Oxytocin, Storytelling & Your Donors

497411169_d6eeb0849a_mI’ve been a dedicated practitioner and huge proponent of storytelling as a way to motivate donors for many years. But what is the actual science behind why storytelling is such a powerful motivating tool?

In a blog on the Harvard Business Review this week, Paul J. Zak has an answer.

In his lab, Zak found that narratives (in this case, on video) consistently caused oxytocin synthesis, and that higher amounts of oxytocin correlate with a person’s willingness to help others.

Further, Zak found that to sustain a reader’s attention and motivate them to action, a story must include tension. He explains that it’s the tension in the story that allows the reader to share in the emotions of the people they are reading about. Here at Impact, we often talk about this as needing to know the “before” story, what happened to them before they came to the organization.

Then your story must move on to show transformation. And since your reader already feels empathy for the people in your story, he or she shares in the feeling of triumph when transformation occurs. Zak argues that it’s that feeling of “triumph” that makes the reader feel good and motivates him or her to take action.

So, I highly recommend taking Zak’s advice…

“When you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered, start with a story of human struggle and eventual triumph. It will capture people’s hearts – by first attracting their brains.”

– Posted by Kathy Swayze, CFRE


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