Not everyone can relate to numbers or percentages, but almost everyone can relate in some way to a story.

When talking about your work don’t rely on benchmarks, number of people helped or how a percentage of the population will gain from something; instead – share a story about someone who has been impacted by your work.

Think about the last time you were contacted to support an cause, and all they said was “we helped 10,000 people last year … “ or “over 10% of the population gained from our work in the field” – did you blank out, switch off – or did you simply grab your wallet to make a contribution without thinking about the “individuals” being helped?

If organizations tell stories about the people they are helping it’s more likely people will feel a personal connection to the cause, they can relate in some way to how people be aided, they can build a mental picture of the people.

In using stories it’s often best to not tell too many in the same communication – e.g it’s probably best that an appeal letter or email only tell one or two stories, any more and you’re likely to again have donors switching off; it can cause mental confusion for them.

In reality it is unusual to receive appeals that don’t include a story of a particular person whose life was affected by a charity’s work.

Remember though, that if your organization works with people whose confidentiality needs to be protected? How do you handle delicate situations, still telling stories, and not deceiving donors?

How can you share stories without breaching privacy?

  1. We don’t use a client’s actual name in our appeals, unless you have their approval. If you can’t use their real name, state this from the outset e.g. ‘I’ll call her Anne …,’, or Anne isn’t her real name, we’ve chosen to respect her privacy.’
  2. We omit any details that might give away the person’s identity.

Some people are quite happy to share their whole story because they feel it will have a higher purpose, so you should always ask.

If you’re telling the story of a “real” person always let them have the chance to review and approve the story or appeal before anything goes public.

So, when telling stories, always always always

  • Get written permission  before publishing stories
  • Be creative to protect personal details and identities
  • Be open, be upfront about what you are doing.

And, in your story telling never try to deceive your readers, they will smell a rat, and they won’t forgive you if they find out.

So ditch the numbers, the percentages and tell real stories; even if you have to adapt them to protect the privacy of the “subject”.

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