5 Storytelling Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

Blog-Banner_KatieIn her continuing series, we welcome special guest, Stelter Editorial Director, Katie Parker.

Stories are how we share our culture, pass down our traditions and influence others. We are literally hardwired for storytelling.

Perfect for fundraising, right?

But if the formula is so simple—character + conflict + resourcefulness = resolution—then why don’t more stories resonate? 

Here are five mistakes that might be in the way.

1. No real barriers

“We came, we saw, we conquered.” Great, but what got in your way? How did you get around it? Conflict is a key element of any good story. Victory is only realized when there is a hurdle to cross.

 2. Lack of details.

Memories are made in the minutiae. A visit to the ocean is punctuated with lapping waves, toe-tickling sand and spiny seashells. Bring in the reader by engaging their senses. This can also aid retention as they envision themselves in the moment versus passively reading about it.

 3. Too many details.

When it comes to the nitty-gritty, model your storytelling after Goldilocks: not too many, not too few, but just right. Excessive detail will distract your audience…especially the skimmers.

If there’s no elevator pitch—a story that can be condensed into the span of a short elevator ride—consider a trim.

Tip: The detail that should be removed in a donor story? The planned giving office. Your prospects want to know about the impact of the gift and the motivations of the donor. Beyond understanding that they have a partner in your office (key for the call to action!), the story should focus on impact and emotion, not the transaction.

4. No real hook.

Do all your stories read the same? Look for a feature that makes your story stand out—higher stakes, an urgent timeline, a vivid character—and lean in.

5. No person.

We need an avatar. Donors want to envision themselves in the story and they can’t see themselves as a piece of land you’re protecting, a new building you’re constructing or an animal you healed. Share the story (and better yet, images) that bring a person in. A donor or a volunteer can be great spokespeople. Scale can help, too—a person photographed in front of a new sculpture, for example, provides relatable context.

Where do your stories fall on the detail scale? Did your last story have an elevator pitch? I’d love to hear your successes in the comments, below!

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