March 27, 2007

Fundraising Idea – Storytelling Workshop

I was recently hired to present a storytelling workshop for an organization that assists hospitals in their fundraising campaigns. They were looking for fresh fundraising ideas and felt that my Story Theater approach would be a good fit.

The attendees at the workshop consisted of everyone from the CEO of the hospital to hospital administrators to the chair of the fundraising program. After I had shown everyone how to choose and craft their fundraising stories to increase giving, I asked for volunteers to tell their story after which I would coach them on how to improve it.

My first volunteer was the CEO of a hospital. In her initial telling of the story, we got the facts of what had happened. While it was interesting, it felt a bit hollow, devoid of emotion. It told the story of what happened, but wasn’t the kind of story that tugged at my heart strings and made a compelling case for me to donate to her hospitals fundraising campaign.

Here’s how I coached her to make her story compelling.

First we reviewed what happened in the story.

A delivery driver had come to the hospital to deliver supplies and was moving down the corridor when he began to feel faint. One of the hospital employees, a maintenance man named Errol, noticed what was happening and asked the driver if he was okay.  

The driver’s skin quickly became clammy and pasty and he began to perspire. Errol knew something was wrong and quickly found a wheelchair and wheeled the driver into the ER. The driver was treated for a minor heart attack and spent the night in the hospital, before being released the next day.

Those were the facts.

Her initial emphasis in the story was on the driver, someone familiar to everyone in the hospital because of his frequent deliveries and friendly personality. She also talked about how he was taken care of in the emergency room.

This CEO had a very nice demeanor as a speaker. She was comfortable, conversational and like-able. I sensed that there was something more to the story and another layer of emotional honesty to be achieved, so I gave her only one coaching suggestion before asking her to tell the same story again.

I asked her to speak from her heart. I explained that all this meant was that she was to speak from her head – with her heart wide open.

She took a few seconds to shift her energy and began again.

There was an immediate and profound difference. She began by describing the driver as if he were a friend, not a vendor. She used his first name and described his friendly personality. She also described Errol, the man who washed the floors and cleaned the bathrooms, as someone that she knew on a first name basis as well.

All of a sudden the story took on a different feel. It was no longer a report, it was an intimate recollection of a typical moment in her hospital where everyone, from the maintenance man to the CEO, took pride in being a part of something good and important. She embellished the story ever so slightly, sharing with us how she felt about her employees and the sense of pride everyone shared in being able to contribute to a worthy cause. 

Not only did the story feel different, she added small but important details that were missing from the first telling. When she shifted from her head to her heart, the content of the story changed.

Having heard the story the second time, I suggested to her that the emphasis of the story, for fundraising purposes, needed to be on Errol, not on the driver. He was the representation of the heart and soul of the hospital. He was the one who stepped out of his role as maintenance man and assumed the role of health care provider. He was the hero of the story.

Fundraising is a competitive business. Fundraising volunteers are competing with many worthy organizations for limited donor dollars. The one with the most compelling story, that connects on an emotional level with the donor, is the one who walks away with the check in hand or the commitment to donate.

Everyone has bricks and mortar. Everyone has a worthy cause. And everyone can lay out an intellectually solid case. Donors give based on emotion. If the logic is solid but the emotion is missing, you lose. If you build your case around a story that exemplifies your mission, in human and emotional terms, you will win.

Not just any story will work. A good story with the wrong emphasis will fail to persuade. Stories told without a strategic understanding of sequencing and structure, imagery and emotion, will produce mediocre results.

The Story Theater Method, when applied to fundraising, is a winning formula. In a typical storytelling for fundraisers workshop participants will:

  • overcome the reluctance to ask for money 
  • choose the most compelling stories to develop
  • craft stories using The Eight Steps of Story Structure for fundraisers
  • understand and apply the use of emotional triggers
  • write and learn how to memorize a story script
  • understand the psychology of giving
  • learn how to give people a chance to give

Of all of the fundraising ideas and gimmicks being marketed today, the most powerful idea is perhaps the oldest – learn how to tell a compelling story. In this day and age however, most people don’t know how to tell a good story. It is however, an easily learn-able skill.

Fundraising campaigns must be strategic to work. Make storytelling an integral part of your fundraising strategy, and you will exceed your fundraising goals on time and under budget.

 “I found Doug Stevenson’s Story Theater a unique method of teaching the art of good presentations.  I took away a valuable lesson on how to “tell the story” to a prospect donor in order to close a major gift. I’ve put this method to the test and it works.” 
Michele A. Conley, Executive Director,
      Cabell Huntington Hospital Foundation, 
      Huntington, WV.

To learn more about Doug Stevenson’s customized Story Theater Workshops for Fundraising, call 1-719-573-6195 
or 1-800-573-6196
or visit the Story Theater Website.

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