“Anything is possible if you tell the right stories to the right people and ask for what you want.”– Tony Elischer
For the first post in my “Sharing the Best” feature, Beate Sorum – Norwegian Fundraising Consultant, incredible storyteller and general badass – has kindly agreed to let me share my learnings from her session – The Good Story – which was part of my journey with the Tony Elischer Foundation.
Beate’s session was an incredible hour of humour, insight and practical tips. I immediately took my pages of notes back to the office and started applying the learning – now, seven months later, I am going to boil the session down to the three key things I learned:
1. Focus on why you’re telling the story in the first place.
The session started with a simple question. Why do fundraisers tell stories?
The answer was equally simple: we tell stories to raise money.
Beate asked us if we could say, hand on heart, that we always have this in the back of our mind – if every Facebook post we made, every exchange we had with a supporter, linked back to this. She demonstrated a number of examples where charities had poured resources into making videos, crafting infographics, etc, without an ask at the end of them. Whilst we all understand the importance of stewardship and not asking in every interaction, it was eye opening to think back to the number of resources I’d made and posts I’d sent without any information on even howto donate if someone had been so inspired.
2. Focus on the stories of individuals, not statistics
Beate asked us to think about the story telling of the organisation we were currently working for, and the balance between statistics and individual narratives. At this point, East African Playgrounds had some incredible impact statistics – each playground will benefit 1,500 children over 15 years, for example – but the stories of those individual children were missing, so this hit home.
She detailed that if giving money is an emotional decision – which we all agreed it was – you needed to evoke emotion. You do this by getting the audience to relate to the beneficiary – you can relate to one person, you can’t relate to 10,000.
The perfect example of this is the Syrian refugee crisis: the headlines were filled with the news of hundreds if not thousands of refugees and their daily crises for weeks, without any tangible reaction from the public. As soon as the photo of one little boy, face down in the sand came out (which almost all of us can still picture to this day), there was an individual to rally around – the mood shifted in a single story, to the extent that we still remember it now.
3. Focus on the problem as much as the solution.
Finally, Beate asked us to consider the overall story of our organisations. To think about how all the individual stories we tell piece together in an overall narrative: do we appear to be single-handed solving the issue we’ve set out to face, resourced with everything we need and therefore not in need of further donations? Do we appear to be barely scratching the surface of the issue, working ineffectively? Do we only mention how bad the problems we’re solving truly are during our Christmas campaign, and if so how does that sit with our donors?
This was another point that hit home for my fundraising practice. I had so many stories about how previous donations had helped us transform communities, but very few about how many communities remained to be transformed – the scope of the problem wasn’t a part of my narrative, and therefore neither was the urgency to donate.
After the session, I took a notepad full of ideas, questions and comments back to the office and immediately started working on storytelling within East African Playgrounds. I’ve had meetings with the monitoring and evaluation team in country who are working at better capturing individual narratives and feel like the stories we tell now better capture where the money donated really goes, and why it’s so essential. I’m incredibly grateful to Beate and the team of the Tony Elischer Foundation for providing the training – I genuinely believe it was transformational for me.