I’ve never quite lost the sense of magic and exhilaration I used to feel as a child. I barely slept on Christmas Eve, lying awake for hours every year, way too excited to even stay still.
It wasn’t the anticipation of presents, more the prospect of just seeing Father Christmas in action, with his sack of presents over his shoulder. I'd read so many magical Christmas stories and watched so many films that it all seemed so real, and I was desperate to see it for myself.
I devised creative ways to ensure that I didn’t sleep through the magical moment. I remember one year trying to booby trap my bedroom, hoping he’d make enough noise to wake me up. But my parents were always one step ahead of me and equally creative in their excuses. “Father Christmas said he left your presents outside your door this year because he was running late and in a hurry.”
Christmas always brings festive nostalgia and is a great reminder of the power of storytelling. Stories have a huge impact on adults and children alike. A good story burns an image onto our brain and changes the way that we communicate and behave.
Many companies are brilliant at exploiting this. The John Lewis Christmas advert feels like the official opening ceremony for the festive period these days. Sainsbury’s attracted attention last year with their World War I themed advert. In many adverts, the product is barely mentioned. It’s all about the story and how it makes you feel. This love story about milk bottles may be the ultimate example:
As charities, we enjoy the natural advantage of having powerful and inspiring stories to tell. We support people who battle against personal challenges, often showing huge courage in the face of adversity. Our heroic supporters dedicate their time, energy and creativity to volunteering and quirky fundraising efforts.
Telling a story is a great way of explaining your vision of a better world and what needs to change. Stories are memorable and easy for your supporters to share with others, and they motivate staff and volunteers. In a world where we are more interconnected than ever, this is really powerful.
A great example is the remarkable story of Stephen Sutton, who turned his battle with cancer into a £4million fundraising effort for Teenage Cancer Trust. Stephen’s personal story inspired millions of people to take action in a way that no statistic or charity newsletter could have done.
Given the wealth of good material at our fingertips, shouldn’t we be better at using stories to inspire our supporters and share our messages?
Here are six top tips for telling your own powerful stories:
1. Delve deep into your organisation – trustees and senior management don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. The best stories are unlikely to emerge from your boardroom. You need to engage project staff, volunteers, beneficiaries and fundraisers. This is a great way to find authentic content and engage everybody from top to bottom in the task of finding the story that best represents your cause.
2. Keep it positive – evidence shows that people are tired of ‘traditional’ charity appeals about suffering and pain. Increasingly we must deal in hope, change and happy endings. If you’re looking for inspiration then I’m proud to be an ambassador for Good News Shared, a website which shares brilliant stories that showcase the positive and inspiring work done by charities and social enterprises.
4. Mix your media – no matter how good the story, too much text will always put people off. We live in a world full of videos, audio books and infographics, and organisations are finding ever more creative ways to share their content. So keep the text to a minimum, use plenty of vivid images and try creating a video of your story – it doesn't have to be professionally produced to be engaging.
5. Make it easy to share – why do all the hard work yourself? Every person has the potential to spread the word to others. You never know who may mention you to a company, trust or high value donor. Encourage supporters to share your stories by making them clear, memorable, short and bursting with pride.
6. What next? Don’t leave your supporters wondering what they can do to help. Finish with a clear call to action – this could be a request to donate a certain amount, sign up to an event or share the story on social media.
Stories are a great ‘leveller’ for smaller charities. You may not have the budget for that expensive marketing campaign or fundraising app, but your stories cost nothing to find and little to share. This is a golden opportunity, so don’t pass it up.
If you’d like some more practical tools for sharing your story, check out this blog by Nisha Kotecha. Nisha is the Founder of Good News Shared and is even more passionate than me about the power of a good story!
This blog is adapted from a blog that we first published in December 2014. Storytelling remains a much-discussed topic in the charity sector, so we felt that it was time to share some updated advice with you.