Interview With Vanessa Chase | The Art of Storytelling

Posted by Jodi Bumgarner on Wednesday, October 07, 2015 in Expert Advice

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Vanessa Chase
We recently had the chance to interview Vanessa Chase (http://www.thestorytellingnonprofit.com/my-story/), president and founder of the Storytelling Non-profit, (http://www.thestorytellingnonprofit.com/) an organization that helps non-profit organizations use storytelling techniques to help increase donor interest and grow fundraising success. Vanessa is an NPO consultant, trainer and speaker with clients all over the world. Recognized as an expert at communications and storytelling, Vanessa has presented at NetSquared Vancouver, the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, the Blackbaud Conference for Non-Profits and the Association of Donor Relations Professionals.
Vanessa generously took time out of her busy schedule to explain to us what storytelling is and why your organization should be using it to increase both donor participation and fundraising.

What exactly is storytelling?

From a tactical perspective, storytelling is the process of combining facts and narrative in order to communicate a message and emotion to a target audience. The idea of communicating a message and an emotion to a specific audience is about having a strategy, which is especially important for fundraising. We don't want to tell a story just for the sake of telling story, so it's best to take a strategic approach to using stories for fundraising.

How does storytelling tie in with my organization’s fundraising efforts?

Storytelling is a process of finding common ground with donors. This "common ground" may take the form of shared values, beliefs, passions, etc. But by finding this common ground we can create meaningful connections with donors.

Why should organizations and individuals use storytelling in cultivating donors?

There are so many great reasons to use storytelling! I think the most important reason to tell stories is to cultivate empathy. Empathy is the key to engaging people in philanthropy. We want them to care and really get what our cause is all about. The best way to do that is to deepen the empathetic connection.

How is storytelling different from a basic "please donate" email, phone call or letter?

Storytelling is a way to build a case for support. The story gives people a relatable and compelling reason to answer the call to action.

I’m not a professional writer, but I would still like to use storytelling. How can I find a story to tell my donors?

The best way to tell stories is to have more conversations with the people around you. Be curious about people's experiences and ask lots of questions.

How can I figure out what makes a good story?


If we're talking about fundraising stories, what makes good stories is a well-explained conflict and a call to action. The story's conflict makes the case as to why a problem needs to be solved and relevance of your organization in solving that problem. Of course, once you tell a story and get people excited about it you need to give people a way to be involved. That's why it's great to include a call to action!

What should I avoid when using storytelling as a way to raise funds?

Most importantly, don’t alienate your audience! Take some time to know who your audience is and find ways to take them into account when telling a story.

Always be sure to include a call to action. If you're going to get your audience excited, give them ways to be a part of the story.

Don’t make the mistake of not getting your whole organization involved in storytelling. Getting everyone involved in storytelling is a great idea and a wonderful way to build a better team.

My organization has put together some great stories. How should I get these stories in front of the public? Letters? Email? Social media?

My recommendation is to tell your story where your audience is. If they use email, then focus on email. You shouldn't feel like you have to use new technology just because it's popular. If your target audience is not using that technology, then it might not be worth your time.
call to action
Vanessa mentioned that a call to action is very important and we agree. Don’t take time to create a great story and then leave your audience hanging! A call-to-action is the bridge between a website visitor being passive or become compelled through your storytelling to take action. If you want your audience to take the next step, ask them and make it easy to do so.
Donor relationships take time to cultivate. If your call to action only asks for a donation (“Donate Now” or “Take Action,”) consider adding a call to action aimed at those who want to support you but may not be able to with money at this time. A simple sentence like “I’m not able to currently donate but please email me more information on X,” “I can’t donate now, but would like to receive your monthly email newsletter” or “Tell me how I can volunteer” will get you needed contact information to solicit prospective donors.

Another simple call to action is ask to people to share your story on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. This costs them nothing and gets your organization or cause seen by more people.

Interested in finding out more about how storytelling can benefit your fundraising efforts? Visit www.thestorytellingnonprofit.com to get more great advice and insight from Vanessa, or take her free storytelling email course.

You might also be interested in this list of Non-Profit Fundraising Ideas.

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