Why you need to start with the story, not the facts.

Many fundraisers begin to make the case for their cause by presenting facts. A good case needs to be factual.

Many fundraisers support their facts with a story. A good case needs a good story or two or three.

No argument there.

The problem is in the sequence.

Nonprofit Storytelling

Facts need a home. They need to slot into something. If we begin with the facts they will slot into the beliefs and ideas—the stories about the world—that the donor believe to be true. Some of those stories may align to your facts, but others may not. Here’s what I mean:

  •  If you embrace the story that homeless people are lazy, you will interpret facts about homelessness and mental illness as excusatory and baseless.
  • If you embrace the story that government, i.e. your tax dollar, will pay for critical medical equipment, you will dismiss facts about urgent needs and lack of funding.
  • If you think that it is too late to save the environment, all the facts in the world about the need to save the polar bear will not motivate you to take action.
  • If you think libraries are obsolete, facts about the impact of their early literacy programs will not resonate with you.

What we need to do is begin with a story, a new story, one the hearer can believe. We need to tell a story that shows homeless people are not lazy and that libraries still have a vital place in our communities. If the hearer embraces the new story, the facts are far more likely to have a home in his heart and in his head.

And speaking of a good story, here’s one for you.

Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her, she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the villagers’ doors and was readily welcomed into the people’s homes. They invited her to eat at their table and warmed herself by their fire.

Jewish Teaching Story
Shared by Annette Simmons in her book The Story Factor

Thinking of your cause, how do you — can you — dress truth in story? How can you begin your donor conversations with a story? What would that look like and feel like for you?

Make a great case for your cause!

Febe Galvez-Voth

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