Storytelling: the most powerful way to get your fundraising message across

Published by Lucy Gower on

Recently it feels as if there has been a lot of noise about the importance of storytelling in the charity sector. This is old news. But it is good news.

Anthropologists contend that 70 per cent of everything we learn is through stories. Perfecting the art, and it is an art, of seeking out real stories and telling them in a way that inspires both you and your donors is the essence of being a fundraiser.

There are some principles that will help your storytelling on sofii. However, in order to find your stories you first have to leave your desk. Margaux wrote recently about getting out more for inspiration. I agree. The art of storytelling is as much about seeking out inspirational stories as it is telling them.

Recently I was lucky enough to travel to Australia. I think when you travel you become more aware of your surroundings. You notice more things. I was on my way to the FIA Conference and one of my sessions was on gifts in wills, so I was thinking a lot about how people choose to be remembered.

I think this is why I started to notice memorials. Everywhere. Memorials to people who fought in wars. Memorials to those who built roads and railways. Memorials to pioneers of change. There was even a memorial to the working dogs that had accompanied the early pioneers.

The memorial that touched me most was this memorial to fishermen in Freemantle in Western Australia. Because I heard a story.

The first settlers to arrive in Freemantle in the 1860s built what is today a billion dollar fishing industry. It was hard work in often dangerous conditions.

In 2002 the sons of three of the early fishermen proposed a memorial to those early fishermen who had contributed so much. Twelve timber columns on the jetty carry the names of the 608 fishermen who built today’s fishing industry at Fremantle together with a sculpture by a local artist.

It was a community effort and was funded by donations of cash, labour, materials and professional expertise by local fishermen and their families, the private sector and the Government.

The day I visited, an old man was telling his young granddaughter about how his father, her great-grandfather had many years ago, sailed for months from Italy to get to Australia.  He told a story of his hopes to build a better life. He recounted detail of his daily life, how he worked hard day and night to catch fish, build a business and a provide for his family. He talked about how proud he was of what his father had achieved and how if she had known her great granddad how happy that would have made him.

He then showed his granddaughter her great granddads name on one of the 608 shiny plaques.

His story bought the lives of the early fishermen to life for me. It made me feel emotional for a community of people that I had not even known existed before. If anyone had asked me at that point, I would have made a donation to the memories of the fisherman there and then.

Your job as a fundraiser is to connect your cause with both the head and hearts of supporters and enable them to make a difference in the world. Whatever fundraising discipline you specialize in, telling a good story will help you achieve that.

So get out more. Get more curious in your day-to-day life, learn to notice more about your surroundings, find stories and practice telling them. Like any skill, the more you practice the better you will be at telling your fundraising stories to inspire your supporters.

PS. If anyone wants to see my collection of photos of memorials let me know….

Lucy Gower

Lucy has been a fundraiser for over 10 years and is passionate about innovation and how it can transform organisational and individual performance. Lucy is an independent trainer and consultant specializing in innovation in fundraising. Lucy also blogs for fundraising website sofii.org and is a conference speaker both in the UK and overseas.


Brock Warner · April 16, 2012 at 15:57

Hi Lucy!

I totally agree. I was chatting with some friends recently about this, and how many fundraisers learn how to raise money, and they learn that storytelling is important, but many don’t actually learn how to tell stories! It’s a skill that has to be learned like any other.

Great post Lucy.


Stephen Pidgeon · April 17, 2012 at 16:07

Lovely story Lucy, thank you

    Lucy · April 22, 2012 at 23:29

    Thanks Stephen – glad you like.

Ben Swart · April 21, 2012 at 12:07

You know I live a good story, love this article more. When someone articulates their power in such a clear way. I makes all our lives easier. Bank you.

Looking forward to collaring you at some point in London to get more words of wisdom.

Ben Swart · April 21, 2012 at 12:09

Wow, that’s the last time I write a comment through my phone. Ignore the typos please. Great blog.

    Lucy · April 22, 2012 at 23:28

    Bank you Ben! :) Hope all is well with you. See you soon.

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