By Sean Triner
Thankfully, many organisations are getting the idea that they should be telling individual stories, not using statistics and mind-bogglingly technical jargon if they are going to really engage with donors.
This message appears to be getting through with direct mail appeals, but before a recent Fundraising Institute of Australia breakfast session in Brisbane on the topic of storytelling, I went to the websites of the 30 or so nonprofits that were attending. Only one had a story on its homepage. All of the others had information about the organisation, not beneficiaries.
Storytelling needs to be in your soul, and should be the driver of all communications. If you are a fundraiser, the only thing you have to sell is stories.
The best storytelling communications I have ever seen are by Cancer Research UK. It takes the stories developed from its television ads and makes much more in-depth versions available online.
Another organisation that gets this right on its homepage is Vision Australia. There is always a story slap bang in the middle of its homepage. The fundraising and communications people there are very switched on. They know that telling stories is much more powerful than using stats.
Of course, these stories need to be interesting, motivating and emotional. They also need to really bring the donor and the beneficiary together. One tactic for this is ‘witnessing’.
I went back to Vision Australia’s website and had a look at some of its copy. Could it be improved by witnessing a story?
I did a quick rewrite. For the purpose of this exercise, I have made up a couple of things – like the name of the therapist.
Vision Australia’s Children’s Services provide teams of specialists to assist families with children who are blind or have low vision from birth to 18 years of age. Your donation means we can ensure more children like Chelsea (pictured) benefit from these specialised services.
Seven-year-old Chelsea Nagle, was born with no vision at all due to a rare genetic condition known as Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. Her parents were totally shocked and distraught after finding out that their daughter was completely blind.
Vision Australia provides free specialist help and support to children who are blind or have low vision, which is critical for families who are faced with the shocking knowledge that their child has little or no sight. Your donation today can help ensure our services are available when Australians need help the most.
When the occupational therapist started, Chelsea couldn’t even hold a toothbrush well enough to clean her teeth – with children who have no sight, there’s no impetus to reach for things or pick them up as a sighted child will and there’s no learning by observation. Everything has to be encouraged and taught. The therapist helped Chelsea to explore things by using her sense of touch and to develop more self-help skills such as eating with a spoon and fork, brushing her hair, all to build up her independence.
Learning to use a cane was something else that required physiotherapy – Chelsea had to work on her wrist, arm and shoulders so that she could learn to hold out the cane properly and be able to walk confidently.
Every single one of her achievements has taken a lot of effort. Vision Australia’s support has been a vitally important part of getting Chelsea ready and able to attend school. To prepare Chelsea for school we provided counselling, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.
“Vision Australia’s support has been extremely valuable and I don’t think we could have survived without it, and I don’t think Chelsea would have developed into the independent, active and adventurous child she is today.” Lynda Nagel (Chelsea’s mum).
“It is so hard to describe the change in our lives. From teaching Chelsea everyday things like brushing her teeth to using the cane to get around safely, Melissa has been a godsend,” she told me.
Part of my role at Vision Australia is to speak with children like Chelsea and their parents. I have just got off the phone after assuring her mum, Linda Nagle, that I will do my utmost to ensure that the service that has helped her child so much will continue.
Linda reiterated the huge impact services funded by caring and loving Australians has had.
Melissa is our trained occupational therapist – completely funded by donations.
“Every day that I wake up I wonder what it would be like without the help of Vision Australia – not just Melissa – but also the enormous support from the whole team. It also gives me a great lift to know that this is all funded by wonderful people.
“These are strangers, people across Australia that I have never even met.”
“To have so much love and generosity from strangers is truly wonderful. If I have time to sit and think about it, I can’t help myself from crying.”
“I hope that you can tell them what a huge impact they are having on the life of my little child and our whole family,” Linda said, as she watched Chelsea cross the room to get a doll.
You can see that Linda wanted me to share her thanks, and tell you about the impact you are having. I could think of no better way to fulfil this wish than to share her words with you. Please, help me fulfil my promise to Chelsea and Linda by making a gift today.
I do hope that you can see the differences in the stories, but more importantly, I hope that you can see how to apply ‘witnessing’ to your copy.