Why Stories Matter in Fundraising

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Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

In my previous article, I explained what fundraisers get wrong about storytelling. Mostly they tend to think stories about what their organization does can inspire and motivate giving.

You might want to check it out. Or you might want to go to the beginning of this series of posts here.

This post is about why stories do matter.

First, some history.
About 20,000 years ago, humans suddenly began cooperating a whole lot more. They built dramatically larger settlements and started the earliest forms of commerce. The proliferation of cooperation was thanks to developments in our brains that supported prosocial behavior.

Prosocial behavior promotes social acceptance and friendship.
It is positive, helpful, friendly, cooperative and socially acceptable behavior that helps us get along with others. The more we got along, the more we built together and traded with one another.

So, thousands of years ago, humans developed prosocial behavior in order to successfully live together more closely.

Next, we realized we needed a way to encourage prosocial behavior so we could cooperate more and flourish further. That’s when we began to perfect the use of storytelling to spread prosocial behavior among larger populations.

We learned to tell stories that helped humans examine, teach and maintain morals. Religion helped foster the expansion of its use. Examples can be found in fables we tell children and adults alike, from Aesop’s Fables to Star Wars. In fact, that’s where the phrase ‘the moral of the story’ comes from.

Stories serve other functions, too.
They help us make sense of the world and of ourselves. Think of the last conflict you had and how you told the story to yourself as you tried to make sense of it.

When you come home and share the story of your day with your family or read a book to your child at bedtime, those stories create emotional connections.

Stories also teach us to listen, help us remember what we hear, and gain empathy for others. They aid our understanding of others’ experiences. Storytelling (films, movies, songs, books, television, art) is a powerful way in which we share our values and create our culture.

But stories also help us understand ourselves.
Each of us has a story about our lives that includes the people we care about and our values. We are highly motivated by that story.

So, stories matter a lot to all of us. They promote prosocial behavior, so we gain social acceptance, improve cooperation, and flourish. Contributing to charitable organizations is prosocial behavior. But storytelling is only half of the equation.

Telling is not selling.
In my next post, I’ll explain why storytelling is important but doesn’t work without asking questions, investigating, and listening.

 

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