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It Only Takes One Story to Change Everything

By July 27, 2016Storytelling

5 Ways to Make One Story Last

The most common complaints I hear about sharing a story to increase fundraising revenue:
“I don’t know any stories” or “We don’t have any good stories.”

I disagree.

In 1999 I was the President/CEO of Prevent Blindness America, Greater Phoenix Division. New to the city, with a new job – I could have used those same complaints.

What I did was call our 12 volunteers to learn more about them. I also phoned some of the family members who had sent thank you notes because our volunteers discovered a vision problem in their child’s eyes.

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Click to enlarge

It didn’t take long before I had my favorite story to share with our board, our donors, our staff, and even our future donors.

We shared updates about Madison for the entire two and a half years I worked at Prevent Blindness. She and her mother became our best spokespeople. They were our best fundraisers, even though they never asked anyone for money.

In 2 1/2 years I’m proud to report we went from an annual budget of $80,000 to $1.2 million – the increase was mostly gifts from individual donors.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

While we did eventually share other stories, people came to know and love Madison. Often we received phone calls from our donors and volunteers asking “how is Madison’s eyesight doing now?”

Fast-forward to 5 years ago when I came across a heart-wrenching story about a nine year-old girl whose death had generated more than $1 million for a cause she loved.

I still vividly remember a year later receiving the email with a powerful video update about Rachel’s mother’s visit to Ethiopia to meet people who received clean water.

Just a few days ago I received a five year update on Rachel’s story.

Frankly, this update moved me nearly as much as the first time I hear her story.


Every year for five years updates about Rachel’s legacy are shared by charity:water via email and social media. I’m honored and touched each time I learn about the ongoing work to bring clean water to others because we responded to Rachel’s wish.

The update this time explained that combined, all of those who responded to Rachel’s wish have generated an additional $1.7 million for clean water. Wow.

Have you been told you have to share a  NEW story every newsletter, email, and social media post? You don’t.

One interesting, thought-provoking story, with regular updates can make a HUGE difference in your fundraising.

5 Ways to Make One Story Last

1. Share enough details in the first story that readers or listeners feel they got to know the person you are talking about. e.g. Age, name, describe them, include a photo.

2. Share regular updates about the progress of your work because of the contributions from people responding to your story.

3. In one of your story updates, let your supporters know if you did NOT reach your goal with the appeal or the campaign. They may give again.

4. Include milestones in your updates: birthday’s, anniversary’s, fundraising totals.

5. Don’t assume I’m tired of hearing about the same person. If you share something new or remind me why I gave in the first place, the story CAN be continued.

While these two examples are of young girls, YOU have compelling powerful stories of wise elders, veterans, young and not-so-young volunteers, babies, seniors, artists, students, parents, teens, care-givers, staff, and much more.

Whether you are an advocacy, human service, education, environmental, healthcare, or some other type of organization, one well-told story about a real person, with regular updates, has the power to change everything.

Image sources:
Madison photos are mine, gifted to me by her mother, Paula Eaton. Water photo is from charity:water


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