bible is well within the writing skills of a lively 14-year-old: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.’ “
- “Every writer is a thief, but some are cleverer than others at disguising it. Learn to steal wisely and well.”
Give yourself a personal and professional treat and explore all 32 of Ken’s ‘secrets. Agitators can purchase Story telling can change the world here.
Jerry Huntsinger -86 Great & Free Tutorials
To say Jerry Huntsinger, who celebrated his 88th birthday, is a direct mail copywriting genius, is an understatement. It’s like saying the late Steve Jobs ‘tinkered with electronic gadgets.
I’ve worked with Jerry for 55 years on literally hundreds of campaigns and have frequently pointed readers toward Jerry’s copywriting wisdom ever since we began publishing The Agitator 15 years ago.
Thank heavens that Ken Burnett and the folks at SOFII are the generous custodians of Jerry’s treasury of direct mail fundraising advice … embodied in his 86 tutorials that are available to you free online.
A good number of Jerry’s tutorials clearly and explicitly show by example how to tell a story for effective fundraising.
Among the multitude of webinars and conferences that deal with storytelling is the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. This conference, which has received rave reviews from attendees over the years is slated to be held this year October 27-29 in San Antonio, Texas.
Bonus: With the help of the experts teaching the “Get it Done” sessions at the Conference, you’ll walk away from the conference with a completed first draft of your:
- Fundraising appeal letter
- New Donor Welcome Series
- Donor Reporting Letter
- Major Donor plan
- and more…
In short, at this the conference, you’ll have the time and the help you need in writing the first draft of some of your fundraising materials. You can register and take advantage of the Early Bird discount for the 2022 Storytelling Conference here.
What are some of your favorite storytelling resources?
P.S. One of my favorite Jerry Huntsinger Tutorials on SOFII — “#47: Answering questions I wish someone would ask” — outlines why you might be better off dictating your copy and introduces you to the ‘Eddie box’ — named after Jerry’s gardener, and a variation of the famous ‘Johnson Box’ that appears at the top of many direct mail letters. You can check it out here for some Q&A that goes beyond storytelling but gives you’re a flavor of what’s in store in Jerry’s Tutorials.