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The Stories We Tell: Inspire Action Through Emotion

The Stories We Tell: Inspire Action Through Emotion

On any given day, the average person is bombarded by dozens of marketing and fundraising communications from businesses and nonprofits. Last year there were over 100 billion marketing emails sent every day worldwide, and that doesn’t take into account the billions of social media posts made every single day around the world that inundate your constituents’ feeds.

To put it simply, it’s hard to break through the noise. And it won’t be getting any easier moving forward.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that breaking through that noise has a simple answer.

Value-Driven Storytelling.

We turn to storytelling in fundraising to answer the question of “why?” – why we care, why the work that we do matters, and why we value one goal over another. Think about why you do the work that you do. Chances are the answer isn’t a list of facts or statistics. Chances are you’re probably working in this space because of your values.

Storytelling allows us to communicate our values in a concrete way, and in fundraising, we use stories to articulate our shared values in order to motivate others to join us in making a change by donating. In order to do that we need to articulate those shared values in a way that spurs us to take collective action. The most effective way to do that? Storytelling.


The key to effective storytelling is understanding that values inspire action through emotion.

Stories enable us to communicate how we feel. So, the most compelling ones are not overly abstract or intellectual, they’re about real-life challenges and experiences that have the power to move others.

These real-life stories offer your donors a way to relate the work you do to the world they live in and help them understand the role their donation can have in making a difference.

The most effective storytellers learn how to adapt their stories to different audiences by tapping into the emotions their listeners are feeling at the time and then evoking mobilizing emotions they see as timely or relevant to inspire them to act.

For instance, fear can paralyze people and drive them to rationalize inaction. But tell them a story of hope, where the decision they make can help change the world, even in a small way, and you can inspire them to move beyond that fear and take action.

Finding the right emotion to use can sometimes be a challenge, but when you take the time to really understand what you're trying to communicate, what you're trying to accomplish, that should become easier.


The stories we tell matter. The way we tell them, and the way we communicate with them, it directly informs the way our constituents will feel about the work that we’re doing and the role they play in that work.


The work that we do is more than just asking people to buy a shirt, it's more than asking people to see a movie. The work that we do, it's world-changing work, it's big work. Even when it's done in smaller increments. So every dollar counts. The right stories told at the right time in the right way can help make sure you're maximizing your donor growth and doing it in a way that will keep them engaged in your fundraising program over time.