STORYTELLING | Honouring an Emotional or Traumatic Experience

publication date: Apr 28, 2022
author/source: Chloe Lynch

Everyone has a story to tell. But when that story is filled with challenges, traumatic moments, or sad memories, it can be difficult for the person to talk to a Marketing or Fundraising professional, even if they know it will raise awareness and funds for the charity that helped them through their time of need.

Telling real and authentic stories about the people that benefit from a charity’s programs and services is so valuable and important. It inspires donors to give, and it can help other people in the community feel hopeful or understood.

So, how do you find individuals who are ready and excited to share their story? And, what’s the best way to tell their story in a way that shows respect and gives them dignity?

Prioritize your relationship with the frontline team. Go out of your way to connect with the frontline team to build a mutually beneficial working relationship so they want to help identify good stories. If they end up telling you a story idea that gets complimented by a donor, let them know! Your success is their success, and over time they will develop a better understanding of what types of individuals have impactful stories that will resonate with your audience.

Be transparent and compassionate. If someone is going to agree to share their story, they need to know how it will be used. Start by being open and transparent about where the story will appear (ex. donor summer newsletter). Showing a past example can be helpful so that you can prove you have experience telling a story that respects the people it is about. Be prepared to answer questions or modify the ask to make them feel comfortable with the result (ex. not sharing personal details about a child’s medical treatment for a charity supporting seriously ill children).

Explain the benefits. If someone is debating if they are going to be vulnerable and share something that is personal to them, it is important to explain the benefits they will get from the experience. The benefit may be getting a positive keepsake (ex. a newsletter to put in a memory box) or professional photos they can use in the future (if there will be a photoshoot for the newsletter). Think about this in advance so you can be prepared to share these details.

Have an open mind and listen. If appropriate, lead a conversational interview that allows the individual to share what they want to talk about. Start with an open-ended question and let your follow-up questions build from there. You may be listening for a while before you end up getting to their experiences that relate to your charity. Building rapport and listening often results in a more meaningful, impactful story and gives you quotes or details you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. If the person cries while sharing a difficult story, it’s often best to continue listening and give them time to have a moment. They know they are talking to a Marketing or Fundraising person and don’t need words of comfort; they want to see you put your pen down and give your undivided attention. The more you listen, the more you learn.

Always let them review the story. Make sure the individuals are comfortable with the story before it goes live or goes to print. If they want to change a word or totally remove a quote, it’s important to honour that. When you asked the individual to share their story, they may have thought the newsletter was a nice keepsake so it should be something they are happy with. This will help you too, because they might share the link/a photo on their social media which increases awareness and potentially gains revenue for your charity from a new network or community of people.

Say thank you. Even though the story is published, remember to follow up and send a sincere message of appreciation for their time. You may be able to ask them to recommend other people who would be interested in sharing their experience with your charity. But most importantly, you want their lasting impression of working with you to be positive so they will be excellent brand ambassadors.

Chloe Lynch is a marketing and communications leader and storyteller with over seven years of experience in digital communications raising revenue and brand awareness in the non-profit sector. Chloe's passion is telling stories that engage, inform and motivate people to make a positive impact.


Home page photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash.

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