Why Tell a ‘Story’ When You Can Tell The Truth?

(Or ‘How to bring integrity to your storytelling, while keeping donors and fundraisers loyal all at the same time’)

About half our donors are leaving. According to Third Sector’s latest survey half the fundraisers are close behind them. It seems the only ones staying are the beneficiaries and God knows they’d leave if they could!

Anyone else seeing a correlation here?

But could it be that the answer to both these problems lies in the same thing; a lack of genuine connection to the cause? With all the hype around storytelling it seems we’ve missed the most fundamental point of all…

These aren’t just ‘stories’.

So how has this disconnect affected us and our donors? Let’s start with the much maligned donor, ‘Attriting Annie’ (irony intentional!), blissfully unaware of where she is on her ‘journey’. Why’s she leaving; was it something we said? Let’s face it; she doesn’t cancel regular payments for the things she wants. So the question has to be are we doing enough to make her want to be a part of what we do?

Not according to Adrian Sargeant who said “…the communications that are being received are weak, triggering an excessive level of lapsing behaviour.” George Smith put it ever so much less subtlety “We sent them a number of boring formulaic mailing packs and they threw them away. Attrition, my arse!”

What’s going wrong? We all took notes at the conference storytelling sessions, we read all the blogs – what are we missing?

Is it possible that we’ve taken the truth and reduced it to a ‘story’? Has the emotional impact been lost in brand translation? Have we sterilized the raw authentic voice of our beneficiary because we worry it won’t be signed off?

‘Attriting Annie’ wants to give to people; she wants to help ‘the cancer, the kids, and the hungry’. But that’s hard for her to do when the causes she holds dear are obscured by opaque, abstract mission statements.

How did we get here?

If ‘Annie’ doesn’t think we sound authentic maybe it’s because we don’t feel it? There’s a lot of talk in the sector about supporter engagement, but what about fundraiser engagement (after all if I’m not inspired how can I inspire you)?

In the often chaotic rush of our working lives have we lost connection with the cause that should drive us to do what we do? If our primary ‘front line’ contact is via a safely packaged anonymised ‘story’ we soon lose connection with the real people and raw emotion that gave birth to the cause we serve.

But imagine how we’d sound after we’d sat beside a beneficiaries hospital bed, had helped out in the feeding tent or (insert your beneficiaries need here)? Would we really accept the bland rewrite of last year’s appeal? Would we settle for anaemic language?

If brand comes before cause we’ve already lost – for whatever we put in front of our cause we lose.

Everyone’s raving about charity: water; their great use of video, transparency and the way they say ‘thank you’ as though these were clever marketing gimmicks. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Scott Harrison founded the charity on a simple faith based principle that runs throughout the organization. These guys don’t sound authentic, they’re just authentic. Their success has less to do with the medium by which their message is carried as to the sincerity with which it’s carried. They share success and failure and say thank you because that’s what you do when someone gives you money.

So before you sit down to think of ways to new ways to inspire ‘Annie’, spend some time asking how you can re inspire yourself. Why did I choose to fight for this cause? Am I a donor? How often can I visit or get updates on the projects I raise funds for? What makes me get out of bed every morning?

What souvenirs or reminders do you have on your desk (my favourites are my name in Braille from the RLSB, a handprint from a child at bibic, and an arm band UNICEF uses to measure whether a child’s malnourished)?

What’s my real goal – a bonus if I hit this quarter’s target, or a world without poverty, an end to exploitation, a cure? Am I passionately committed to making this happen or am I making a living out of people dying?

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give’ – Winston Churchill

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(With grateful thanks to AJ Leon and Derek Humphries for encouragement and inspiration)

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