Tell a story to sell

Because storytelling is so much a part of marketing and fundraising, it’s important to know what goes into a good story … what makes it grab people’s attention and lock it onto the point you’re making for maximum persuasion power.

Luckily, we have some insightful help in our efforts to persuade through storytelling, and it comes from Mark Rovner, a noted fundraiser who draws on lessons from screenwriting. Rovner gives good, workable advice in a webinar titled The One-Minute Storyteller. You can get the audio here http://www.fundraising123.org/files/NP911_060909_Audio.mp3 and get the pdf here http://www.fundraising123.org/files/NP911_060909_Handout.pdf. It’s worthwhile, but the gist of it is this …

To craft a good story, the first thing you need is a main character, or protagonist, who has something to gain or lose and who faces and ultimately overcomes the conflicts put in his or her path.

The second thing you need is a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s the basic structure. Now, character and structure must come together, and here’s how …

In the beginning of the story, you introduce the protagonist and include endearing details about him or her. You want the audience to like the protagonist right off. After affinity is established, the protagonist goes through some sort of life-changing event – this again arouses the audience’s sympathy. Which leads us to …

… the middle. Here you introduce the conflict (with either something or someone) and the obstacles that the protagonist must overcome. By now the audience is cheering for your main character to beat the odds and make it.

Which leads us to the end. At this point, it should look as though your protagonist may not prevail, but in the final scene he or she overcomes the last obstacle or conflict and emerges victorious. The audience, having grown to like the character and having shared in the journey, now has a sense of satisfaction and closure. Things worked out. All is well with the world.

If you think about it, that’s the same format that gets played out over and over again in TV shows, movies, novels – just about any kind of entertainment. That’s because it works. And it works particularly well for marketing and fundraising. For our purposes, the story can be anything from the handful of sentences of body copy in an ad to one or more pages in a case history, but even in its most compressed form, your story needs to contain all the elements of storytelling. That’s because you want your audience to go through the process with your main character and to be changed as your character is changed. That’s real persuasion.

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