storytelling

Increase the Effectiveness of Your Call to Action with Storytelling

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Connect with Supporters through Storytelling

If you truly desire to revel in the power of engaging internet content, the real gut-wrenching grit that makes readers act, check out some of the success stories on GoFundMe.

Take, for example, Matt’s Donation Page and his successful struggle against obesity.

storytelling Example GoFundMe Story

Here’s a young man who lost 270 pounds over a six-year period after reaching nearly 500 lbs. at his heaviest. This left his body with excess skin and nowhere to turn for help to afford the surgery. This is where the Internet came in and completely transformed his life. His story is only just beginning, after already adding incredible substance to the positive body image movement online.

As you can see, Matt turned off donations after receiving more than double the estimated amount needed. If we were to ask why Matt and many others like him are so successful in the crowdfunding arena (quite similar to nonprofit work), the answer would be this: Storytelling!

An Emergence of Web Psychology

What we’re finding is that we crafty humans haven’t changed one bit despite all this technological innovation. Our brains behave exactly the same as they did tens of thousands of years ago, when we were developing much less complex tools.

This article’s going to show you how to leverage the art of simple storytelling so that you can apply it to your ActionSprout Actions, donation asks, or any time your nonprofit has to ask your Facebook audience for help.

The Key to Engaging Action Posts

Our brains love to construct imaginative emotional maps of what people are going through to try to understand and empathize. We’re programmed to simulate what others are feeling, longing for, plotting, yearning to achieve, and struggling to overcome.

Think about it: for a very long time, news and stories were in print. Just print.

Today, we live in an era of tech-savvy crowdfunding and social media, which means that your content can be a living, breathing, heart-pumping, STORY gold!

Matt has Facebook, Tumblr, images, Vines, videos, blogs, and all else to share his ongoing story, and it works because the human brain is hardwired to connect cause and effect, and empathize. Leo Widrich put it this way:

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.”

Let that sink in for a moment. Whether we’re living it or reading about it, our brain treats the situation or experience in the same way. How crazy is that?

It’s no different to when we’re talking about the engaging nature of a story embedded within an action post on Facebook or the blogosphere. Not in the thick conventional fiction novel sense, but in the easy-to-digest online narrative like Matt’s. Or, something short and sweet that gets people to click on an action post.

The Pull of Relevancy

We’re self-interested creatures but it’s not our fault. Our ancient limbic brain (the “lizard”) is hardwired to keep us alive and protected around the clock 24/7/365… even while sleeping.

When you ask for donations or volunteers, it all comes down to relevancy. The people that show up do so out of self-interest.

Their story relates to yours, or to the story at hand. Odds are that the vast majority of Matt’s donations came from people who a) are going through something similar or b) know/love/care for someone else who is/has. GoFundMe, like ActionSprout, allows for the curation of modern content around a story. As we’ve told stories over the last 27,000 years, our minds have become exceedingly good at processing them. There are two forms:

  1. Information: This is more informal “how-to” stuff, or data, where our minds only have to decode the words and extract meaning. Imagine listening to someone telling you in a YouTube video about the specifics of how to make homemade protein bars without using any words that communicate smell, sound, texture or even demonstration.
  2. Sensory: Now, imagine the same dude showing you how to make those protein bars in his own kitchen, explaining the textures and smells and making your mouth water while he explains his personal narrative in relation to protein bars and fitness.

Storytelling Tips for Actions

It’s pretty obvious. The challenge that a fair amount of our nonprofits have is learning how to take their information-based asks, or reasons for asking for donations or volunteers, and crafting a story that gets action. Here are some basics to start you off.

Anchor to a Story in Motion

See how I began this article with Matt’s story?

Whatever your ask is about, there’s a story going on somewhere in relation to it. If not, you can make one up. Not to deceive, but to prove a point. Think of it more along the lines of a parable, simile or metaphor (more on these in a moment).

The trick is in the words you use, which should be sensory or constructed in such a way as to cause the mind to create emotional and imaginative maps searching for relevancy, empathy, and to connect cause and effect.

Include Dialog

The reason dialog works is because your mind has to create context, the characters speaking, their body language, and the imagined reactions to words. Humans are VERY social animals, and we’re always dissecting social interactions to find better ways of surviving/thriving ourselves.

Including dialog or quotes in your asks taps into the social part of our brains and thus connects supporters to your cause in a deeper way.

Focus on an Emotion

It’s funny, because all you really need to do in most cases is get the reader to feel the emotion you want them to feel through the story. Let’s say you want them to experience a sense of urgency, for example to save a valuable community building from being demolished.

Check this out—another GoFundMe example:

GoFundMe storytelling

If you look at their donation ask page, and examine just that context alone (the web environment), here’s the most influential and engaging part of the text:

“Today the house sits vacant, sadly awaiting its demise; to be crushed and buried in an un-named landfill after having so faithfully witnessed the impressive growth of the proud city around it. The house will be demolished, unless funds can be raised to relocate the house from its current site to a nearby park, vacant lot, or other property where it can safely exist for future generations to appreciate.”

The brain interprets most of the preceding content (aside from the photo) as “Blah blah blah” and then it gets to that third paragraph, and emotion comes into play because of the words being used. First, focus on the emotion you want readers to feel, then find a suitable story to help create it using sensory and emotional verbiage.

Simple Stories are Better than Complicated Ones

Don’t think of this as dumbing down your content or your stories. That’s not it at all. What you’re seeking to do is simplifying the communication process to make it as efficient as possible in helping people’s brains connect cause and effect.

For example, if all Matt did was populate his ask page with dense medical information about the surgery, he wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.

It’s about creating a story that gets to the point. Action posts are typically short, sweet, and concise. You need more people to show up to a march or protest at this place and time, or to simply spread the word. Then, for example, you could describe what the march will feel like moving through the streets. This is all backed by neuroscience research:

“Researchers have discovered that words describing motion also stimulate regions of the brain distinct from language-processing areas.”

Use Creative/Sensory Metaphors

Stay away from clichés. Our brains have been exposed to the same metaphors so many times that it treats the mental imagery like normal, everyday words. So if you’ve heard the metaphor tons of times before, your readers have as well. These cliché metaphors can immediately turn reader brains into “data processing” instead of “feeling” mode, which is the last thing you want!

How does your organization connect with supporters through storytelling? Let us know in the comments!