I tend to take a workwoman’s approach to writing: Get a theme, write to the theme, revise and polish, let go and move on to next topic. As someone who has spent the last 15+ years writing to deadlines, that work ethic has kept organic broccoli in my fridge and a roof over my head. But as my husband would be eager to tell you, I am not by nature such a practical soul. At root, I am a dreamer. Which I think is at least part of why I choose to make my living with stories.
As my friend and colleague at ARC Communications, Amy Blake, pointed out, we all tell ourselves stories every day. Sometimes those stories are heroic, as when we think about the deadlines we met, the performance evaluations we exceeded, the kind words we spoke when they were most needed.
And sometimes those stories are less positive, as when we criticize ourselves or others, or lament what might have been.
In fact, because we’ve been telling stories as a species for 100,000 years, our brains are hard-wired to organize information that way. We can’t help but see stories all around us, nearly every minute of the day. Our very histories – personal and global – are all organized around and passed along as stories.
Love stories, bedtime stories, campfire stories, origin stories, stories we tell around the dinner table, children’s stories, adult stories, erotic stories, traditional stories, fables, fairy tales and myths…the list goes on and on.
I think we sometimes become distanced from our own stories when we try so hard to quantify and prove or disprove everything that crosses our paths. Don’t get me wrong – I love science and data… for the stories they can tell.
But it's all too easy to forget that every conclusion we draw is a story we tell ourselves. I know that when I'm writing -- whether it's an appeal for funds or a blog post or a personal email -- I am often so immersed in the information I'm trying to convey that I forget to just let my story unfold.
For the last few fundraising letters I've written, I've added a step to my process: I'm taking the time to reconnect with the larger story I'm trying to tell. I edit to let the story itself convey the information, rather than simply presenting the information. It's a subtle but powerful difference, and ultimately, I think it has made for much stronger pieces that pursue the core truths about my organizations' missions.
And let me be clear. I'm not talking about just adding a story from your program staff and hoping it illustrates your point. No, I'm looking at a broader definition of "story," one that is more holistic and that tells your donors who you really are as an organization.
Of course, I won't know how the story of this experiment ends for a few weeks, until the data on these mailings tells its story. But for now, I'm doing my best to cultivate my clients' organization-wide stories and let those stories do the hard work for me.
What stories are you telling in your fundraising efforts? Are they narrow and specific? Or broad and holistic? Do they emerge organically from your process, or do they require cultivation?