Temperance: A Story About Storytelling


It’s the hot thing. You can’t attend a seminar, go to a conference or read a blog without fundraisers breathlessly exclaiming the virtues of storytelling.

And yes, I agree. It’s an effective, genuine way to make a deep connection with donors.

But I suggest caution, friends.

There is much potential for pushback when you try to “tell stories” to longtime donors who already get it. It can be insulting and give the impression that you have no idea – and even worse, no appreciation for – the fact the person you’re speaking to is intimately familiar with your organization, its mission and how their gifts are making a difference.

So by all means, do tell stories. But be careful. Like skinny jeans and Captain Beefheart, they are not for everyone.

(Tips! There are tips at the end of this post!)

• Stories Are Ideal for Acquisition Efforts

– This is where storytelling is hands down the ace card to play. As an engagement tool, emotional, genuine storytelling “tells without telling” and makes for copy that will be read and acted upon.

• Vary the Detail Level

– You can still use stories with longtime donors, but perhaps you don’t need a page and a half of copy laden with the same emotional verbiage you would use in an acquisition package. Respect your relationship and treat supporters who know your cause well like insiders.

• Mission Matters

– Organizations that provide support and advocacy for medical, psychological and behavioral issues need to tread carefully. Clients tell me they get letters saying, “You think that’s bad, you should hear my story …” Enough that it made them rethink their messaging platforms. One more reason a deeper understanding of your constituents is so critical.