“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” -Madeleine L’Engle
Fundraisers have discovered that stories have magical power. Stories can seize our attention, working on an emotional, primal, even mythic level. Stories can tap into universal human values that bind us together across time and distance. But in our super-saturated world, even a powerful medium like story-telling can soon be perceived as yet more hype and spin.
Where’s the real story?
Can any story be distinctive and utterly unique; something a donor feels is truly authentic in an age when new content quickly devolves into a cookie-cutter template?Yes. Having cultivated major gifts for over ten years, I have learned that there is one thing a donor will treat as memorable, meaningful and endlessly fascinating: the story of their own life. The longer I cultivated major gifts, the more I saw that we were cranking up the volume with our organizations’ stories but inadvertently silencing the donor. I run a program that inverts this dynamic and spotlights the donor’s story.
Over a decade ago, I became involved in a new concept in our organization called, “The Book of Life.” The idea behind it was to encourage our current donors and new prospects to write autobiographical sketches wherein they could reflect on and describe their inspirations, role-models and core philanthropic values. If a distracted audience is indeed our greatest challenge, I never have anything but the undivided attention of my storytellers.
Consider this 30-year long “Brand Pyramid” study by Millward Brown, a global marketing research and consulting firm.
This pyramid maps out five milestones that elevate perceptions from simple awareness all the way up to passionate brand loyalty.
Donor values, your mission: build the bonds
“Bonding” is the apex of the engagement cycle. This is the stage where people develop a genuine emotional affiliation with a brand. For fundraisers, it is the point where we strike a perfect alignment between donor values and our mission.
Having been involved in collecting the stories of over 250 donors, I can add another facet to this bonding level: our Book of Life donors share their stories with their families, social circles and professional peers. These major gifts are not one-offs. They are springboards for additional gifts and inspire action from like-minded people, often spanning successive generations within a family.
When donors are given the opportunity to recall and record their lives through the lens of a narrative story, the experience can be a revelation and forges significant, active engagement.
Time and again, I have seen these story-telling donors become some of our most emotionally invested, vocal advocates. As a result, my organization’s content is constantly refreshed, renewed, revived and relevant because, as The Book of Life tagline says, “Every Life has a Story.”
Zimbabwe-born Janice Benatar has also lived in South Africa and Israel, and now makes her home in Toronto. She is involved in a number of fundraising initiatives, specializing in endowments, planned giving and capital campaigns. Janice currently works as Senior Development Officer for the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto and the Tomorrow Campaign of UJA Federation, and was a speaker at AFP-GTA’s Chapter’s Congress in 2012 and 2013. Contact her by email.