The secret ingredient in a great story & how to get my mother’s attention.

Last Friday night I had dinner with a girlfriend. The leaves swirled past the windows, while inside my friend’s home we warmed ourselves with good wine, good food and great conversation. I arrived at 5:30 p.m. and, all of a sudden, it was 10:40 p.m. The conversation was that good. What made it so? We talked about things we both cared about. There is the secret to a good story: make it about something the hearer cares deeply about and you will have their attention.Storytelling and Case for Support

The temptation is to make the stories in our cases for support about the organization and the good work it does. When we do this we miss what a psychologist calls the ‘self-interest’ element. A marketer calls it the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor. We all come to the table with self interest. That is how we are wired as human beings. It’s true whether we are skimming a newspaper, learning that a storm is in the forecast or hearing a story about a remarkable charity. We tune out the things that don’t affect us and tune in to the things that do.

When it comes to storytelling for the purpose of making a case for your cause, one size does not fit all. We’re all wired a little differently.

Tell my elderly mother a story about a troubled teenager–a stranger–who needs counselling and she may not pay attention. Show her how the counselling is making her neighbourhood safer (less vandalism, for example) and how it is setting the youth on a path to a productive life (where young person will be contributing to not taking from society) and my mother will be far more likely to hear you. The latter story affects her and reflects her values about a strong work ethic. If the hearer values peer recognition, tell him a story about how a member of the community got involved and has become a local hero. If the hearer values family, let the story be about how donor support enables families to heal. It is the same story, but viewed through different lenses. 

When you make the case for your cause, do you tell stories? The same story? What happens when you sit down with my mother, or the fellow who likes recognition or the one who believes so strongly in family?

My advice: take time to focus your story on the things your donor cares about. The story, not the facts, is what your donor will remember.

There is much more to storytelling than telling a story. If you want to dig deeper, I recommend reading Annette Simmons’ book  The Story Factor. And here are some online resources that I found through a google search:

You may also want to look back on my posts on storytelling as it relates to making a case for support:

Make a great case for your cause.

Febe Galvez-Voth

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6 thoughts on “The secret ingredient in a great story & how to get my mother’s attention.

  1. So true! Stories engage, move behavior and eliminate brainy objections keeping people from making good, healthy decisions.

  2. libraryfundr says:

    Great piece Febe! I will share with my Board and Ops team in advance of presenting the first draft of “our Story.”


  3. Great thoughts on storytelling, and thanks for the CauseVox mention! The key to storytelling is making your audience care.

    You linked to a great resource on our CauseVox blog, but if you’re looking for more of a comprehensive guide, check out our storytelling guide for nonprofits:

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