Once Upon A Time…The Power of Storytelling

Once Upon A Time…The Power of Storytelling

One of the most powerful tools in a fundraiser’s bag is the ability to tell a great story.

Stories are the best way to show your donors what you do. They are also the best way to show them the impact of their gifts in a way that statistics and facts just can’t.

Why do stories matter?  It’s because people respond differently to stories than to any other type of information they receive.  Stories make us feel something.

Humans have been telling stories since the beginning of time and long before we could even write them down.

Stories have existed in all forms – parables, poems, tall tales, myths, novels, plays, songs – throughout human history. There has never been a society on earth that didn’t have storytelling at its core.

Scientists have drawn down decades of research in neuroscience, psychology and biology to prove that our species is literally hard-wired for storytelling:

  • We are a storytelling species. We were BORN to tell stories – we just can’t help it. We turn everything into stories, even if there isn’t a story there.
  • We LOVE stories. Stories engage us, entertain us and we use stories to build our memories.
  • Stories SHAPE our perceptions and they communicate our values. Stories help us make sense of our world, in a world that often defies logic.
  • We RELATE to people who tell stories and relate their stories back to our own personal experiences
  • According to anthropologists, 70% of everything we LEARN is through stories.

And what does the power of a good story mean to fundraising?

  • Great stories INSPIRE ACTION.


Stories influence our decisions

Stories matter because they do something important – they trigger the emotional centres of our brain.

This is important as science has now shown us that people make decisions emotionally. Then they will rationalise that decision.  In that order.

This includes making decisions on giving.  In the main people don’t support your charity because of a well-researched, calculated decision.

They’ll give because you’ve touched their hearts. They’ll give because they can help someone. And they’ll make a donation because it makes them feel good.

And it’s true at every donor level – from a donor that gives you a small cash gift, through to a major donor who might give you tens of thousands of dollars.

That’s why storytelling is so powerful. Reason leads to thinking, but it’s emotion that leads to action.

This finding, subsequently confirmed in recent years by many other studies and experiments, has radically changed the way advertising and marketing is done.

As international direct marketing expert and well-known author Seth Godin says: “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic.”

Just as they’ve done in the commercial sector, these findings have also changed fundraising.

We now have the scientific evidence that emotions will decide if a donor will press a button to donate or “Like” something on Facebook; dial a number to sponsor a child; send a text message, or send in a donation by mail.


So for all of us as fundraisers, the challenge is there – to tell great stories, at every donor level, on every fundraising platform – every time.


Interested in the science behind emotions?

Then here are two great places to start:

Read ‘Emotionraising’ by Francesco Ambrogetti.

There is science behind emotional fundraising – and that science is fascinating. If you want to excel at it, then this book is a great place to start.

Head to SOFII’s ‘Commission on the Donor Experience’ Project 6: the use and misuse of emotion.

This series of six reports will show you all the opportunities and responsibilities that come with using emotion in your storytelling. And how to use power and passion to move your donors to action.