The most powerful way to connect people to your mission is by telling a story that causes the listener to feel something. Your organization is already filled with these kinds of stories, but when you share them, do your listeners take action? Do they make another gift? Volunteer again? Or bring others into your organization as new guests and donors?
Master storyteller Lori L. Jacobwith recently joined us for a webinar entitled “How to Find Stories that Cause Donors to Give Again.” She shared tools and strategies to help identify and share powerful stories that retain more donors and raise more money. In case you missed it, you can watch a replay here:
Steven: I’ll type it to the chat room and people will see the URL.
Steven: Cool. Well, it’s 1:00 if you want to get started. It looks like
we’ve got some folks in the room.
Lori: Yeah. They can hear what we’re saying.
Steven: They can hear us. Behind the scenes chatter adds a little bit
Steven: Cool. Let’s get started. Well, good afternoon for all of those
who are listening. If you’re on the East Coast, good afternoon.
If you’re on the West Coast, good morning. Thanks for joining us
for today’s Bloomerang webinar, entitled “How to Find Stories
that Cause Donors to Give Again.”
My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the VP of Marketing here at
Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion. Today I’m
just really excited to be joined by our guest. She’s a master
storyteller and a fundraising pro, Lori L. Jacobwith. Hey there,
Lori. Thanks for joining us.
Lori: Hello, Steve. I thank you so much for having me on today. Thanks for
sending the sunshine. It’s just starting to peak out from behind
the clouds here.
Steven: Yeah. It’s sunny here in Indy too. It’s been a little rainy.
But you brought the sunshine to us, I think. So, thanks for
Lori: I hope.
Steven: And for those of you who don’t know Lori, you should know Lori
because she’s just an excellent fundraiser. She’s coached and
trained thousands of fundraisers across North America. She’s
helped organizations collectively raise over $200 million, which
is just a staggering amount in my mind. Today she is here to
share all of that wisdom and her tidbits for success with us.
So, it’s really just an honor for Lori to be on this webinar. I
don’t know that we’ve had a guest quite of her caliber. So, I’m
So, what’s going to happen is Lori is going to jump right into
her presentation. She’s got some slides to share with us. I’m
not going to take any more time away from her. Once she starts,
you should be able to ask any questions through the chat box
right there on the webinar screen. Feel free to ask her anything
as she’s going. She’ll stop and make this a little bit more
interactive. So, ask away and know that when we get towards the
end of the presentation, there will be time for more of a formal
question and answer session there at the end as we approach the
2:00 Eastern hour.
Just so everyone is aware, we will be sending out the slides and
a recording of this presentation. So, if you have to jump of
late or maybe if you’re just arriving, we will send that stuff
out that you can review later.
So, Lori, I’m not going to take up any more time. Please take it
Lori: All right. Thanks, Steve. Welcome everyone, wherever you are in the
world. Thanks for choosing to learn something and be a part of
today’s session. Thanks for listening to our banter about screen
sharing as we got started. If you’ve been around my campus for a
while, and I know some of you have-you were texting me while I
was talking with Steve-you know that I put as much into any
session I do as possible, even when it’s on the web like this.
So, what I will tell you a tiny bit of my background and then
we’ll jump in and I’ll have some resources for you.
What I’ll tell you is I’ve been in the social sector for all of
my life practically. I’ve had one-what I call-real job out in
the marketing world when I was in my 30s. But I’ve been
Executive Director and Development Director of small-to-startup
nonprofits to institutional-sized departments and everything in
between. I live in Minneapolis. I’ve lived both in Minnesota and
Phoenix, Arizona. As a trainer, I’ve gotten to travel the world,
as far away as Australia and Europe. But I’ve coached groups
literally, you know name it-wherever they have nonprofits, I’ve
probably coached a group.
As Steve said, my measurable that I like to share with people is
I have helped organization that have wanted to focus in their
individual donor fundraising to raise more than $200 million
from individuals. Ten million of that has been just in the last
year. What I will tell you is I have a passion for the positive,
to figure out where you are focused on things that are working
for your organization and to hopefully today, not only get you
to learn some new things but also to change the lens that you
look through in doing your work.
So, just know that I know this is a disruption in fall
fundraising season, but I am hoping that it is a positive
disruption for you. I’ll have some resources and different items
to share with you as we go.
One of the things I like folks to know is I am the author of a
couple a books, an eBook that you can download from my website
that’s free, also a blog post compilation. But this year, I
launched a workbook and a system on storytelling. So, some of
the worksheets that you’ll see are in that system that you can
purchase. Some of the worksheets that I’ll share with you are in
the free eBook that you can also just download for free.
So, let’s jump in. Here’s what we’re going to cover today. So, I
want to make sure you know what storytelling is. Some people
have a misnomer about what it is and others are very, very clear
and use them often. I’ll talk a little bit about why to tell
stories. What is it that donors want? Where do you find great
stories? And then a framework to help you craft your story and
then that framework you can use with your board, your
volunteers, with your staff, with your clients, with people you
serve to help them tell you their story.
So, I love to chat with you all while we’re on the call. We have
well over 100 people and counting. People are coming in right
and left here. So, please know that as you chat with me, I will
call out as many of the items as I can.
But I have a question for you right now that I’d like you to
type into the chat box. That is what is it that you want
supporters to do? If we’re telling stories and giving our
supporters some sort of engagement by storytelling, what is it
you want them to do when you tell those stories to them? What
are the things that you’re wishing and hoping for as they do
So just go ahead, you want them to pass on the stories, great.
You want them to engage with your mission and actually give
money, we love that. Connect with your work-sure. Feel their
importance in changing lives-Becca, I love that one. You want
them to share what you’re doing. So, that means you’ve got to
tell compelling stories, right? I want supporters to give and
tell their friends about us. Feel too proud and too
understanding of what we’re doing. Let’s see-become a member,
recruit others. Start a ripple effect-oh, Kara, I like that a
lot. Donate. Spread the word. Volunteer. You want them to be
touched. You want their hearts to be touched. Great. Those are
awesome, perfect reasons. You want them to give their time,
talent, their stuff and their money. Join us in transforming the
lives of first generation students by giving and being
So, you are looking for them to take action. And I love that you
know that you want folks to take action when they are hearing
about your work. So, when they’re doing that-taking action-my
intention in talking about storytelling is that we focus on
cutting through the clutter, cutting into the day-to-day deluge
of information. You’ve probably already listened to the radio
today; maybe you’ve read the newspaper or watched the news on
TV. You’ve got emails coming into your inbox-don’t check them
now by the way-and voicemails coming in. But the truth is there
is just a lot of information. And there’s a lot of other
charitable organizations that are reaching out and asking your
supporters to do something.
So, what is it that you can do to stand out? And the truth is
you have control over how well that your supporters know you and
how much action they take. So, the secret-and really, there is a
secret that the answer you’ll know but how you execute it might
not be as clear. So, the secret to cutting through the clutter
of day-to-day noise is by sharing your impact in real people
So, if you’re an advocacy organization or you’re an
environmental organization or you are a human service
organization or an education organization or foundation-no
matter the work you do-you’ve got people whose lives are
changing because of that work. So, no matter if you feel like
you provide direct service or not-I had a couple of United Way
groups come to some of my sessions recently. I’ve been
travelling around the country doing conference speaking. We
talked about what stories do you have to tell when you don’t
provide direct service? What stories do you have to tell if
you’re a board member or come into contact regularly with people
whose lives are changing?
So, some of that we’re going to focus on here. How do we have
those stories stand out? How do we find them? How do we have
people talk about it in a way that truly causes them to come
back again and again and again? That’s the name of the game-
So, just to clarify for you and remind you, storytelling is a
narrative account of real or imagined events. Now, of course you
write stories. You might have videos of stories. My focus today,
really, for this session with Bloomerang is just about the
talking of stories. Much of what we’ll learn here and touch on
here can be adapted to your video sharing, your blog writing,
your website’s storytelling, your testimonials, all of that. But
I want to really focus on the talking part of it.
Notice I said of “real or imagined events.” In my house, Mark,
my spouse, reminds me that I seem to do a better job of talking
about the imagined events then the real events sometimes. But I
do consider myself a master storyteller. I’ve been telling
stories and coaching stories for many, many, many years. And it
is the very first job that I had in development that I started
to notice when I got connected as a Development Director. It’s
when I sat in our lobby and started to listen to some of our
clients tell me why they had come to use our services. Then I
started to craft those stories into impactful little snippets
and longer testimonials and just use those to connect people
So, here’s the good news-storytelling is not a newspaper
article. You aren’t a reporter sharing objective and very
careful stories. You’re looking to actually not just put words
to a description of what happened. You’re looking to tell a
story. That takes a little bit of art and science to put it
together. I’ll give you the tools so that you can do both in a
way that causes people to take action.
Now, I believe the very best storytellers-until we forget how to
do it-are children. I was at the airport recently-as I have been
lately quite a bit-but I was at the airport and a little boy was
sitting on his dad’s lap. The boy was facing me, but the dad’s
head was facing me. So, the back of his head was facing me. So,
he was facing his father, and he was gesturing just like the
little boy on the screen here. He was talking about airships,
spaceships and zooming and he was pointing outside the window.
You could tell he was having a wonderful time recounting the
story. His dad’s head was nodding but his arms were moving and
he had a smile that lit up his face.
At the core of storytelling is both the use of language, pauses,
exact choice of words, some of your physical movement-leaning
in, opening your hands-being connected to your audience. Guess
what? If you’re writing a story, that has to be conveyed through
the telling of the story. So, I’ll give you an example of a
before and after of a story in a bit here. My guess is some of
you have stories like the boring version or the pre-version that
I’ll share with you. My goal today by the end of the session is
to start to look at what you’re writing and telling in a whole
So, if you want them to be sharing with you, being an
ambassador, giving their time, recruiting others, what I can
tell you is the stories that you share can be clear and bold and
cause the money and action to happen or they can be sort of
mundane and just so-so and people won’t be moved and inspired by
them and they’ll move on. They’ll move on to giving somewhere
else or they’ll move on to reading something else or they’ll
move on to a different event. Eventually, if they are a donor of
their time or their dollars, they’ll start giving somewhere
else. So, you want to have there be a real clear distinction
between a story and a report about a client. We’re going to talk
about stories today.
So, when people support you-this comes from Katya Andresen, a
colleague of mine. She used to be the COO at Network for Good.
She’s now moved on to a different position. But her blog is well
read by thousands. This is from last fall. She talked about when
people support you, here’s what they’re looking for-they’re
looking to make a difference, to feel personally connected to
something greater than themselves, to feel useful and to get
that warm glow of giving.
So, number four on that list is the biggest reason that people
give today. My parents’ age and my aunt who’s 79 or so years
old, in her era, giving was to help people. It was more of
number one. But really as you focus on both younger donors and
being able to cut through the clutter of why people really give-
Freakonomics did a great podcast about this recently-people want
to feel good when they give to you.
So, here’s what happens often times, as Katya says, when they
are supporting you. They get a text receipt. They get some
statistics, some facts and figures. We send a letter by an email
or maybe we sent it in the regular mail. They often get an
appeal to give more money. That’s pretty regular-pretty standard-
after you’ve given once, now you’re going to get asked again and
again. So, they’re looking for and we want to put in more of
what people are looking for in their experience with us. So,
there isn’t that great gaping disconnect, right?
So, in order to have a disconnect not happening, we want to
focus on communication. Now, many of you are probably familiar
with this statistic from Penelope Burk, “Donor-Centered
Fundraising.” Penelope does a research project every year with
Cygnus Applied Research. The book is a great investment. But
this number-this statistic-that I’m sharing here is pretty
common year after year after year. In fact, what I’ve been
reading in studies this year is the number of donors that stop
giving, the retention rate is even less attractive, more people
going away for smaller nonprofit organizations.
But guess what? If they’re going away for things that are
connected to a failure to communicate, like you’re not being
clear about what you need or, “Gosh, you send me three
messages.” In fact, today I got an email newsletter from someone
with my name spelt wrong on one and my name spelt correctly on
the other. Now, that could be that I typed it in wrong, but it
means they didn’t merge their records before the sent out the e-
So, there are communication issues. You might have a new CEO and
I don’t what your new vision is or it doesn’t look like you need
anything, so I go somewhere else. But if those reasons that
donors are going away have to do with a failure to communicate,
then really we can do something about that. We can actually
change their engagement based on our own communication.
Now, this is a new way to look at it-the giving pyramid from
Agents of Good, it’s an awesome blog post site, the old giving
pyramid with major donors on the top and the bigger stretch of
the pyramid on the bottom is the occasional donors or event
participants. That doesn’t work so much anymore because it
focuses just on the money. What I like about this new way to
look at the pyramid is you’re not just looking at how much
someone gives now and you’re not just looking at the size of
your gift, you’re actually looking at the love the donor gives
you, which is actually largely mirrored by the love we showed
So, the stories we share with them that have them know your work
is making a difference, that then connects the top part of your
giving pyramid and has an intention to keep those donors staying
connected to your mission, why their gift matters to you. And if
our job as fundraisers is to give people reasons and inspiration
for people to feel the love and then realign their values with
your cause, which is really their cause too, the very best way I
know how to do that is through the stories that you’re telling
them. So, they reconnect to the fire in their belly that they
have for you for why they give to you in the first place.
Now, providing regular feedback and reinforcement, I want you to
know that I am not a fan of sending a lot of emails and a lot of
mailings. I am a fan of connecting with people and having-this
is what I call the care and feeding of your supporters-the care
and feeding of them is the most critical after their first gift.
So, if you connect me with a story of someone whose life is
different because so many of us just gave during fall
fundraising season and then you follow that up with something in
your newsletter or the thank you call, whatever it is. Now
you’re tending the relationship before you ask me for money
again. Stories are the best way, I believe, to allow me to feel
something positive and something amazing because of the gift
that I have given. So, regular feedback and reinforcement,
especially right after I’ve made a first gift.
But then if I’m a regular donor, an annual donor or a monthly
donor, you want to think about what is the care and feeding that
you provide your supporters. How do you do that so that they
stay with you? By sharing stories is, of course, the way I
believe. But here’s what you want to know. Stories are critical.
Lisa Cron wrote a great book that was published last fall called
“Wired for Stories.” She reminded us in that book that we
actually link in story.
You all had a reason why you joined us on the webinar today.
Thank you for doing that and taking time out of your busy
schedule to do that. But you told yourself a story about what
you might get from this. Maybe you’ve been on a webinar with me
before. Maybe you love Bloomerang as I do and think it’s an
awesome software and they’re just smart, savvy people and you
wanted to be a part of whatever this session was. Or you thought
about how there was something that this would teach you about
So, the decisions we make are based on a story we tell ourselves-
what shoes we wore today, what coat we put on, what job we have,
why you showed up here-then the truth is your donors are having
that same experience. We cannot-our brains are wired in such a
way as human beings-we cannot make a decision unless we feel
So, you have in your arsenal thousands and thousands of stories
you can share that allow people to feel something about your
work. I’m not even telling you what they should feel. Should
they feel happy or sad or angry or excited? It doesn’t matter to
me. I just want them to feel something so that their brains have
been woken up a bit and they have a way to experience the facts
and then take action.
So, if you do both-you share factual information, percentages or
statistics-you have to tell me a story with that because the
truth is, knowledge alone doesn’t cause people to take action.
Your head and your heart have to be engaged. You made the
decision to be a part of this webinar because it feels like a
good idea. You told yourself a story that you’d learn something,
you want to be a better storyteller and you could fit it into
your schedule. The fact is you had to be available during this
timeframe today. So, there are both some facts involved and some
The stories of your impact should create unforgettable emotional
connections. I don’t always remember all of the details of
stories that people tell me. But I do remember how I felt often
times when they told me that engaging scenario. I call those
mission moments. You probably call them something different in
the organization and maybe it’s a mission moment. A mission
moment in my mind is a short, inspirational example of how your
work is making an impact. So, how your staff is doing something,
how your volunteers are doing something, how your clients are
making choices that are making an impact on their lives.
The truth is, though, for a story to make a difference, it
actually has to be about a real person. Even if you plant trees,
even if you pass legislation-it has to be about a real person
whose life is different because of what you do. So, it could be
a client, a staff person, a volunteer, a board member, your
founder, a neighbor, an elected official-I don’t care. The truth
is, though, it’s got to be a little slice of something that you
go, “Oh… yeah. That’s right.”
I’m going to share with you a quick example. Some of you may
have heard it if you’ve heard me talk about mission moments
before. But it’s a favorite story of mine to share and I’ll
share it briefly. It’s a mission moment that isn’t about the
social sector about a charitable organization.
This picture is my niece, Grace. She’s nine years old now. This
is her seventh birthday. And I love this picture because it
captures the personality and the largeness of who Grace is, even
in a little body. She fills the room when she shows up. She
doesn’t stop talking from the moment she rolls out of bed.
Actually, sometimes I think she’s still talking when she’s in
bed. But she bops around, she’s got questions, she’s got big
brown eyes, long brown hair and just an animated person. She
loves to do crafts. She loves to be doing things with her mom.
In February of this year, she was home sick with the flu or cold
So, she’d been home for three days. And my sister Lisa was about
at her wits end-grateful that Grace was going to go back to
school the next day. But it was past bedtime and they were
working on an art project-you know, the project you do in
February for Valentine’s Day when you’re in grade school in the
states and that is to make your box to collect the valentines
from all your students, your peers.
So, they’re just finishing but Grace is dawdling as she’s known
to do. There’s glitter glue and construction paper strewn around
the floor in a mess. Grace is moving slowly because she knows
she has to go back to school, and she’s extending this moment as
long as she can. My sister says, “Come on, Grace. Get to bed.
Let’s go. Pick up. We’ve got to get going. I know you’re not
finished, but we can finish it tomorrow.” And Grace looks up at
my sister in her pink fluffy robe with her slippers on and she
tilts her head and she says, “But Mom, isn’t this the best night
And my sister says, “The eyes teared up, the heart bulged a
little bit and I had a mission moment of motherhood.” She said,
“I understood better than ever before what you talk about that
little slice of something that happens in your day where you go,
‘Oh, that’s why I do this work.'”
So, Shirley’s asking, “Why a real person rather than a real
animal?” You can have it be about the animal, but I’m not an
animal. And you’re not an animal. So, what do I feel because I
get to help that animal, Shirley? If you can make the story feel
like it’s about someone who thinks and talks and is a bit like
me-the reality is you want the person to connect with some
commonality. My hope is as you were hearing the mission moment
about Grace, those of you who are parents might have had one of
those. So, you might have had a mission moment of being a parent
when you go, “Okay. This is why I do this even when they’re
cranky with me.”
Lisa says, “I work for a disease-related charity. What is your
feeling about touching the heart by telling sad stories versus
happy ones?” The emotion that you convey doesn’t matter. I
worked for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. I was the Executive
Director here in Minneapolis. The important part of what I
wanted to convey was the criticalness of our work. Sometimes
those were happy stories and sometimes those were really not
such happy stories. So, it doesn’t matter which you’re telling.
You want to tell it in a way that causes me to take some action.
All right. So, I’m going to keep going and I’ll keep watching
questions and comments here and weave them in as we go.
Where do you find these stories? Some of you are touching on
some of the places that you would right now. We take for granted
a couple thing. If you’ve got staff who are providing services
out in the community or in your office, you’re thinking that
they might know how to tell a story. And so, the reality is when
you ask someone to tell you a story, you might get this look-
that sort of deer in the headlights look of, “Oh, I don’t know
I’ve got a session set tomorrow, in fact, a Skype training that
I’ll do with all of the program staff people, the line staff
people from a Volunteers of America affiliate. We’re working
with them. This will be my third or fourth time of working with
them to have them see that their work every day is a mission
moment. There are lots of mission moments. And then how to take
those mission moments and either themselves turn them into a
story so the development staff can use them and the
communication staff can use them or we’re wanting to just have
them see that they know mission moments and then the development
staff can take those and extend them out and expand them into a
story with the format that I’m teaching them.
But here are the two things we take for granted-that people
understand what kind of impact example they’re looking for-
people examples is what you’re looking for-about some moment
that they went, “Ah.” Ramona said it just right, “The strength
and courage of the person who is either suffering or who isn’t
suffering anymore.” Conflict in a story is the oxygen of a
story. The story of my little niece Grace and my sister, Lisa,
there wasn’t a big conflict, but you got the moment there. There
was a little bit of conflict in trying to get her to bed and
wanting to finish up the day and being tired and frustrated-that
conflict, whatever it is, is the oxygen.
“Do men and women feel differently?” I’ll answer that in just a
moment. I want to tell you the other thing we take for granted
and that is people know how to actually tell a story. What I
would probably bet you a $100 guaranteed is that people know how
to recount the facts of a situation, but they don’t necessarily
know how to tell a story. So, if you know that people don’t know
how to do what you’re asking, you want to be really clear about
“Do men and women feel differently and should we approach
differently?” I will tell you that men will first off say-I
don’t know, Steve, if you want to chime in on this-they don’t
need to hear a story or they don’t think the story is as
important to them. But the studies show-scientific evidence
shows-that men are as moved by inspirational or emotionally
engaging stories as women are, they just don’t acknowledge-raise
their hands right off the bat-that they are.
Steve, do you have any thoughts on that?
Steven: As a man speaking, I can definitely confirm that that’s true. I
have been moved by emotional stories. I hope that’s true.
Lori: And you might say, “Oftentimes I wouldn’t look for the story, but I
am moved and inspired by it.
Lori: So, I would say women might look for the story. Steve might look for
it a little less quickly. But men and women are both inspired by
them. So, you want to use them for sure.
But here’s where you want to look for the stories-this is how
you want to be looking to find them. First, you have to figure
out who you’re asking for mission moment examples. You want to
decide what questions you’re going to ask them. And then you
want to decide where do you ask those questions?
So, I’ll take you through those just really quickly. First is
who do you ask? And I know that we ask probably our line staff,
our program staff. Sometimes you might ask your volunteers. But
let’s make a quick list. Just type into the chat box-who shares
their-what I would call a mission moment, they might not yet-but
who shares their mission moments with you when you ask them?
Great-your faculty, your clients, your program directors, your
missionaries-awesome. Volunteers, recipients, our staff, our
board-perfect-people who built the building, people who benefit
from our free medical care. How about your donors? Do you ever
ask them? Our doctor team members, our partners-yeah.
So, you have lots of you have relationships with folks to ask
some specific questions of. But what do you ask them? And here’s
where it gets a little more-listen carefully here, I guess, is
what I would say. You want to not ask them, “Please tell me a
story.” You want to ask them open-ended questions-questions that
have a way to allow you to get at the story but don’t
necessarily feel like you’re putting the person on the spot. Our
job, our responsibility, is to ask questions in a way that
causes people to tell us the slice of something so that we can
go back and we can flesh out the story. They don’t have to be
responsible for that, at least not in the beginning.
With your board, I want them to become great storytellers. So,
we would teach them the way to tell a story. Your responsibility
if you’re the communication staff person or you’re the
development staff person is to be the one asking the questions.
So, they might be questions like, “Who have you met at our
organization that inspires you? What’s your own mission moment?”
You have to define it first. But let them know, “We want to know
what your mission moment is that causes you to want to be a part
of our organization.”
Add other questions. I’ve got a whole list. This is a sample of
one of the pages in the free downloadable eBook that I mentioned
at the beginning. Steve, if you want to share the website, it’s
This is one of the worksheets in also the storytelling system
that have, but this worksheet is just easy for you to follow
some open ended questions to start with. “How does our team help
you?” for the people you serve. Board members-“What’s the most
important part of our work for you? Do you have a special
mission moment you remember about someone you’ve met?” First
time donors-“What brought you here? What’s special for you about
our work? Why’d you fund it in the first place?”
Mark asks, “What about when-when to ask the questions?” So, that
comes up with where-so, the where and when is really critical.
Mark says, “I work at a summer camp where our campers come on
Sunday and leave on Friday. We don’t want to take time away from
kids during their time there. It seems like we don’t truly have
time during the summer. It’s much harder to connect after the
summer is over.”
So, Mark, I’m going to ask a question of all of you as this
session ends today. One of the things that I do-I’m stealing my
own thunder here, so I’m going to actually scroll ahead. I don’t
think I’ve ever done this before but I’m going to do this just
to make a point and answer your question because I think it’s
important and I think it will help folks. So, I ask this
question at the end of every training. Wherever I do training-
live, in person, on the web-I ask people one thing they learned
and for you all today I’ll ask you, “How will you create a
So, the reality is I make sure to find a way that I can access a
mission moment from you while you’re still with me. And then if
I need to, I can follow up with you in some way. But I would ask
your campers, “What was the most inspiring moment for you before
you leave?” They could write it on a bulletin board. They could
write it on a big poster pad. They could jot it to you on a
But I would capture them while they’re in their element because
where you ask the questions and when you ask the questions is as
important. So, you want to ask them at your event. You want to
ask them online. You want to ask them-I love it if you were at
an event and you say, “All right. Here’s our Facebook page.
Everybody go to our Facebook page and you can just comment on
the picture we just took of you all in the room.”
Becca says, “What about a last night campfire asking campers
what their favorite moment was? Just be sure to have a notepad
available.” Love it, Becca that is perfect.
You’re looking to capture information from the, “When I was
inspired.” So, where to ask the questions is all over the place,
but now you want to be doing that listening clearly to make sure
you’re capturing enough of the essence of that so you can put
the story together. Absolutely doing 30-second videos of the
impact-a lot of us has smartphones these days.
So, let’s talk quickly. I just want to take you through how you
do this. We won’t take the time to do this. How do you turn a
mission moment into a story? So, there’s the website again-
www.Boring2Brilliant.com-it’s a free eBook. It’s a subset of the
actual storytelling toolkit and system that I have. But when I
ask you to tell me a story, I ask you to have it be about a real
person with name and age and descriptors so I can visualize who
you’re talking about and even maybe connect with them a little
I ask you to please use words that emotionally connect me to
your work. Watch the jargon. Watch where you’re doing our
organizational speak. And then, you want to share specific
examples of your work and how it makes a difference in the life
of a real person or a real animal-it can be that, but you want
to tell it from the person viewpoint-and then it has to be two
minutes or less.
Meg also says, “Train your counselors to be on the lookout for
mission moments and do a debrief with your counselors at the end
of the day and just jot them down.” So, great ideas you guys are
Here’s what I’ll tell you, though. The criteria I’ve just
posted, the third there, “Share specific examples of your work
and how it makes a difference,” is the least-developed in your
story. It doesn’t always have me know what you do. Your story
sometimes just focuses on that person, the pain they’re having
or the frustration or whatever it is and it forgets to say how
you made a difference for them.
So, in the storytelling system that I offered, I wanted to just
tell you-here’s an example of a before story. You’ve probably
seen this somewhere before or maybe even written a version of it
yourself. This is for an arts organization. “We’re grateful to
Mrs. Lee for being a subscriber to our theater. She loves
performing arts and rarely misses a show. She brings guest with
her and makes sure we know that she’s spreading the word about
quality performances we deliver. We wish all of our patrons were
as passionate as Mrs. Lee.”
Well, guess what? That’s not a story. That’s actually a report
about Mrs. Lee. So, I want to tell you a story and I won’t tell
you the whole thing, but on the right-if I were just standing in
front of you talking to you, I might say, “You know, I want to
tell you about a woman. At the tender age of nine, the first
show that Amanda Lee saw was a three-hour long production of
Camelot. Now she’s 79 and she has told me that she can still
recall that first thrilling moment when the orchestra music
began and she was swept away to a time long ago. She could dream
about being a queen and living in Camelot.
She’s become one of our most passionate and regular supporters.
Even when money was tight, she brought her kids to our people’s
theater so they got to experience and delight in the theater.
Now she brings her grandchildren. But the years have taken a
toll on Mrs. Lee and she doesn’t have the spring in her step
that she used to have. She still has the twinkle in her eye, but
the reality is she is a bit lonely since the death of her
husband. She’s kind of frail and she suffers from lots of side
effects of aging. We can relate to some of those, some of us.
But she tells us the joy she gets from attending our
performances-better than any rehab or medication. She reminds us
that we’re more than a theater company. We’re a place where
memories are made and dreams are woven and passion is felt.”
So, I just told you a little bit different story. I want to just
have you type into the chat box-what was different about the
first version and the second version? What did you like or what
was more in place for you in the second version? Some personal
details. What was emotional for you, Lindsey? What was the
emotional connection? That’s what’s helpful for me to know. How
did you know Mrs. Lee in the second version?
That’s my job, to paint a picture for you. You said it
perfectly, Sara. You’re telling about that person, the twinkle
in her eye, how she felt. You relate to her. You get to know her
a little a bit. How do you balance brevity versus fleshing out
the story? I’ll show you some examples at the end, Alice, that
are really quick examples. “The first one was sterile,” Ramona
is saying, and, “It was a report.” So, I want you use that
example with others so you can have them know, “Wait, we’re not
looking for a report. We’re looking for a real story.”
So, how do we do this? You want to find one person-maybe it’s
one person that adopted that animal or is helping clean the
rivers-whatever it is, one person. You want to learn and jot
down as much about them as you can-what do they look like? Why
are they with you? How did they come to be with you? You want to
write down the exact results. When you talk about results, what
I mean is specific things-did they get a job? Did they stop
drinking? Did they get a diploma? Mrs. Lee felt some joy. She
had a place to go where she felt less lonely.
You want to write down the specific results because the fourth
thing is you want to write the transformations now. Once you’ve
written down some specific results, you want to talk about what
the transformations are because of your organization. This is
where you flesh out even more the work that your organization
has done. Transformations are the things we can’t measure. Maybe
I feel safe for the first time. Maybe I don’t feel as lonely.
That’s part of a transformation that happens. So, exact results
are different and specific. The transformations are where people
start to feel connected to you emotionally.
And then you want to start to circle words that stand out that
are emotionally connecting. I’ve got a short list for you here:
abandoned, blessed, emotionally bruised, spiritually, physically
broken, weary. It could be excited. It could by, “my eyes lit
up,” “twinkle in her eye.” Whatever it is, the placement of
those words is critically in creating a story that I want to
hear or talk about again and again.
Then you take the story-and I’ll show you a framework that you
can fit it into in a moment-but you have to practice telling it
often. The truth is, when you share a story, you have to tell
it. You have to ditch the notes and tell the story, not read it
from a piece of paper.
So, here are a couple of the pages from the eBook, the Boring 2
Brilliant eBook. You tell them about the person. You can fill in
the language and the words you wrote down. I just used this at a
number of conferences that I was at. I also used it with a board
of directors and their staff last Friday. We had a foundation
board. They created their own personal story about why they’re
involved with the organization.
So, Andrew says, “I run a think tank on public policy. How can I
make it emotional about one person?” So, the person might be
you. It might be one of your board members. What is it about the
policies that you provide whitepapers on? What is the outcome of
what you want to have happen, Andrew, and someone whose life is
affected by when that policy changes?
So, let me just give you a quick example. I did this exercise
using this two-page worksheet. Here is the second page. Here is
how our organization helped with a realtors association-a
statewide realtors association. And the truth was they do a lot
of work at the state capital to make sure that laws are passed
to allow all kinds owner rights, tenant rights-things that felt
really not connected. When they were doing this exercise, they
started to realize they have lots of stories of people whose
lives are affected by the laws they’re advocating for and the
policies that they’re affecting. So, they started to realize
they have to talk more to people whose lives have changed in
order to tell a powerful story.
All right. I’m going to keep going. Ramona and Bernie, I’m going
to keep your questions in mind here, but I’m going to move on to
the next slide.
Here’s a shorter version of a story. It’s a quote, really, but
it is a story. You could call this person-give them a real name-
but he says, “I’m going to write down this day and this hour and
the moment when my life changed. Now I can have hope.” And this
is a student when he got accepted to a school in Tanzania, Peace
House Secondary School, an organization right here in my city,
actually, Eden Prairie, Minnesota. They fund schools in Africa,
specifically Peace House schools. They often tell little
snippets of stories about the students. Sometimes they’ll have
them on video and they’ll share them on YouTube or wherever else
All right. Ramona says, “I like writing stories, but I’m often
told or at a minimum I feel I’m too wordy. It depends on the
setting.” Writing stories, you can get too long as well. So, you
want to use the framework-the two pages before. Notice I didn’t
give you a lot of lines on the framework. You want to keep it
pretty brief, especially if you know it’s got to be in two
minutes or less.
So, Bernie asks, “In a fundraising appeal, is a completed
success story better than an unfinished story?” It depends on
what you want me to do, Bernie. Do you want me to know the end
of the story by going to your donate page? Do you want to have
me know the end of the story by going to your Facebook page and
commenting on it? Do you want to tell a part of the story to
compel me to give and have me know the story isn’t complete
because we don’t have the resources yet to have all the follow
up being done to help this person? This is someone that we had
to turn away. Just having a story in an appeal is critical. You
don’t have to have it complete. But you do want it to cause me
to take action.
Here’s an example of an organization that had a gala last fall.
Tiffany in the picture here on the screen told her story. I
coached her. She had about four minutes to share why when she
was homeless and she only had her daughter Natalie, she was so
moved and inspired that the Jeremiah Program in Minneapolis took
her in, gave her a roof over her head, helped her get her GED,
helped her go on to college. She’s now a Vice President at
Target Corporation. She got to talk about how her life was
different and how she had felt pretty hopeless and like she
didn’t matter. Her children were there when she told the story.
It was very succinct.
Then, when the thank you letters were sent, they put this insert
in so we could relive her storytelling with a short quote from
here. And if we didn’t go to the event, they used the same story-
a little longer version than you see on the screen here-in the
fundraising appeal that went out that fall. So, making sure that
the story oozes out over time-you don’t have to have it be just
a one-time feeling connection.
Lisa says, “What if you’re a brand new startup and need seed
funding but there are no stories to tell yet?” Oh, Lisa, there
are. What is the vision? What do you believe in? So, we’ll go
back to the example. Let me tell you about who’s your founder,
who’s the passionate person on the board. Here’s why they
believe our work will matter and here’s why we banded together
to create this organization. Here’s what he or she or I think
our organization can do to help children, to make a difference
in the lives of veterans-whatever it is. Be very specific about
the exact results and the transformations that you’re thinking
your work will do. Let me know, this is one of thousands of
stories that you will be able to tell when you receive the
funding that you need. So, nice question.
I did a nonprofit Movie Monday video for Chris Davenport. He’s
someone you want to follow. He has a free service called Movie
Mondays for Nonprofits. My topic was on storytelling. You can
share this video at a board meeting or a communications staff
meeting. But I talk about the importance of board members in
storytelling. One of the things that I make sure to share is a
quick story about three board members at the Volunteers of
America affiliate in New Orleans-they had a really deep
ingrained storytelling culture. Board members actually used the
template that I have here to create a story about a client that
they got to meet. So, they got really good about talking about
that person. They took their picture with them. They made sure
to tell those stories in two minutes or less.
When Jim, the CEO, was going to visit a foundation, he asked for
a volunteer, just one, to go with him to visit the foundation on
a big donor ask. These three board members were adamant they all
had to go. So, Jim brought them all. Jim talked a little bit
about what was to happen when they got funded by this foundation
at this very large level and then the board members talked. At
the end of the meeting, the program staff person said, “You
know, Jim, you did a nice job with the numbers and the programs.
I would like to tell that we’ll fund your program. I’ll make a
recommendation to the full board, but here’s why. I’ve never
experienced three board members so passionate and articulate
about the clients and the work that you do. That’s why I want to
make sure we fund your program.”