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How to Connect to Current Donors Through Empathic Storytelling

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Empathy in All and All in Empathy: Part 1

“You never really understand a person, until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” 

Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird 

Think about your e-mail inbox. How many of the e-mails are asking you for something, selling you something, or informing you of something? How many e-mails do you truly look forward to reading? Now, consider how you would feel if something different showed up. Something containing an inspiring story, something you could connect with. Something that made you feel something. 

In a world of virtual fundraising when so many of us are feeling disconnected, empathic storytelling in your donor communications has never been of greater significance to every non-profit’s financial well-being. Evoking empathy is crucial to building a human connection. Empathic storytelling is a concept that will go a long way to establishing a bond between the narrator and the reader. Emotional engagement relies on caring about the central character’s plight and struggles. You can use empathy to your advantage by providing higher-quality communications to current donors, and brainstorming new audience members that may be able to have emotional ties to those you serve – which we will cover in Part 2 of this Blog Series. 

First of all, let’s dissect empathy. Psychology tells us empathy has three components.

1. Communicative Cues

Being able to recognize emotions in oneself and others through, speech, body language, or behavior.

2. Cognitive Empathy

Being able to consider and understand the perspective of another person.

3. Emotional/Affective Component

Being able to share or experience the emotional states with others. This uses brain cells called ‘mirror neurons’ to facilitate an “echo” of another’s emotional state within ours and is primarily an emotional reaction.

This means that we need context and visualization to relate to others. Empathic storytelling is the most effective way to provide your audience with context and visualization.

To demonstrate the power of empathy and the difference human connection and familiarity make, how about a story?

Imagine you’re driving to work. You see someone sleeping on the sidewalk. Do you stop? Probably not. You reluctantly accept that person’s unfortunate situation as a part of modern life; and although you would like to see their circumstances improve, you’re not likely to pull over on route to your day job. 

Now, imagine you see that same person resting on the sidewalk; they look up and it’s an old friend from school. What do you do? You are much more likely to slow the car, talk to them and find out what happened. You are more likely to slip them some cash, give them your number, help them get a room sorted or at least locate a good meal. In the blink of an eye, you’re engaged, motivated, and determined to help.

In other words, feeling a personal connection to that individual is more likely to prompt action. This is where empathy comes in. Empathy is the key to human connection, and vice versa.

To make an audience feel empathetic, they have to be able to relate to the other person. You have to draw parallels and similarities through empathic storytelling that can help your audience relate. Once your audience can relate and put themselves “into the shoes” of those your mission supports, you’re more likely to stimulation motivation and action.

The first step to this depends a lot on your audience. You can’t draw parallels between your audience and the main character of your story if you don’t know who your audience is.

Marketing and Communications 101 will tell you to consider your audience

  • What is the demographic of your target audience? Age, gender, location, financial status, etc.
  • Who most often engages with your content?
  • Who are your donors?

Now consider the “characters” in your organization that they can relate to. How can you draw common denominators? When deciding which stories to feature and communicate, think about who most resembles the audience you are hoping to reach? It is your job as the storyteller to highlight the similarities between the main character and the listener.

Once you’ve identified who you think your audience can relate to, it’s time to identify connections. 

I.E. Where are they from? What do they do? What family do they have? What are their hobbies? What are their interests? What are their fears? What are their hopes and dreams? 

Communicate these in your story! Chances are good you will strike a chord in the audience that resonates with them. The more human you can make your character, the more human you can make your mission.

Empathy is our greatest tool for generosity, but it takes creativity, tact, and skill to use it wisely. Happy storytelling, everyone!

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