Do Stories Really Work?

storytellerI’ve built my career on helping nonprofit causes use storytelling to inspire more donations. I was intrigued by a recent research study by Scott R. Maier, Stories Not Statistics Can Overcome Compassion Fatigue. Professor Maier used content analysis and media metrics to look at whether New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s use of storytelling in his columns actually engenders reader response.

Maier noted that Kristof routinely puts a human face on otherwise tough and distant social issues, noting, “His columns widely included elements of triumph over adversity and provided mobilizing information exhorting readers to action.” But Kristof does not abandon statistics entirely; he includes quantitative information in small amounts.

This combination of a compelling story and a few key facts may explain why Kristof’s columns routinely make the New York Time’s “most popular” list. And I would argue that it’s also a winning formula for your fundraising communications.

While I love a good story, I think we must appeal to the HEAD and the HEART to move our donor’s to action. And perhaps the most important finding in Maier’s research was this: “The reader’s response was strongest when columns provided information specifically advising what should be done.”

Amen. If your communication is not specifically telling the donor how their action RIGHT NOW will help solve the problem, it will fall flat. A story is always nice, but without a strong case for giving (i.e. how more money now will help), it won’t bring in the dollars.

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