The Story Network met last week and this time we were looking at DM and storytelling. This has come up time and again as an issue that members want to explore, largely because it’s the area of storytelling that causes the most amount of debate between teams in charities.
Wainani Dombrowski from fundraising agency Blue Frog joined us to talk through the agency perspective on what makes a good story. She framed what agencies need within the traditional structure of storytelling, with the donor being the hero who saves the day:
- A character: this can be human, animal or environment but they are at the heart of the story and who the donor (hero) is saving.
- A setting: this could be as big as a whole country or as contained as a research lab, but there must be colour and detail that brings the setting to life in the reader’s imagination.
- A theme: within a fairy tale this might be ‘good v evil’ or ‘love conquers all’ but in charity storytelling it can be described as a value or set of beliefs that your donor holds – for example, no child should be hungry.
- A conflict: in a charity storytelling this means a specific need or problem that needs to be solved.
- A plot: this is the action or in charity language the ‘intervention’. This is what will happen to the character to solve their conflict and there must be a sense of urgency. The hero (the donor) will be saving the day so they need to believe they can do it.
The last two points are the aspects of a story that are often the weakest from the agency’s point of view. Often the conflict/need is just too big, or what is happening to solve the problem is a little bit vague and too hard to credibly connect it back to the character and the conflict. The message was, charities need to be much more specific about what the conflict is and in choosing the story to tell there needs to be a very clear and direct line between what the charity has done and the positive outcome for the character. This outcome is what the donor will be giving their money for and they need to see and believe that the happy ending really is possible.
Wainani’s presentation kick-started some interesting conversation within the group, much of which is not for this blog as we have a Chatham House rule, so that people can openly share their experiences and challenges. But one interesting point of discussion was around the challenges in helping colleagues in the services side of a charity to understand what fundraisers are looking for and why stories need to be told in a certain way. So, next time we will be discussing how to build support for story gathering with operational and frontline teams.