Christmas – there’s nothing quite like it, is there?
I’ve never quite lost the sense of magic and exhilaration I used to feel as a child. Honestly – I used to barely sleep on Christmas Eve. I lay awake for hours every year, way too excited to stay still long enough to even think about sleeping.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the thought of presents that got me going. I was more excited about just seeing Father Christmas in action, with his sack of presents over his shoulder. To find out whether he had eaten the carrot and glass of milk I had left outside my door. I had read so many magical Christmas stories and watched so many films that it all just seemed so real, and I wanted to see it for myself.
It seemed unfair that I’d spend so many hours tossing and turning but, as soon as I dropped off to sleep, Father Christmas would know to come. So I devised ways of making sure I didn’t sleep through the magical moment. I remember trying one year to lay a trip wire across my bedroom floor, hoping he’d end up making enough noise to wake me up.
As the traps got more creative, so too did my parents’ excuses. “Father Christmas said he left your presents outside your door this year because he was running late and in a hurry.” My poor parents, but they were always one step ahead of me.
The point of all this festive nostalgia is to demonstrate just how powerful stories can be. They can have a huge impact on adults and children alike. A good story burns an image onto our brain that we cannot forget quickly. This can have a big effect on the way we behave and communicate with others.
Many companies are brilliant at exploiting the power of storytelling for commercial gain. We were barely into November when John Lewis launched their Christmas advert featuring a heart-warming tale about a lonely penguin. Then along came Sainsbury’s with their hotly-debated World War I themed advert. Crucially, neither advert even mentions what you might expect to find in their stores. They are all about the story, and the way this makes you feel.
Increasingly, charities are using the same approach to great effect. We live in a world where thousands of charities are competing for our donations and attention. People understandably become desensitised to charitable messages, so creating an inspiring and memorable story is a great way to stand out from the crowd.
As a charity, you will have some of the most powerful and inspiring stories to tell. You work with people who battle against personal challenges and show huge courage in the face of adversity. Your heroic supporters pour their time and energy into creative and selfless fundraising efforts.
Using stories is such a great way of explaining your vision of a better world and what needs to change in order to achieve this. Stories are not only memorable and easy to understand, they are also easy for your supporters to share with others. In a world where we are all so connected virtually if not physically, this is really powerful.
It’s not only about communicating with your supporters. You need all your staff and volunteers to feel motivated and proud of what your charity does, and be willing to spread the word to others. Again, there’s no better way of doing this than with a good tale.
Many of you will be familiar with the incredible story of Stephen Sutton. Stephen had been battling cancer since the age of 15 and, in late 2012, was told that it was incurable.
He responded by creating his own Facebook group called Stephen’s Story, publishing his Bucketlist of 46 things he wanted to achieve in the near future and setting up an online fundraising page aiming to raise an initial £10,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust.
His story became known across the world. He became a motivational speaker and a symbol of hope and inspiration for millions of others. When Stephen passed away in May 2014, there was an outpouring of grief but also celebration of his life.
Stephen eventually raised over £4million for Teenage Cancer Trust and a huge amount of awareness. There are now plans for every school in the UK to teach teenagers how to spot the early signs of cancer, an initiative inspired by Stephen’s story.
One ordinary boy with an incredible attitude and a positive yet simple personal story. Millions of people inspired to take direct action in a way that no statistic or traditional appeal could have achieved.
Using stories to make content more appealing, personal and memorable is something we can all do. That’s why my own blogs have featured tales of gender-confused kittens and week-long obsessions with Bourbon biscuits.
I recommend you check out a brilliant website called Good News Shared which demonstrates the power of storytelling for charities on a daily basis. In response to a world dominated by negative and sad news stories, Good News Shared focuses on the positive and inspiring work done by charities and social enterprises. It features some brilliant stories so is well worth a visit if you’re looking for some inspiration for your charity.
To mark the Christmas period and the reappearance of some classic festive tales, I wanted to share my six top tips for how your charity can tell its own powerful story in 2015:
1. Keep it positive – evidence shows that people are growing tired of ‘traditional’ charity appeals about suffering and pain. The best charity campaigns increasingly talk about hope and change. Instead of upsetting people into donating, try inspiring them instead. That doesn’t mean you should avoid reality, but make your overall message upbeat and make sure you have a happy ending.
2. Faces not figures – a good personal story is always more memorable than even a powerful statistic. Make your story about one memorable individual. Use photos and some background information about that person to make it feel more real and have a bigger impact.
3. Mix your media – there’s no way around it: too much text makes people switch off. These days we expect to be engaged in other ways. We watch more videos. We listen to more audio books. A one-minute Christmas video story told by your CEO is a great way to stand out from the crowd and share something that people will really remember.
4. Make it easy to share – why do all the hard work yourself? Your direct communications will only ever reach a fraction of your supporters, but each individual has the potential to spread the word to others. Encourage supporters to share your stories and make them easy to be shared – clear, memorable and not too long. The message should be inspiring and bursting with pride. Think about what would be likely to captivate you so much that you couldn’t resist sharing it with others.
5. Fundraisers, not just beneficiaries – you may feel naturally inclined to talk most about those people you have helped or who desperately need your support. But what about your amazing fundraiser who went the extra mile to raise a huge amount for the cause? Inspire your supporters by talking the everyday people who are supporting your work and you’ve got a great chance of inspiring others to do the same.
6. What happens next? – there’s a difference between feeling motivated by a cause and knowing what to do next. Don’t leave your supporters wondering what they can do to help. Finish with a clear message about what you want them to do – that could be a request to donate a certain amount, sign up to an event or share a story with 100 others. This is known as the ‘call to action’ and getting it right will help your story to achieve a whole lot more.
I hope that you all have a lovely break this Christmas and come back bursting with inspiring stories to share in 2015. Remember to get in touch with me if you ever want any advice.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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