If you had just one story to tell, what would it be?

By Stuart Ghent, Creative Director

The ‘identifiable victim’ effect. It’s a concept that every fundraiser should understand. It’s the human tendency to be more generous to an individual who has a name and a face, but to be indifferent to individuals who are ‘one of many’. 

As Mother Teresa so famously said: “If I look to the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”

Our compassion and desire to take action should grow as the need grows. But the opposite seems to occur. Sometimes, when the numbers are too big, donors just switch off.

It’s because they can’t see how their donation will have impact because they can’t connect emotionally with masses of people.

The importance of the ‘power of one’

Your organisation might work on many issues. Or its mission might be to tackle a single issue like homelessness – a problem that happens to many, many people.

But when it comes to donors, they don’t want to give with a promise of one day solving the entire problem of homelessness. They want to solve the problem now by helping one person, and then the next person and so on.

It’s why the ‘power of one’ is critical to fundraising:

– One person

– One problem

– One solution.

Homelessness may affect many, but if you want to tell its story, tell the story of one person: their journey to homelessness, the problems homelessness brings to them and how, if they were to get off the street, it would make an immediate, tangible difference to their life.

It’s the story of one person

Give your donor one character they can support – someone they can emotionally connect with and champion.

Tell them the story of a Mum with young kids and how she came to be homeless. Bring the donor into the story – let them experience the world that this Mum now lives in.

You may have team members that will question if telling the story of one person ‘restricts’ where the fundraising income can go.

It doesn’t! Every individual story you tell is evidence of your organisation’s overall impact. One person represents the many others that your organisation also helps.

It’s the story of one problem

The story of one person also gives you the opportunity to focus on one clear and urgent problem.

If you do that, the donor knows exactly what they need to do to solve the problem – donate – and that it will make an immediate and tangible difference.

So for our homeless Mum and her kids, her one problem was that that she found herself with nowhere to go. She was frightened, desperate and her family was sleeping where ever they could.

It’s the story of one solution

It’s the donor’s gift that has the power to save, change or improve someone’s life.

Your call to action should tell your donor exactly what they need to do and why they need to donate now.

So for the story of our homeless Mum, the one clear need is to get off the streets and into crisis accommodation. A place where this family will have a roof over their heads, be safe, and have privacy.

And only the donor can make this happen.

It’s tempting to give the donor more. To tell them of all the steps that come after crisis accommodation to help our Mum back to long-term self-sufficiency and independence. But your donor doesn’t need to know all that.

Keep that solution for your thank you letter – or your feedback reporting. It will have far more impact there.

As a fundraiser, what you and your organisation are doing matters. But it’s not just about showing donors impact through impressive big numbers. It’s about engaging the donor. The best way to do that is by putting your story front and centre – every time. One person. One problem. One solution.

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